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By Robert Bell, John Jung, Louis Zacharilla: Intelligent Communities are those which have - whether through crisis or foresight - come to understand the enormous challenges of the Broadband Economy, and have taken conscious steps to create an economy capable of prospering in it. They are not necessarily big cities or famous technology hubs. They are located in developing nations as well as industrialized ones, suburbs as well as cities, the hinterland as well as the coast.

Community as Canvas: Do Intelligent Communities Save Souls?

November 7, 2012 By

“They can because they think they can.” – Virgil

clientuploads/Images/Zach-NameCaptionFL.gifThe Intelligent Community Forum would like to thank everyone who sent messages of concern, called and offered assistance during Sandy’s assault on our home.  It is good to know that we have so many friends and followers everywhere.  Your email or voice was a pleasant relief.  I am proud to say that our offices were open the day after the storm, and with the exception of our Randall Barney, who was still without power in New Jersey as of today, we were mainly inconvenienced, while our Internet connections never went down.  (Randy somehow has made it into the office every day since the storm.  Such is his commitment to excellence. )   

The days before the storm were eventful, but in a more positive way.  Robert and John were in Moscow and Europe respectively promoting the movement.  On 21 October I was in Riverside, California to announce the world’s new Smart21.  These 21 communities are now under study and in contention to succeed Riverside as Intelligent Community of the Year.  This year’s Smart21 is a somewhat eclectic group.  Surprises include a handful of really small communities, as well as some firsts: the first Intelligent Community in Albania and our first from New Zealand.  You can read more about them on the website

I left Riverside with the city’s Chief Innovation Officer, Steve Reneker, and Dr. Rick Miller, Superintendent of Riverside Unified School District, in tow.  We converged far from the San Bernardino mountains and orange trees of the Inland Empire at the ICF Institute for the Study of the Intelligent Community on the Ohio campus of Walsh University.  There, a symposium named after our new book and in honor of Riverside, “Seizing Our Destiny,” brought ICF’s mission to a new level. 

North Canton, Ohio (USA) is not the first place you think of when you think of the Intelligent Community movement.  However, it is precisely the type place where the re-energizing of communities is emerging. 

Our first Symposium at an ICF Institute was as beautiful as the Walsh campus, and offered yet another way for us to challenge communities.  The focus was education.  I would be disingenuous if I told you that the current educational system, and its ability to enable the type of knowledge workforce that you and I know will be needed to create wealth in this century, has much merit.  Very talented people assured us things are changing.  Fast. Thanks to Richard Jusseaume, president of Walsh and Jacqueline DeGarmo, the Executive Director of the Institute, another ICF dialogue to delve into this issue is launched.   Thanks to Logan Smalley of TED-Ed to Dr. Norm Jacknis of Cisco to Lev Gonick, the innovative CIO of Case Western University and a founder of OneCommunity, the table was set for a wild ride from end-to-end on this subject.  I am excited about this Institute.  It is taking form like a canvas.  It is a progressive act, made new each day.  It is a step toward the unknown, which makes it very exciting.

I am provoked by another question that has been raised by the presence of our Institute.  Walsh University is a unique place, which adheres to values that are as steady, reliable and resolved as any to which the human community has allowed itself to bear witness.  It is an easy place to respect because it  practices what it claims to believe.  As a place holding an international dialogue on the workforce, it was named one of the best colleges in America to work.  One international advisor, visiting the ICF Institute for the first time, said, “This is a warm place.” 

It is intellectually heating up too.  No fewer than five Nobel Prize recipients, including Elie Weisel and Mother Theresa, thought enough of it to visit.  It represents the balance which defines the American Midwest.  At one end of the campus sits a beautiful chapel, called Our Lady of Perpetual Help.  At the other, which has blossomed to 21 buildings in less than 12 years, stands the Birk Center for the Arts, (shown at right) a new facility and temporary home to ICF’s Institute.  Soon another new facility, the $12 million Center for Transformative Learning, will rise.  It will serve as the ICF Institute’s permanent site. 

The chapel and the Birk Center peer at each other.  In between them, questions about the connection between faith, community and knowledge are asked and, as questions of this nature do, sting before they soothe.  I am asked repeatedly what “ICF and broadband have to do with saving souls.”

I answer that making the communion of people – we call it community – more vibrant and assured, better educated and in pursuit of its true economic and social destiny will certainly lead to places  where the contemplation of salvation, in all its mystery and however defined, will replace the question I once got from clueless mayors, which went something like this: “Tell me what this broadband and Intelligent Community stuff have to do with filling my potholes.”

I rarely get that one any longer.  Saving souls, however, is one I can deal with.  It comes from aspiring people, those who are capable of building an Intelligent Community.


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Intelligent Communities

About the Intelligent Community Forum
The Intelligent Community Forum is a think tank that studies the economic and social development of the 21st Century community. Whether in industrialized or developing nations, communities are challenged to create prosperity, stability and cultural meaning in a world where jobs, investment and knowledge increasingly depend on advances in communications. For the 21st Century community, connectivity is a double-edge sword: threatening established ways of life on the one hand, and offering powerful new tools to build prosperous, inclusive and sustainable economies on the other. ICF seeks to share the best practices of the world's Intelligent Communities in adapting to the demands of the Broadband Economy, in order to help communities everywhere find sustainable renewal and growth. More information can be found at www.intelligentcommunity.org.

Robert Bell
Robert Bell is co-founder of the Intelligent Community Forum, where he heads its research and content development activities. He is the author of ICF's pioneering study, Benchmarking the Intelligent Community, the annual Top Seven Intelligent Communities of the Year white papers and other research reports issued by the Forum, and of Broadband Economies: Creating the Community of the 21st Century. Mr. Bell has also authored articles in The Municipal Journal of Telecommunications Policy, IEDC Journal, Telecommunications, Asia-Pacific Satellite and Asian Communications; and has appeared in segments of ABC World News and The Discovery Channel. A frequent keynote speaker and moderator at municipal and telecom industry events, he has also led economic development missions and study tours to cities in Asia and the US.

John Jung
ICF co-founder John G. Jung originated the Intelligent Community concept and continues to serve as the Forum's leading visionary. Formerly President and CEO of the Greater Toronto Marketing Alliance and Calgary Economic Development Authority, he is a registered professional urban planner, urban designer and economic developer. He leads regular international business missions to US, European, Asian, Indian and Australian cities, and originated the ICF Immersion Lab program. John is a regular speaker at universities and conferences and serves as an advisor to regional and national leaders on Intelligent Community development. The author of numerous articles in planning and economic development journals, he has received global and Toronto-based awards for his work in collaboration and strategic development and sits on numerous task forces and international advisory boards.

Louis Zacharilla
ICF co-founder Louis Zacharilla is the creator and presenter of the annual Smart21, Top Seven and Intelligent Community Awards and oversees ICF's media communications and development programs. He is a frequent keynote and motivational speaker and panelist, addressing audiences of tech, academic and community leaders around the world, and writes extensively for publications including American City & County, Continental Airline's in-flight magazine and Municipal World. His frequent appearances in the electronic media have included both television and radio in South Korea, China and Canada. He has served as an adjunct professor at Fordham University in New York and is a Guest Lecturer at Polytechnic University's Distinguished Speaker Series. He holds a Masters Degree from the University of Notre Dame.