December 10, 2012 By Louis Zacharilla
Oslo, Norway – Oslo is cold tonight. As we were descending our pilot informed us that it is -10 C., with snow and blustery winds prevailing. One hour after I arrived at my hotel lobby it was pitch dark. This was 15:30 in the afternoon. It made a cold city colder. During Nobel Peace Prize week Norwegians joke that any guest who jumps from tall buildings here need never worry: They will freeze to death before they hit the ground. Yet their city, like Oulu in Finland and Stockholm in nearby Sweden, keeps moving toward the light. Oslo proves yet again that neither size nor geography matter all that much today. Although Oslo is not an ICF Intelligent Community (or even part of the European Union, which is being awarded the Nobel Prize tonight), it has gathered to it this week people who choose to ignore fear and, as a result, move us all toward political illumination and more open societies. Good for Oslo.
I am here to take part in a Cisco-produced forum called, Visioning an Open Society. I have been invited to represent ICF and to discuss what Intelligent Communities might do to enable a more open, creatively vigorous society. I do my thing tomorrow after former UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown opens the program. I will join him and Jens Mortensen of Cisco’s Public Service group, to facilitate a deep dive into the issue. There will 20 invited thought leaders from around the world. Among them will be my guest, Mayor Rob van Gijzel of Eindhoven, as well Professor Ashish Lal of the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Affairs in Singapore. The mayor led his city to the Intelligent Community of the Year prize in 2011. Recently Eindhoven also became a Cultural Capital of Europe. These are two strong endorsements of the renaissance of a former “No-Name City.” As with other places ICF represents here this week, Eindhoven and its leadership, including its Brainport organization, is an advocate of the global Intelligent Community movement. Eindhoven’s efforts continue to reinforce new ideas about how we will build communities for the 21st Century, some of which I plan to discuss for the first time.
My experience here helps me form the basis for a new initiative at ICF. The new initiative will depend a great deal on the degree to which creativity and open platforms can be part of 21st century community life. What will that life to look like, in real terms, in the years ahead? You will feel it when you see it. But you must look. Whenever I travel I seek out the rhythm and tone of a place. I try to form an intuitive, impressionistic image. I take no maps nor do I prepare a route. I set out on foot or by public transportation, preferably alone, and head aimlessly out to seek the soul of a place. A path never fails to emerge. What I find connects itself to other places that I have seen. They connect as well to new ideas, which I am fortunate enough to be able take around the world. It is the joy and the art of this work. We then fill it in with facts; plenty of them.
A few hours ago I was walking around Oslo hoping to get a sense what I might say this week at the Nobel Peace Prize events about the special nature of Intelligent Communities. You find stuff in the damndest places. Or as my Jesuit friends might say, “grace finds you.” But you must look and be available. I did and I guess I am, for I looked at a sign above a small store in the Oslo City Mall, a well-traveled destination near the Sonja Heines Plass. The sign had only the store’s name. But what a name! It articulated a fact about open societies and why Intelligent Communities are becoming transformative notions early in our new century.
This small store has chosen a name that updates the famous phrase of former American President Roosevelt, who said famously during a great transitional period in world history, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” This hip store put a decidedly current twist on that by calling itself “Feel the Fear (and do it anyway.)”
I love that name. Sure we feel fear. Cyberterror, fiscal cliffs and uncertain futures. But fear has always been with us, like sun, cold, snow and sea. So what? The great artist Georgia O’Keefe said, “I am terrified every moment of my life, but it has not stopped me from doing anything.”
We do it anyway.
Today communities re-energize in every sector of the planet. If there is anything separating the light from the dark in our public sectors, it is the community that has retaken its destiny. It is the one forcing illumination onto pitch black. The ones using technology not to enslave or to make people more efficient economic units, but rather fully enabled human beings. I will hopefully tell their story. I will hopefully tell it as well as they are writing history for you. They are doing it so forcefully that ICF gets invited to be in a place like this: in a place that honors peace and prosperity.
I only wish I had brought heavier socks!
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 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.
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.
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.