September 12, 2012 By Louis Zacharilla
Again and again I am asked the question. It arises more than any other. It is asked by politicans and business leaders; academics and their students. It is asked, in a million different ways and in many languages, by folks working on their nominations for Intelligent Community of the Year. It is usually the first question a member of the audience asks, and it is always on a journalist’s list. It appeared as a question in the new e-book by Smart+Connected Communities. The question was asked during the webinars we held to brief communities on the 2013 Intelligent Community of the Year Awards submission process. It was just asked by the proprietor of Café Doppio in The Hague, where I sit writing this blog. He is passionate about the topic of building communities for the 21st Century, as is my doctor in NY, who extended my annual physical by 30 minutes to tell me which places are his favorite “walking” cities. He’s also passionate about it. In between my blood and blood pressure tests, we get into the importance of sidewalks in Berlin!
It is asked nearly every day and there is a reason. It remains the essential question at the heart of the renaissance of a place. It is a deceptively simple question: “What do all Intelligent Communities have in common?”
The answer is not deceptively simple however. It is real simple. It is as direct as the high-speed train from Rotterdam to Paris. What every Intelligent Community has in common is its ability to collaborate. You have heard it said and written about often of course. But it bears repeating because it is the answer. Intelligent Communities play well together at home, at work and at play. They stick together when they go out and advocate for themselves around the world. Flash back to that photograph of Eindhoven representatives standing on the stage in New York to accept their 2011 award. These people represent every corner of life there.
One person who never had to ask the question was Joep Brouwers. Joep is the Vice Director of Brainport in Eindhoven. Robert and I had dinner with him and Margot Nijkamp, the former director of the famous Holst Centre, where collaboration among SMEs was enshrined during her tenure. The dinner was arranged to discuss an ICF Institute in Europe. Inevitably it brought back recent memories, and led to further discussion around the topic of, you guessed it, collaboration. Eindhoven is, after all, the community that gave us the celebrated “Triple Helix.” Joep is chief conductor of the “Triple Helix” symphony. Today, one year after being named IC of the Year, Eindhoven continues to perfect the “Helix.” We were told that companies collaborate with other companies in the community, including competitors, to advance innovation. It is as natural as rain. Margot said that the complexity comes in the arrangement of intellectual property rights, but the system is built on success and deep social contracts, which are two necessary levers that enable trust and an “open hub for innovation,” as Joep calls it.
Being in European cities, where “classical” music is inherent, this makes me think of communities as symphony orchestras. The question of what they each have in common is that, like orchestras, their collective talents – each individually honed – contributes to a sound that fulfills everyone who plays and anyone who cares to listen. While a soloist is a rare talent, they need the orchestra to shine.
At a more primal level collaboration is a medicine that heals a place. When we decide collectively to say “go,” we enable sustainability. You can witness it in subtle ways. Amidst thick, self-centered traffic on a busy highway, you will see car after car pull over to allow an ambulance to pass. This is the symphony at work too; playing to the tune of collective preservation. John Donne was right. “No man is an island.”
Thanks in part to Eindhoven, and Mitaka before it, the wave of collaboration has reached the shores of the Intelligent Community movement. The need to transfer this knowledge through persistent civil engagement now must overcome the notion that we are lone wolves, or best when in a basement tooling on the test tubes. There are moments for this lonely work (like this one, where I must be alone to type.) But the mechanism for success is decidedly and increasingly non-linear and collective. It is about playing together in the sandbox and chatting around the coffee shop or digital campfires. I am not talking about blindly conforming, but rather collaborating when the common good is visualized.
The week that I return to North America I head to Top Seven Saint John, Canada, where an imaginative two-day event has been organized to introduce citizens to a new method and a new tone for civic engagement. Picking up on the “Triple Helix” concept, the University of New Brunswick will play host to “an all-ages public forum to identify the priorities for the Saint John region and,” according to the release, “build upon our shared pride of place and our desire to build a strong community around the Intelligent Community model of collaboration.” The music, forum on September 22 and use of social technology will be in pursuit of ways to identify the “secret strengths” of the region – the first of which, they will soon find out, being collaboration. But then again, like Eindhoven, they probably already know that. They’ve heard the symphony playing.
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.