October 17, 2012 By Louis Zacharilla
Creativity is just connecting things. – Steve Jobs
It was nothing. Just a tall podium made from solid, dark wood from the forests of Germany. Yet I felt immediately moved and humbled standing next to the desk of the great German writer, Johann Goethe. As you can see in the photograph, I was in the writing room of his meticulously preserved home in the heart of Frankfurt, Germany (a Smart21 community in 2012). Here, I thought, extraordinary acts of imagination daily met the hard work required to shape something new and often courageous.
When I touched the raised, wooden podium, where gems like Faust were cobbled together I reminded myself that Winston Churchill, Ernest Hemingway and Donald Rumsfeld also wrote standing on their feet at desks like this one. Apple’s Steve Jobs once said, “Creativity is just connecting things.” I did NOT see an immediate connection among these four distinguished lives, nor the connection between imagination and community revival. Not at first.
His podium was simple and empty. It awaited imagination and celebration. Having written for a living for much of my professional life, I know that it also awaited effort. Hard work. Without effort, enormous effort, there would be no celebration. No status. “Celebration” is not a process, it is a reward. Whether writing a poem or returning a community back to its rightful place, the joy is usually in the doing. This empty podium had been a benign conspirator in the production of great works of imagination. The works of imagination crafted in this musty, tidy room live proudly in German culture, and especially the city of Frankfurt. It is a source of pride and inspiration to its artists and citizens. Culture flourishes here, alongside the persistent expansion of its financial center and its IT entrepreneurial core. Whatever goes forward in Frankfurt has the gift of looking back when necessary.
This artist gave the city a chance to realize its destiny as both an artistic center and a place of commerce. Today, Frankfurt is decidedly an intelligent community and home to the new European Central Bank complex. It is a balanced economy and a sane place. I use an old cliché to describe it: the trains run on time. So do the trams. If the schedule says a street tram will arrive five minutes past the hour, set your digital watch to it. It will be there.
In a few days I will be in Riverside, California (“The City of Art and Innovation”) to name our new Smart21. These 21 communities will be added to our international list of alumni. The day each is named (21 October), they will become Intelligent Communities. Each will have reinforced its success and set out to prove that it deserves to go to the next phase of the Awards program. They will be acknowledged for having entered a new era. Like Goethe’s podium, they will be ripe with history, with few exceptions. They will also remain blank slates when it comes to the future and are wise to understand a lesson from a long deceased writer in Frankfurt.
That lesson can be heard from the voice of another creative soul, this one with more modern credentials: Albert Einstein. Einstein said that “imagination is more important than knowledge.” I have always intuitively suspected that it is so, and yet I remain challenged to find places that truly honor imagination as an industry, or recognize that it is as essential to the re-energizing of place as broadband. Certainly I will be making my announcement from such a place. Riverside does grasp the importance of culture and imagination. Without it, Riverside, perhaps like Frankfurt after the Second World War, may well have drifted toward irrelevance. It was headed that way in a hurry.
With any luck, I will announce the names of 21 other places who will become case studies on what can be done when standing up and thinking on their feet.
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.