October 18, 2013 By Louis Zacharilla
On my hotel room door in Amsterdam there was a sign that would let me signal to the cleaning person that I wanted to be left alone. However, instead of reading “Do Not Disturb” or “Privacy Please,” mine read, “I Want to Keep Dreaming.” I am not vain enough to believe that anyone made that sign for me. Yet this one seemed meant for me. It reawakened something. It brought me out of a period of drift and back to the mission. Above all else, I need to keep dreaming. Dreaming and learning of ways to energize communities and cities is what gives me joy. As we get closer to our 2014 Smart21 Announcement on 21 October I will again have a chance to share my dream and to learn about the dreams of others. I will do it in a special place for the first time: the ICF Institute for the Study of the Intelligent Community on the campus of Walsh University in North Canton, Ohio.
I dream not for the sake of dreaming but because it cannot be any other way. Freud believed that we dream to resolve, and that we are each of the characters in our dreams. The work of developing better places is an incomplete act. Yet it is being fulfilled each year. The work we do is a state of grace into which we have been allowed. Imaging better communities is not simple, does not bend to linear math or willful efforts at “smart engineering.” It cannot be done with assurance, always, of near-term economic results. There are too many variables in the human ecosystem for that. Yet a change is taking place and people’s lives are improving because of the work of our 120 communities. Why? Because they are approaching it in a new way. This is a global effort done through the work of hundreds of thousands of committed people and in places that grasp the nature of the changes within our “Broadband Economy.” In the words of Third Teacher Project Leader and a speaker at our Institute next week, architect Trung Le, it is about enabling “wonder by design.”
As we arrive in Ohio to celebrate our new 21, I can report that our work has gone from a trickle to a steady stream. In Canada, Taiwan, Finland and Mexico we see our method embraced by economic developers, community champions and leaders of all beliefs and political philosophies. The five criteria, and our method of teaching around the digital campfire, where we share stories of places as diverse as Dublin, Ohio and Eindhoven, Holland has begun to find its way deeper into China and South America. During a series of meetings in Washington last week I was briefed on the Inter-American Development Bank’s initiative, which is designed to give the “no name cities” of 25 nations a new burst of economic energy. The bank meets this week to determine how they will work with the Intelligent Community Forum.
Yet as we dream, there are many places and people that experience nightmares. A study earlier this year by economists at Wellesely College (USA) revealed that people who lost their jobs during this Global Recession, and were only a few years shy of becoming eligible for their Social Security, risk their overall life expectancy diminishing by three years, mainly because they no longer have access to affordable health care. Nightmares can be self-induced. We continue to see other communities stubbornly dig-in and assure themselves that somehow ghosts from the past will reappear and bring back businesses and industries and people who, you might think by listening to them, are still hovering around attics. That is the kind of dream that will end in a cold sweat. Or worse.
If there is a “simple solution,” it is to keep dreaming and, as Freud might say, to analyze the dreams. We are in them all and we are all in this together. The dream is not merely to create new jobs, nor to make sure that people stay in them. As the UN’s Habitat Report on Cities states so clearly, the goal is to apply the communities’ resources and creativity in a way that produces entirely new industries from the familiar canvas of culture. Work is a social enterprise. That is the sustainable solution for chronic unemployment. That is the reason we named former Blackberry founder and Chancellor of the University of Waterloo (Canada) Mike Lazaridis as our Visionary of the Year. He is attempting to create Quantum Valley in Canada. It will test whether investments spun from the triple helix of the region’s – and world’s cultures - will allow new industries to emerge. As we will learn at our second symposium at the Institute for the Study of the Intelligent Community next week, this attempt is underway everywhere. Incubators in Columbus and Dublin, Ohio (USA) are attempting to prod new ideas to grow beyond tiny rooms where entrepreneurs give it all that they have all day for the sake of a dream. It is the same in Taichung, Taiwan, where advances in industries ranging from agriculture to logistics will spawn and break out of those verticals to find new ground and new markets.
When I report on the “state of the Intelligent Community,” I will say that it is growing. When 21 new additions are made to our “alumni” of communities next Monday evening in a little city called North Canton, Ohio, you will see dreams and hopefully more of us will wake to them in the morning.
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.