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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.

Intelligent Communities Finalists Literally Don't Know When to Quit

June 24, 2013 By


On June 7, Taichung’s Secretary-General, Ching-Chih Liao, stood on the stage of Steiner Film Studios in New York, surrounded by previous Intelligent Communities of the year, from Glasgow to Riverside, and accepted the 2013 award for Taichung City, Taiwan and its 2.7 million residents.  It was the second time that tiny Taiwan has produced an Intelligent Community of the Year (Taipei was the other in 2006.)  Flush with excitement, she nearly sprinted to the stage; surprised but gracious, she went out of her way to congratulate the other six finalists, referring to them as “the real winners.”  Such emotion; so nice to see.  It reminded me of Mayor Rob van Gijzel of Eindhoven, whose acceptance remarks in 2011 remain embedded in everyone’s memory – including his.  That afternoon he spontaneously redefined the purpose of the Intelligent Community movement.  He now heads the ICF Foundation.  Madame Liao was much less circumspect.  “We did not think we would be here for at least another three or four years,” she admitted.  

For Madame Liao the audience also applauded loudly, and she applauded them right back, an Asian custom that I find revealing of generosity of spirit.  She said twice that she did not envy the jury, which had to evaluate the Top7 and then decide who would be named Number One.  Nor, she said, did she envy ICF for having to make the announcement!  (Nor do I, since we have always believed that there are no real winners.)  She then let go of a “Freudian slip,” which I have been thinking about.

While cheerfully and gently noting how proud she was for her city, her emotions became obvious.  She said that she was proud of Taichung, proud that it had survived the nearly year-long “battlefield of competition” with the others to become the global representative of our movement.  Standing behind her and listening, the words “battlefield” made me at first wince.  I was surprised.  You rarely hear people, especially as gracious as the Intelligent Community representatives, reveal themselves so honestly.  Leave it to this smart, tough and joyful Taiwanese woman to show you the heart of a champion. Handpicked by Mayor Jason Hu for her post, she again demonstrated the poise and character of Taichung, which simply has willed itself into international relevance.

But a “battlefield of competition?”  Our friendly award?  Is it really perceived that way, despite everything we do to communicate the absolute fact, noted above, which is that the Top7 are the real winners?  A family of leaders.  And they are, at least in our minds.  In discussions privately or with the media, I never refer to the Intelligent Community of the Year as the “winner,” but rather as the “recipient.”

But let’s be real, Lou, I know that this may appear disingenuous.  After Taichung was announced, I went to the tables of each of the other six communities to congratulate them on their extraordinary success.  After all, they are collectively leading the entire world toward a new day for cities and communities.  I could tell it was a tough moment because, as it is every year, I received the same basic reaction.  A cool shoulder and an icy, forced, smile.  It is followed by a less than firm handshake but a genuine thank you for organizing another Summit in New York where they could come together to network and to observe.  Those that had been there before seem to feel it most.  

Since Madame Liao was so emotionally honest, let me also be that way.  When I get this response each year, I say to myself, “Good.  The world is working as it should.”  The delegations of Intelligent Communities are not reacting as “sore losers,” as some claim, but rather as champions.  True champions.

“Show me a good loser and I will show you a loser,” I heard often as a young athlete.  This year’s Top7, who will be the subject of our new book to be published in the Fall, were a most competitive group, numerically.  According to the final report by our evaluation research company, the point differential between Taichung and the next closest community in the rankings was a mere .253 of a point.  Between Taichung and the final two communities in ranked order (there was a tie between #6 and #7), the difference was .811 of a point.  That’s close.  A nano-small margin, as Mike Lazaridis might say.  (Well, he might say it much better.)  

I know this about the final six.  Each will go home, let off steam, answer questions from their media about “losing” the “competition” in New York and then, come July 9, do what Toronto and others have already done: inquire about the 2014 awards program, theme and nomination form and get back to work to head back up the mountain.  I do not guarantee much in our often surprising Awards program, but I guarantee you this: they will be back.  I know this because of this year’s Top7, six of them have before been on the list at least once.  Enough said.  Some, like Tallinn, have made it five times.  They will be back, perhaps not next year, as communities sometimes go away to retool, make progress (as was the case with Issy-les-Moulineaux) and take a whack once again as their new projects are up and running.   

Most important they will come back for reasons that have nothing to do with the Intelligent Community of the Year Award.  They know who they are: the stars in the Intelligent Community firmament.  They know what being a Smart21 or Top7 is worth in terms of publicity and inward business retention.  They know that when the three of us travel to different parts of the world to speak, as I did over the past two weeks in Australia and eastern Canada, that we tell their stories.    

So for those squeamish about an unhappy face, remember: this is how champions look. They do not participate in what appear to be competitions to finish second anymore than they will stop building the best places to live.  Taichung wants to be the next Seattle or Singapore.  It will.  It is closer than it thinks.  It is the nature of a champion to hate to even think that they have lost, and it is as hard for them to admit that they are done.  Even at the top of the mountain there is yet the sky.  Taichung, like Waterloo and like Taipei, are just getting started.  I learned perhaps later than I might have about the importance of process, and it has made me more determined to be better.  It is the work that counts, not the end itself.  It is a hard, but necessary passage.  Yet it is one which in this case is the pathway to continuous process improvement.  It is precisely this characteristic that makes these places terrific communities in which to live, work and to follow.  They do the hard work every day

So it would worry me greatly if they did not respond the way they do.  Why?  Because the greatest virtue of a champion is that they do not know – really – when to quit.  So if mayors Michael Coleman, Dan Mathieson, Matti Pennannen and others never looked at me or spoke to me again, I would perfectly understand.  But here’s the deal: they already have.  They want to know what they need to do in 2014 to stand where Madame Liao stood.

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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

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.