April 15, 2013 By Robert Bell
I have been making site visits to Top7 Intelligent Communities for a lot of years and, I have to tell you, the delights are many. Meeting the world’s most dynamic, innovative and committed government leaders. Seeing people passionately committed to transforming the place they live, whether through technology, business, education, healthcare or other social services. Being in meetings, demonstrations and presentations from 7:30 in the morning to 9:00 at night.
Well, maybe not that last one. But the cost in lost sleep and sore feet is well worth it.
My most recent visit was to Columbus in the US state of Ohio. I took away pages of notes, which I will turn into a report for the international jury that helps select the Intelligent Community of the Year. I also took away one of those delights I mentioned – the pleasure of coming across something new.
I was welcomed to Columbus with a luncheon that placed me next to Mayor Michael Coleman. Now in his fourth term, Mayor Coleman has the soft-spoken authority of one who has been winning elections for fourteen years. Much of that time has been spent doing creative deals with developers, who have transformed the skyline of the city and brought much-needed, high-quality housing to formerly run-down neighborhoods. In his first run at office, he promised to construct 10,000 housing units, and more than a decade later, his administration is well on its way.
There’s nothing new about city governments pursuing property development. While making a visible mark on his city, however, Mayor Coleman also set out to change its soul.
He believed that immigration was the key to the city’s future. At a time when immigration is a hot-button political issue that can start arguments in most industrialized nations, he thought his city needed more of it, not less. So he persuaded a small group of business leaders to accompany him on a study tour to Toronto, Canada’s business capital, which prides itself on attracting immigration from around the world. (By coincidence – or not – Toronto is also a 2013 Top7 Intelligent Community.) Returning to Columbus, he launched programs to ease the entry of immigrants, from English as a Second Language classes to lessons in how to live, work and raise a family in Columbus.
It worked. Columbus, which is Ohio’s state capital, has one of America’s largest Somali populations as well as a fast-growing minority of Mexican immigrants. Americans tend to think of Ohio as home to a homogenous white population. Not in Columbus.
Did the Mayor’s effort contribute to economic growth? I don’t know. That was one data point I didn’t get. But when it comes to changing a community’s soul, data points don’t always serve us well. What Mayor Coleman’s effort seems to have brought about was a culture of radical openness to the world. And we know from our study of Intelligent Communities that such openness has extraordinary value. Broadband infrastructure has the potential to tie any community, urban or rural, into the global economy. But potential is not practice. A culture whose first impulse is to welcome the stranger is one that can squeeze the greatest value from that infrastructure.
The tall buildings that fill the center of Columbus are one sign of economic progress. But I suspect that the intangible attitudes I met there are far more crucial to long-term success.
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.