November 1, 2013 By Louis Zacharilla
That sweet American folk singer James Taylor once said, “Our planet is impossibly perfect.” I have always remembered this, for it is so right. While perfection may exist, we are imperfect agents attempting to make it visible for any length of time. This is so in the case of our daily mission, which is nothing short of igniting a global attempt to re-energize communities for this new century. We try mightily to find the right solutions to ensure that our special places are engineered to be economically sustainable, future-proof and home to all of the community’s children, if they wish to stay. As with every attempt at perfection, falling short is not be confused with failure.
Last Monday evening the ICF Institute for the Study of the Intelligent Community at Walsh University became home to the announcement of the world’s newest group of 21 cities, towns and counties deemed the most Intelligent for 2014. The list offered-up six communities that had never before had a shot at being named Intelligent Community of the Year. They include Montreal, which you know, and Coffs Harbour in New South Wales, which you do not. Overall the group of semi-finalists for the BIG AWARD are an eclectic fraternity of overachievers. If your travel agent reads this blog, he or she should figure out that the new six, combined in a package, would make a fascinating tour of the world’s future. (Note to the traveler: set aside some time. It’s a long flight to Australia.) All of these places prove again that intelligence and economic development have less to do with size and much to do with planning, persistence and the ability to mobilize knowledge in service of economic output.
If there is a connecting point among these new 21, it is their emphasis on culture as a natural resource. From Walla Walla, Washington (USA) which has a “plow to plate” philosophy and is a go-to place for people seeking a quality of life, to Nairobi County in Africa, with it historic Yingge District, once the center of a $400 million ceramics production industry and is undergoing a revival led by entrepreneurs (with some help from a fellow Smart21 community from Taiwan!), these places understand that culture is the next natural resource to be extracted.
Few understand this better than this year’s “Axis of Intelligence.” The Axis powers are Taiwan, Canada and Australia. No fewer than 13 communities from these relatively thinly-populated nations made the list. This suggests to me that there are places in the world whose work toward a perfect community is very real, and part of a national policy. Each of the communities from these three nations is focused on two things, according to the analysts who elevated them: education and collaboration. Quebec City (Canada), which returns to the list, has harnessed culture to produce a robust games industry. Sunshine Coast in Australia has continued to break out of a cycle of re-circulating wealth among retail and construction industries, and is broadening its initiatives in a range of new vertical clusters. Australia has begun to take advantage of several visits by our organization, as well as the visionary work and strong-armed efforts of Sen. Stephen Conroy to make sure that its communities connect themselves quickly and securely to the nation’s $43 billion National Broadband Network. While I believe Australian communities are still in the planning and aspirational phase of development, you can observe their hunger to participate in the “Broadband Economy.” The drive and passion are there. So is the fear of slipping behind. It is a motivator. Taiwan’s Intelligent Communities are those where knowledge and investment continue to layer traditional industries such as logistics, precision machinery and silicon chip development. Taiwan communities have completely reversed a gear from the industrial past and are (very) aggressively pursuing green policies that lead Asia. Yet they too worry about losing their children to other places, echoing a former football coach of Notre Dame who once said, “Getting to the top was easy, staying there is the hard work.”
If our goal is to create a perfect place to live, we will always be frustrated. It is impossible. But these 21 prove that the idea of the perfect place that we can call home makes this eternal frustration the most motivating and thrilling opportunity of our time. Good luck to you if you live in any of these places on January 23rd, the date which we make our announcement, in Taichung City, of our Top7.
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.