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Shaken and Stirred: listening to Intelligent Communities PDF Print E-mail
Written by David Brunnen   
Saturday, 08 June 2013 00:00

Brooklyn Bridge (C) Pete Scully rain is lashing Manhattan.  It’s a new hurricane season so the name of today’s storm begins with an A.  TV weather reports are littered with flooded highways, fallen trees, houses recently refurbished after Sandy and intrepid reporters hollering over the wind.  

The massive girders of Brooklyn Bridge can be glimpsed through umpteen shades of wall-to-wall grey.  On another day you’d think the noise was a passing subway train but today you’re grateful to be inside and away from umbrella-upsetting gusts.  Time to turn up the heat, dry out sodden clothes and take time out to reflect on the stories heard over the last few days.

Stories can be real or fictional but that binary classification will not serve.  These stories blended the past and future, challenges with aspirations, problem analysis with uncertain directions, and all were mixed martini-like with an energetic optimism such that their settings were both shaken and stirred.

Seven stories, all of them supplicants seeking recognition for the smartness, sustainability, inner connectedness or strategic vision for their community's future journey.  These were the seven survivors from a global list of between 300-400 whittled down to 21 at the start of the year; seven communities on whom the inspectors called, measuring the metrics, observing  objectives and sampling subjective viewpoints.

So here they were at the ICF Global Summit in New York City: seven cocktails of team leaders, mayors and business leaders - some spiced with a dash of music and poetic flavouring or crushed ice.  Inevitably there could only be one top team but all recognised that in seeking recognition, travelling maybe by diverse routes, they were already winners.

That sense of winning by ‘being there’ was easy to recognise.  Even in preparing our own contribution to the proceedings – a presentation on the power of Open Data – we had ourselves gained insights into the unplanned and unexpected benefits of our emergent digital economy.  The Magnificent Seven, of course, had been preparing for much longer.  Some had been travelling this road for years.

Despite their diversity, many common themes emerged.  Around the world, from Canada and the USA to Taiwan via tiny European states, an essential element of their success stories was built around collaborative local leadership – that understanding of mutual-interdependence of connections between local government, local business and umpteen agencies in between.

Inevitably there were videos (mainly the confident productions favoured by city inward investment departments) but my vote for the coolest of the cool would have gone to the city of Oulu in Northern Finland.  Toronto may have provided live on-stage oration from their local poet-laureate but from Oulu we had maestro Petri Sirviö, complete with baton, conducting a video of the city’s globally acclaimed Screaming Men Choir.  Humour does not always travel well but this was a truly great artistic antidote to overdosing on earnest visionary endeavour.

If you are determined to dig deeper into what exactly makes for an Intelligent Community, if your city is ready to seize its destiny, the road map will be found via ICF.  For those of us who were there at the summit it was a rich feast of fresh ideas, inspiring insights and fascinating glimpses into how the direction and aspirations of each community reflect a common local understanding of where they were coming from. 

It is not enough to pour hopeful investment into some building block.  Without a storm of realisation to blow away complacency, without being driven en masse to avoid looming disaster or decline, without some urgent imperative to collaborate and ‘do’ more than be ‘done in’ by circumstances, the seeds of smartness will not flourish.  In their separate ways each of the Magnificent Seven had first been shaken and then stirred into action.

The eventual winner, the 2013 Intelligent Community of the Year (Taichung City from Taiwan) was applauded for its achievement, the brilliance of its benchmarks and the brevity of their acceptance speech.  The other six (from America, Canada, Asia and Europe) shuffled off to drown their sorrows in a rain-swept New York.

But now the two-day deluge of Andrea has passed.  Clear blue skies have returned to Manhattan.  On this bright sun shiny day we can all fly home to set new benchmarks and tell our folks that really there are no obstacles in our way. 



ICF LogoThe Intelligent Community Forum (ICF) is based in New York and promotes the best practices of the world’s Intelligent Communities as they adapt to the demands and seize opportunities presented by information and communications technologies.

ICF conducts an annual assessment of cities and communities vying for global recognition in leadership, innovation and sustainability.

ICF is sponsored by global leaders in ICT such as Cisco and Microsoft.  The global benchmarking assessments are independent of commercial interests and are peer-reviewed by members of an international panel of jurors.

The top seven communities in the ICF 2013 program were Columbus (Ohio), Oulu (Finland), Stratford (Ontario), Taichung City (Taiwan), Tallin (Estonia), Taoyuan (Taiwan) and Toronto (Canada).  For analysis of the winner see 'The Global Urbanist' editorial by Robert Bell and Sylvie Albert.

The UK's Intelligent Cities conference and exhibition will be held on June 19th 2013 in Leeds.  Further information and registration details can be found via the NextGen events website.

 See also 'Innovating in Public: the Power of Open Data'

 Image of Brooklyn Bridge and Manhattan in rain (C) Pete Scully 

Last Updated on Wednesday, 03 July 2013 07:43

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