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Beyond Compare - The Triumph of Toronto PDF Print E-mail
Written by David Brunnen   
Sunday, 08 June 2014 18:27

The declaration this week that Toronto has gained the accolade of being named the world’s foremost Intelligent Community and, in doing so, has dashed the hopes and aspirations of six other contenders, may have raised a few eyebrows.

ICF SummitEven in a world where competitions are rife, where you might begin to wonder if somewhere there’s an annual Best Award for Best Awards, the notion of an entire community being honoured as not merely ‘smart’ but ‘Intelligent’, prompts a questioning response some way beyond, ‘Now, there’s a thing’.

‘How’, you might ask, ‘are these diverse places and peoples compared?’  How does anyone assess degrees of intelligence?  And, anyway, with what authority are these judgments conferred?  All good questions that even some folks in Toronto, regardless of their new-found local pride, might dare to ask.  When they hear that one indicator of Intelligence is found in the capacity for story-telling, they may well pause to wonder at the glorious ambiguities of the English language.

Being Smart

We hear much jargon about Smart Cities but, for those not schooled in techno-speak, ‘Being Smart’ is deceptively innocent.  Who, surely, would not want to be ‘smart’?   But ‘Being Smart’ means, for the hungry hordes of digital devotees, a world where more and more is measured to enable more things to be understood.  In the context of people, places and their communities, smartness adds up to a mighty revenue opportunity for purveyors of digital sensors and a challenge for the analyzers of ‘Big Data’ to inform and manipulate the mechanics of modern living, or at least tell you when the next bus might arrive.

And yes, that localized micro-awareness of what really moves us in everyday aspects of our life and work is indeed a useful step along the way towards a proper understanding of the complexities of communities and the way they build or destroy their economic prospects – in contrast to the woefully over-simplistic ‘linear’ models that are kicked around by aging ideologues and their partisan armies of gross domestic producers.

But if this ‘Smart’ tag denotes the digital mechanics of the way we live now, leastways for all sectors of society who have not opted out entirely (or gone ‘off grid’) these new capabilities surely demand that we re-imagine some higher purpose and find some policy principles better adapted to our more-fully digitalised economies.  For a while, in this past decade or two, folks could regard the ‘digital economy’ as some nerdishland for clever clogs with computers but now there is virtually no aspect of living that is not touched in some way by our digital dexterity.  The joys and disruptions that this has invoked, the ongoing upsetting of apple-carts and the resistance by incumbents to ‘unnatural corporate acts’, is both a great spectacle and a signal that we really do need to discern a more mature response.  Smart infrastructure may be necessary but is not sufficient.  And this, readers, is where we move from ‘Smart Cities’ to ‘Intelligent Communities’.

Intelligent Communities

That shift in thinking is mirrored in the history of the Intelligent Community Forum whose origins can be traced back to an event ‘Smart 95’.  Like so many ‘overnight stars’ it has taken nearly two decades to appear centre stage.  That stage this week was a platform for seven communities who were selected from the ‘Top 21’ who, in turn, had been amongst the several hundred global supplicants for the ultimate 2014 accolade.

The process began with all contenders submitting responses to a lengthy questionnaire.  In partnership with NYU Polytechnic these responses were analysed and scored using a standardized culture-neutral methodology.   The results indicated the Top21 communities and it is only after this formulaic pre-qualifying round that the contenders are subject to in-depth probing by ICF’s equivalent of a team of Michelin food inspectors.

Over the years the primary characteristics for in-depth examination have evolved and now rest on five key topics; the interdependent indicators that have been shown to most clearly signal economic and societal success.  But these are not absolutes and in every year sub-themes emerge; this year’s process included a focus on cultural investments – signaled in advance with the publication of a paper exploring ‘Community as Canvas’

In ICF’s latest book, ‘Brain Gain’, Intelligent Communities are defined as those which have 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 technological hubs.  They are located in developing nations as well as industrialized ones, suburbs and well as cities, the hinterland as well as the coast”  

In our commentary on the 2013 ICF Summit, ‘Shaken and Stirred’, we noted that this understanding may come from remarkable foresight but is more often prompted by a crisis that demands ‘something must be done’.

Building on the Infrastructure

ICF would argue that to compare and honour Intelligent Communities one must probe far deeper than the mere application of smarter technologies.  Value is so often found in the context of application endeavour; the nurturing of a knowledge workforce, the local cultural relevance of digital inclusion programmes, the local capacity for innovation (with its complex eco-systems) and the investment in sharing their community’s story with advocacy that ‘builds a new vision from within’.

But underlying and enabling all these indicators of local community intelligence is the adequacy of the broadband network infrastructure – a factor that is so often lost in futile arguments about ‘demand’ and battles over the balance between incumbent utility motivations in looking after the interests of citizens or looking after themselves.

In a previous publication, ‘Seizing Our Destiny’, ICF were already ahead of the trend, laying the seeds of understanding that has grown into a topic that concerned many of the mayors and civic leaders gathered in New York this past week.  Time and again these local leaders expressed deep frustration over their outdated ‘analogue’ governing ‘rules’ that inhibited Municipal Enterprise.  One Chief Administrative Officer from a town in Canada, for example, described his determination to eliminate local property taxes simply by facilitating the creation of innovative enterprises and sharing in the success of profitable partnerships.  This untapped innovative capacity is for these leaders a key part of their covenant and the glue than binds communities together.

Local Economic Efficiency

This determination, so evident amongst the Top7 Communities of 2014, to push at the boundaries of Municipal Enterprise is, of course, not new.  Our Victorian forbears well understood the civic and commercial common interests in building great cities.  As the era of simplistic ‘linear’ economics gives way to better informed complex (more ‘circular’) systems that are enabled by those smarter digital data collectors we now have new opportunities to manage previously intractable challenges; environmental, cultural, as well as job creation and economic well-being.

Brain Gain coverToronto may have triumphed in part through its cultural diversity (more than 51% of its citizens were born outside of Canada) but in different ways each of the other six contenders this year have demonstrated extraordinary interdependencies between the civic and the commercial, arts and society, people and their places.  ICF’s new book ‘Brain Gain’ rams home the reality that ‘collaborative advantage’ is the new ‘competitive advantage’ – and the winners will be those community leaders who best apply these global insights.  But the bottom line is that none of this economic efficiency and societal development is really possible without that essential local investment in future-proofed digital infrastructures.




A full review of 'Brain Gain' will be available from this site on the publication day, 23rd June 2014.  Check  Editorials/GI Global

For further information about ICF follow this link.

NextGen - the UK's leading events programme for advance broadband services - is a partner of ICF.



Last Updated on Sunday, 08 June 2014 23:20

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