Montreal wins Intelligent Community of the Year

Rio de Janeiro’s Knowledge Squares program gains Visionary of Year Award

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Montreal, Quebec, was named “Intelligent Community of the Year” this week at the annual Intelligent Community Forum (ICF) Summit. In the face of economic decline and political scandals, Canada’s largest French-speaking city began its turnaround with a Smart City plan starting in 2011.

The city, home to a 10th of Canada’s population, had endured trade losses, an eclipse of manufacturing, and years of separatist nostalgia. The new Montreal staked its future on a broader economic base of Information and Communications Technologies (ICT), aerospace, health sciences, and clean technologies. These sectors now field 6,250 companies with 10% of the region’s workforce.

The Visionary of the Year award went to Rio de Janeiro’s Knowledge Squares (Nave de Conhecimento) program. This was for its focus on the “digital inclusion” category among ICF’s six criteria for what makes an intelligent community: broadband, knowledge workforce, innovation, digital inclusion, marketing and advocacy, sustainability.

Knowledge Squares were envisioned by Rio Mayor Eduardo Paes and city CIO Franklin Dias Coelho. Working with companies like Cisco and Embratel, the technology and information centers are designed to develop knowledgeable citizens, even in the poorest areas.

The goal is to serve as hosts for global events like the Olympics, and to learn to work in the global networked economy. Over 50 modern technology centers with classrooms and labs anchor the vision in neighborhoods all over the city.

“Revolutionary Community” drives Innovation and creativity

In a provocative keynote speech, Ohio State University’s David Staley, “a historian; designer; and futurist,” called for cities to serve as key sources of creativity and innovation “when ideas collide.” Cities, by bringing diverse populations and disparate professional fields into close proximity, have always been hotbeds of new ideas and social energy. It is their historic, revolutionary role to bring innovation to meet the needs of their era.

Staley offered the global leadership example of Barcelona, which now has a “Deputy Mayor for Culture, Knowledge, Creativity and Innovation.” Staley said. “Barcelona sees creativity and innovation as being as important to the life of a city as the urban infrastructure or the jobs and employment outlook.”

Information systems security for Smart Cities

Urban systems security expert Bob West of CareWorks Tech said Intelligent Cities share these criteria: they leverage technology, are efficient, economical, competitive, attract and retain business and demonstrate inclusive prosperity.

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West characterized the older model of systems security: outside the wall is dangerous and bad, inside the wall is safe and good. West says that wasn’t true then, now even less so – it’s too simplistic a view, especially for cities and communities. No CIO can build architectures with such a coarse-grained viewpoint.

West said from a city perspective the key security questions are about access to systems, by whom, for what. Security, like governance, should be built into everything you do in a city context.

Advice for community and organizational leaders

Among the most interesting talks was a panel of veteran city mayors, featuring Mayor Rob Van Gijzel, of Eindhoven, Netherlands (the 2011 ICF top award winner); Mayor Paul Pisasale of City of Ipswich, Australia; and Michael Coleman, former mayor of Columbus, the 2015 Intelligent Community of the Year.

Coleman, now out of office after 16 years as mayor, a Columbus record for longevity, offered some candid perspectives for leaders at all levels. He said:

  • Other communities in the world will look at you as you look at yourself.
  • When he took office, Coleman said, Columbus had an inferiority complex; as a mere Midwestern city; a “Cowtown.” Now, Columbus is a global player and the biggest city in Ohio, bigger than Cleveland or Cincinnati. He said there is value in international trade and opportunities. You must lift your eyes beyond your local or regional horizon.
  • Columbus took opportunities to invest in poor neighborhoods and areas that had been neglected.
  • The city embarked on building infrastructure, including a municipal fiber network.
  • Most important, our attitudes about ourselves changed, he said. Mayor Coleman says a city needs “swagger,” which you show by being prepared; by understanding your values; by knowing what you want.

Besides the winning city of Montreal, the complete list of 2016 intelligent community finalists includes:

  • Hsinchu County, Taiwan
  • Mülheim an der Ruhr, Germany
  • New Taipei City, Taiwan
  • Surrey, British Columbia, Canada
  • Whanganui, New Zealand
  • Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada

The next, 2017 Intelligent Community of the Year competition, opens with nominations in July, with the closing deadline in fall 2016. Seven new finalists will be announced early in 2017. The winner will be named at the Intelligent Community Forum’s annual Summit in June 2017, probably to be convened at ICF’s home base in New York City.

Jay Gillette is professor of information and communication sciences at Ball State University, director of its Human Factors Institute, and a senior research fellow and officer at the Digital Policy Institute. He also served as Fulbright-Nokia Distinguished Chair in Information and Communications Technologies at the University of Oulu, Finland for 2014-2015.

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Copyright © 2016 IDG Communications, Inc.