IT TAKES A SMART CITY TO BECOME AN INTELLIGENT COMMUNITY
Stratford was first designated an Intelligent Community for 2011 by the Intelligent Community Forum (ICF), a New York-based think-tank promoting the use of broadband internet access for economic and community development. Every year, as many as 300 cities around the world submit extensive nomination forms explaining why their community deserves to be flagged as an “Intelligent Community”.
From the outside, the ICF annual awards program can look like a competition, but the intent and atmosphere is meant to be more collegial in tone. In fact, the Smart21 and Top7 submissions are not called “applications” or “entries”, but “nominations” and “questionnaires.”
FRAMING THE STORY
In June, 2010, an ICF Committee was struck, chaired by Mayor Dan Mathieson and comprised of representatives and stakeholders from different sectors within the City to strategize and guide the City through the ICF Awards Program for the year. The first task was to research and compile the City’s nomination form for the Smart21 designation so the committee hired local freelance writer and branding consultant, David Hicks.
Weeks of visits, phone interviews, online research, networking and email exchanges led to the 22-page document which told the story of Stratford’s history of re-invention and visionary tradition of adopting new technologies, which has led to a grassroots transformation of the city, across the board, to become a wired city positioned to prosper in the broadband economy.
The announcement came in October, 2010 from an ICF conference in Suwon, South Korea (2010’s Intelligent Community of the Year) that Stratford had made it into the ICF’s “Smart21 Intelligent Communities for 2011”. (You can read the ICF’s blurb about Stratford and the other 20 winners here on their website.)
Consider this: We were the smallest city to make the Smart21 that year — the biggest was Chongqing, China, with a population of 32 million, versus Stratford’s 32,000. So this was huge. And a testament to the people of Stratford and surrounding area who have been working for years to improve their products and services via the internet.
Following the announcement, the ICF invites the Smart21 cities to submit a detailed questionnaire and vie for the Top7 designation. This time our document weighed in at 38 pages of statistics, examples, background information, organizational profiles and success stories.
AND WE DID IT AGAIN!
The ICF announced their annual list of the world’s seven most intelligent broadband communities during an annual conference in Honolulu, and Stratford was designated a Top7 Intelligent Community for 2011. (The other communities are linked in the right-hand column.)
This was a major coup for the city, and in a very real sense means that we’ve already “won” in the eyes of the world. The ICF is looking for cities demonstrating they’re serious about embracing “The Broadband Economy”: planning, acting and achieving in the area of using high-speed internet access for community and economic development, i.e. new businesses, better jobs, improved services, healthier lifestyle, active community life, environmental mindfulness, etc. (You can learn more on the ABOUT ICF page of this site.)
AND AGAIN FOR 2012!
Since then, Stratford has been named to the Smart21 and Top7 for both 2012 and 2013.
WHO IS THIS ABOUT?
Our Smart21 and Top7 designations are international, authoritative recognition that creative, dedicated people living and working in and around Stratford are making things better for each other. And using the internet to do it:
• teachers • hospital administrators • librarians • programmers • entrepreneurs • residents • students • public servants • IT managers • university administrators • designers • volunteers • consultants • nurses and doctors • business owners • academics • theatre directors • engineers • artists • bankers • librarians • inventors • marketers • and more.
We aren’t just users, we’re creators.
STRATFORD, YOU’RE EXTRAORDINARY
The world has taken notice that extraordinary things are happening in Stratford, not just in terms of internet plumbing, but how high-speed internet access is being created, distributed and used in innovative ways. World-changing ways.
What’s amazing about Stratford is that so many things are happening at the same time, across the community: education, healthcare, government services, businesses, academia, job creation, arts & culture, tourism, social services… you name it.
It’s an amazing story, and now one writ across the globe.
THE ICF SITE VISIT
After the Top Seven announcement, each of those cities is visited for two days by one of the ICF Founders: Robert Bell, John Jung or Lou Zacharilla. Mr. Zacharilla came to Stratford April 4th and 5th, 2011, for a site visit as a fact-checking exercise, to see firsthand what the accomplishments and challenges look and feel like, and meet the people who are helping to move the city forward into the broadband economy. For both 2012 and 2013, Robert Bell came for the site visit.
There was preparation to do. So if you live or work in Stratford, or visit us in the near future, you’ve probably noticed signs, banners and posters around the city flagging the fact that Stratford is now among the world’s top Intelligent Communities.
While they were here, members of the local ICF Committee escorted Lou or Robert on a whirlwind tour of, or meetings with:
• City Hall • Tourism Stratford • Conceptual Pathways • Powernoodle • Stratford Public Library • Stratford Central Secondary School • University of Waterloo Stratford Campus • D&D Automation • Festival Hydro • Rhyzome Networks • Scotiabank’s worldwide IT department • Stratford General Hospital • Stratford Family Health Team clinic • Stratford Chiropractic & Wellness Centre • RBC back office support (data) centre • Stratford Shakespeare Festival • Cartesian Tube Profiling • TGT Systems • Florida Plastics Engineering • The Accelerator Centre and 4 local startups • Partners in Employment • Conestoga College … and more. Whew!
There were breakfast and dinner meetings with local stakeholders and broadband application experts, a meet-and-greet reception for other local users of broadband, and the annual Chamber of Commerce Mayor’s breakfast featuring brief keynotes by Lou and Robert. These were packed days, but Lou made the point that Stratford’s scale allowed him to visit the sites and talk to stakeholders on their own turf. Toward the end of the day, we got Lou’s impression of the City on video.
While here in Stratford, Lou stressed that making it to Top Seven already means that Stratford has won. “I’m always surprised at who is announced as Top Community,” he says. “We Founders offer our input but we don’t control it. And really, you’re already part of an international elite by making Top7.”
LET THE TABULATIONS BEGIN
To select the Top Intelligent Community of the Year from among the Top7, ICF uses a data analysis firm to comb the Top7 detailed questionnaires, the Founders provide their notes on what they saw and heard in the Top7 communities, and an academy of ICF jurists vote on which city has earned the top distinction. The results are tabulated and announced at the annual ICF conference, “Building the Broadband Economy” in New York City in early June.
Still, people are passionate about their communities. So we’re not saying there’s no competitive edge to the ICF awards process — when you go from a field of over 300 cities around the world, suddenly sifted to a class of 21 Smart Cities, and then promote a handful to the Top7 Intelligent Communities, organize a fact-checking site visit by an ICF Founder, and gear up for the annual ICF conference in New York where the Intelligent Community of the Year is announced, it’s bound to generate anticipation and excitement for international excellence.