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From a 19th Century mill town, to the heart of Canada’s technology triangle, to recognition as the world's most intelligent community – Waterloo, Ont. has come a long way.
Beating out six other finalists, Waterloo, on Friday, was named as the "Intelligent Community of the Year" by The Intelligent Community Forum (ICF), a New York-based non-profit think tank that focuses on economic development in the broadband economy.
Waterloo mayor Brenda Halloran accepted the award from the ICF at a ceremony in New York City. She was accompanied by city councilor Mark Whaley, and Waterloo's chief administrative officer, Simon Farbrother.
The audience included 140 persons from nearly 20 countries, who converged on Brooklyn for the annual award ceremony.
The six other finalists for The Intelligent Community of the Year award were Ottawa-Gatineau (Canada), Issy-les-Moulineaux (France), Tallinn (Estonia), the Gangnam District of Seoul, South Korea, and the cities of Dundee and Sunderland – both in the U.K.
According to ICF, Waterloo's selection for the top honour was based on in-depth research and analysis conducted by a knowledge process outsourcing company in India, and the votes of an independent committee of experts from around the world.
Best known as the home of BlackBerry creators Research in Motion (RIM), Waterloo has succeeded Taipei, Taiwan, that was the 2006 Intelligent Community of the Year.
Participating communities were judged on certain key criteria including: pervasiveness of Internet access and its use by citizens, innovation and collaboration, education levels within the workforce, and how well the community markets itself.
On all these counts Waterloo did exceptionally well, according to ICF co-founder Louis Zacharilla.
He called Waterloo "a tidal wave of a town" that has "never stopped raising the bar."
The city that invented the BlackBerry, he said, has "created the Nirvana of intelligent communities." Zacharilla said the Waterloo Information Network exemplifies the concept of local government involvement with citizens and businesses.
Created in 1998, the Network offers a broad range of online services to better connect government and its stakeholders.
Use of Internet technology, the ICF co-founder said, has spread rapidly in Waterloo thanks to the community access program that places Internet access terminals in public locations.
Most importantly, he said, the community has an extraordinary culture of collaboration and reinvestment. "People in Waterloo make partnership a priority and are eager to give back to the entire community."
That view is echoed by many of Waterloo's better-known citizens, when asked for what are the main reasons for the city's phenomenal success as a technology hub.