What makes a community intelligent?
For Robert Bell, the definition begins with what an intelligent community is not.
"It is not about being the biggest community, the richest community, even the community that looks best in a bathing suit," the co-founder of the New York City-based Intelligent Community Forum told an audience at a recent Economic Club of Toronto luncheon.
It's not just about blindingly fast broadband or cutting-edge university research, either. "It comes down to three things: what they do, how they do it and why they do it," Bell said.
Bell's organization named two New Brunswick cities, Fredericton and Moncton, among the seven most intelligent cities in the world in 2009. New Brunswick will soon be the first jurisdiction in North America with broadband access for 100 per cent of its population, and a deal with Bell Aliant will extend fibre-to-the-home connectivity to 70,000 homes in Fredericton and Saint John by the middle of next year. But broadband access is merely "table stakes," Bell said.
A skilled knowledge workforce -- not just engineers and grad students, but everyone "from the checkout counter to the research lab" -- is key. "Innovation is the only thing, quite frankly, that drives value anymore," Bell said.
Digital inclusion is also a barometer of community intelligence. People's lives shouldn't be worse because of where they live or because they're poor, Bell said.
"Communities work on digital inclusion because it's morally right," he said.
In the early 1990s, both cities were at a crossroads. Fredericton, traditionally an institutional city driven by government and universities, found itself facing negative growth for the near future, though the city had been able to take growth for granted in the past, said Don Fitzgerald, executive director of strategic initiatives for the city.
In Moncton, the situation was even more dire. The city was a railway hub for the east, largely dependent on the Canadian National Railway. When CNR pulled out in the late 1980s, it threw 4,000 to 5,000 people out of work, and unemployment reached 20 per cent, said Ben Champoux, business development specialist with the City of Moncton. Half of the downtown was boarded up, he said.