Three Ontario communities – Burlington, Ottawa-Gatineau and Waterloo – are among the 21 smartest communities in the world, selected by the Intelligent Community Forum (ICF) based in New York city.
The Smart21 list, featuring the three Ontario cities (the only Canadian communities on the list) will be whittled down to just the top seven cities on Wednesday at a function to be held in sunny Honolulu, Hawaii.
From the Top Seven, in May, one exceptional community will claim the grand title of the year’s Intelligent Community.
The ICF is a non-profit think tank that focuses on job creation and economic development in the broadband economy.
The ICF’s initiatives to foster innovation in local communities worldwide include a 10-month “Intelligent Community” awards program. Communities around the globe can nominate themselves if they feel they meet the criteria for selection.
The ICF received about 400 nominations for 2007 that represented a good balance of regions around the world, according to a Forum spokesperson.
This year those communities have been evaluated based on their possession of six key capabilities: broadband infrastructure, knowledge workforce, digital inclusion, innovation and finance, marketing and leadership.
A committee consisting of ICF executive staff and academic researchers selects the 21 “smart” communities after assessing the legitimacy and completeness of the submissions.
Communities deemed admissible are scored using a numerical system devised by analysts and researchers. It’s a second-time standing for all three communities, however, last year, Waterloo was the only one that made it to the Top Seven.
Six Canadian communities placed on the Smart21 list in 2006.
According to one ICF executive, the creation of a strong broadband infrastructure is crucial to a community’s ability to survive and thrive.
“It’s important for us to study the relationship between broadband infrastructure on economic growth and social development,” says Louis Zacharilla, director of development at ICF.
Zacharilla believes such a relationship does exist, and understanding it is crucial to a region’s transformation into an “intelligent community.”
City of Waterloo councilor Mark Whaley echoes this view and says it’s important for government, academia, business and non-profit organizations to be on the same page on issues that move the community forward. Besides collaboration, says Whaley, embracing new ideas and building upon them, and establishing roots is key to creating any innovative community that can hold its own in the world.
As an example of “openness to new ideas”, he cited the University of Waterloo’s initiative early in its 50-year history, to allow students and professors to own their research ideas and turn these ideas into money-making ventures.
This policy has contributed to the city’s ability to stay ahead in the global rat race.
Whaley says former University students and staff turned entrepreneurs have, in turn, re-invested their entrepreneurial wealth in the city, resulting in “150 research institutes in Waterloo.”
The idea that the fruits of investment will come full circle is echoed by a city of Burlington spokesperson.
“[Placing on the Smart21] gives us a [renewed] vision,” says Randy Bennett, co-ordinator of network services for the City of Burlington. He said the honour will motivate the city to develop policies and programs designed that attract Fortune 500 companies, drive innovation and ultimately make Broadband accessible to everyone.
That investment will help Burlington economically by developing knowledge workers, Bennett adds.
That’s a sentiment shared by Gatineau city officials as well.
Making broadband universally accessible within a community fosters effective communication, according to Mathieu Larocque, spokesperson for Marc Bureau, mayor of Gatineau.
“One of our goals was to be a transparent city where our citizens would have access to as much information as possible,” he says.
According to Larocque, Gatineau was one of the first cities in Qu