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Smart Seven: Cities Vie For 'Most Intelligent'

Smart Seven: Cities Vie For 'Most Intelligent'

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by JOHN GREGERSON | Feb 11, 2016

London didn't make the cut. Neither did New York, Tokyo, or Paris.

So what burg can lay claim to the title of the world's "Most Intelligent Community" this year? Well, as it has since 1999, Intelligent City Forum (ICF), a NYC-based think tank, once again has narrowed the annual field of contenders to seven “based on cities and regions that use technology not just to save money or make things work better, but also to create high-quality employment, increase citizen participation, and become great places to live and work.”

Surprisingly, this is only the second year that sustainability is being evaluated as one of the six factors for recognition (see below). To qualify for the competition, cities had to nominate themselves. Last year, Columbus OH won the top award, receiving it at a ceremony in Toronto. This June, Columbus will host the next ICF Annual Summit, where its crown will be passed on to one of the seven finalists named this week.

So, who are this year's contenders?

Remarkably, three communities from Canada all made the final cut, as well as two from Taiwan. ICF co-founder Louis Zacharilla explained why the dominance of Canadian and Taiwanese contenders this year is no coincidence. “These are nations where regional and national policy has long aimed at helping their citizens adapt to the demands of the broadband economy," he said. "(It) has given them a lead in moving from broadband technology to truly transformed communities.” 

What about the U.S.?  Shut out!

In fact, only two entries – San Diego CA and Marlborough MA – were even among the Top 21 finalists*, announced in October. According to ICF, the finalists “represent economic and social transformation. They are not the most advanced technology centers, the most wired cities or the fastest-growing economies in the world. Instead, each exemplifies best practices in broadband deployment and use, workforce development, innovation, digital inclusion and advocacy.” 

Montreal has remade itself, transitioning from an industrial engine into an information and technology hub.

Montreal has remade itself, transitioning from an industrial engine into an information and technology hub.

The 2016 ICF finalists for "Most Intelligent Communities" are (in alphabetical order):

Hsinchu City, Taiwan: In 1980, Taiwan's National Science Council created the nation's first science park. Flash forward to today: 500 companies in Hsinchu Science Park currently employ 150,000 and generate $16.6 billion in annual revenues. The county also is wired: Global Mobile Corp. has extended 4G wireless to 97% of Hsinchu City residents, while Chungwha Telecom supplied 100 Mbps fiber service to 64% of residents;

Montreal, Quebec, Canada: Slammed by the slide of heavy industry in the 1980s, Montreal has since transitioned its economy to information and communications technology, aerospace, life sciences, health technologies and clean tech. The city also is moving aggressively on further build-out of its wired and wireless broadband infrastructure;

Mülheim on der Ruhr, Germany: Like Montreal, another comeback story and economic makeover. Following the departure of steel and coal industries in the 1960s, Mülheim eventually found a home with technology. In 2000, a 245,000-sq-m industrial wasteland became Siemens Technopark. In 2005, a start-up center opened to spur and support entrepreneurship. Also, Mülheim later established SME.4, a civic campaign to advise small- to medium-size businesses about opportunities involving digital tech;

Mülheim on der Ruhr is a mid-size city of 170,000 that has shifted its focus from heavy industry to tech and trade. 

Mülheim on der Ruhr is a mid-size city of 170,000 that has shifted its focus from heavy industry to tech and trade. 

New Taipei City, Taiwan: This marks the third straight year that New Taipei has cracked the Top 7, all the more impressive because the city is only six years old. From its inception, New Taipei established a “knowledge-based” economy, with extensive deployment of broadband serving as its foundation. High-speed rail and sleek new roads keep residents on the move and connected in the donut-shaped city;

Surrey, British Columbia, Canada: Repeating its appearance last year as a Top 7 finalist, this rising suburb of Vancouver has established itself as Canada's third-fastest growing city, in no small part due to a thriving communications hub. Like New Taipei, Surrey also is hard at work enabling and implementing an innovation-based “knowledge economy”;

New Taipei City has only existed for six years, but it has already cracked the Top 7 list three times.

New Taipei City has only existed for six years, but it has already cracked the Top 7 list three times.

Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada: Surrounded by landscape rich in agricultural and natural resources, Winnipeg is promoting economic growth by integrating industry and education, while offering greater opportunity to its large aboriginal population. The Composite Innovation Centre, a public-private R&D venture, is developing technologies and supply chains for high performance composites that reduce costs for multinationals like Boeing and Magellan Aerospace. Its success has prompted creation of Canadian Composites Manufacturing R&D to advise on pre-competitive strategy for several enterprises;

Whanganui, New Zealand: Until recently, progress of any kind – including broadband – seemed to have bypassed this rural city. But in recent years, Whanganui has charted a path to a more enterprising future. Implementing a broadband strategy in 2009, and then a digital strategy in 2010, the city has emerged as an unlikely leader in the digital world, replete with a high-value economy, vibrant and active community, and a healthy environment. The local council also successfully constructed an urban fiber optics network that currently connects 13,000 residences, businesses, and institutions.

*The 21 finalists are selected by an international team of academics and analysts who review questionnaires submitted by candidate cities. The seven highest-ranking cities advance.

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