You probably know what a Smart City is. But what is an Intelligent Community? Do we really need another word for the same old thing? No – but then, it’s not the same old thing.
“Smart” is about applying technology to make cities work better, faster and cheaper. It is like automating a factory. Install the sensors, cameras, computers, network connections, software and data storage. Better data leads to better decisions, and automation lets you do more with less labor. It’s a win for the city, its residents and taxpayers.
Here’s an example. Traffic studies show that 30% of the cars in congested central business districts are looking for parking. So, if we can reduce the time they spend in that search, we should also be reducing congestion and air pollution. A Smart City will specify its requirements, do an RFP, select vendors, install systems and start sending data to apps on phones that direct drivers to available parking. Smart, right?
“Intelligent” means something more. It means engaging local universities and technical schools, entrepreneurs and established businesses as partners in planning and carrying out this innovation project. What can be sourced in the municipality or the region? Where is there expertise that can help? If the expertise and capabilities are missing, what must the community undertake to put them in place? It also means engaging the public in helping determine how and where the innovation should happen – or even if downtown congestion is really that big an issue. It is about solving problems that matter – not just problems that technology can solve.
What Matters Most
For all of its cool technology, the Smart City movement has completely ignored the single most important contributor to a community’s quality of life: employment that pays well and offers new opportunities to each generation. Employment alone will not make a great place to live, but it is what makes possible everything else.
How do successful communities build quality employment today? Here's how McKinsey partner Susan Lund put it in a paper on globalization, “Our picture of globalization is the offshoring of manufacturing jobs. But increasingly, only a small share of goods is traded globally. Low wages are no longer the driving force in global trade. If low wages aren’t important to companies, what is? R&D, innovation, a skilled workforce and a start-up ecosystem.”
Only rarely does this combination spring up on its own – it requires conscious cultivation over many years. The ICF Method provides the framework, specific strategies and real-world examples that communities of all sizes need to pursue this new approach to economic development in the digital age. To begin your journey from smart to intelligent, visit the How to Get Started page on the ICF website.