Surprises And Insights As Intelligent Community Leaders Meet Again

Returning to New York City, the Intelligent Community Forum (ICF) held its Annual Summit last week. Many of the ICF’s 160+ communities from around the world were represented, in addition to speakers and guests from this year’s Top7:

Although two years ago, the Intelligent Community of the Year was Columbus, Ohio, it’s noteworthy that this year no American city or community made it to the Top7. (This year, Rochester, New York, was the only American city even in the Smart21.)

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In addition to the contest, which attracts much interest, the Summit is also a place where people meet and present ideas on how to best use information and communications technologies as a foundation for creating better communities and quality of life.

It’s in the workshops and presentations from speakers who do not represent contestants that often the most interesting insights arise. This post will highlight some of those more unexpected moments.

1.      First, there’s the Digital Government Society (DGS) of academic specialists in e-government, the Internet and citizen engagement. DGS also held its 18th Annual International Conference on Digital Government Research, dg.o 2017, last week. Its theme was “Innovations and Transformations in Government”.

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Since ICF had a couple hundred government innovators in attendance and DGS is particularly interested in dialogue between academic researchers and practitioners, it was only natural that the two groups took a day last week to have a joint conference. This kind of interaction about areas of common interest was valuable for both groups. They even participated together in prioritizing the challenges facing the communities they lead or have studied.

2.     As part of the program, there were some presentations by companies with their own perspective on intelligent communities. Perhaps the most unusual example was Nathaniel Dick of Hair O’Right International Corp., which is an extremely eco-friendly beauty products company, best known for its caffeine shampoo.  It won’t surprise you that Mr. Dick is a very earnest, entrepreneurial American. What may surprise you is that he and Hair O’Right are based in Taiwan.

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3.     While there has been much talk about government opening up its data to the public over the last several years, there haven’t been all that many really interesting applications – and perhaps too many cases where open data is used merely for “gotcha” purposes against office holders. But Yale Fox of RentLogic demonstrated a very useful application of open data, helping renters learn some of the hidden aspects of the apartments they are considering.

Starting with the nation’s biggest rental market, New York City, they pulled together a variety of public documents about the apartment buildings. Now all a potential renter needs to do is enter the address and this information will be available.  Wouldn’t you like to know about anything from a mold problem to frequent turnover of ownership before you moved in?

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4.     Rob McCann, CEO of ClearCable and one of Canada’s thought leaders on broadband, provided a down to earth review of the current state of broadband deployment and how to address the demand for its expansion.  He noted Five Hidden Network Truths: “The Network is Oversubscribed (so manage it); The Network is Not Symmetrical (accept the best you can); Consumption CAGR exceeds 50% (so prepare for growth); More Peers are better than Bigger Peers; Operating costs are key, not just build costs”.

To get the point across, he also showed an old, but funny, video about Internet congestion.

5.     One of the new communities to join the summit was the relatively new area of Binh Duong, Vietnam (population more than a million).  Dr. Viet-Long Nguyen, Director of their Smart City Office, even gave a keynote presentation

6.     We’ve all heard much about the Internet of Things, the various sensors and devices that are supposed to change urban life – and, unfortunately, the sum of what too many people consider to be smart cities. By contrast, Mary Lee Kennedy, my fellow board member from the Metropolitan New York Library Council led a panel on “The Internet of People”. With panelists with their own perspectives – Mozilla Leadership Network, Pew Research, the Urban Libraries Council, New York Hall of Science – the focus was on the people who are not yet benefiting from everything else we were hearing about that day at MIST, Harlem’s own tech center. (You can read her more detailed post here.)

Overall, the impression a visitor to the summit is left with is that many places you wouldn’t have thought of are rapidly developing their technology potential and, more important, its value for their residents.

Next year, we expect to learn more and be surprised a few times more as the ICF Summit will be held in London and other parts of England.

© 2017 Norman Jacknis, All Rights Reserved @NormanJacknis

The Rural Summit Of Europe

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The first of its kind European Rural Summit was held in Eindhoven, Netherlands on March 22 and 23.   This conference was hosted by the Netherlands’ Brabant Kempen region in collaboration with the Intelligent Community Forum.  

Attending were a couple hundred public officials, rural entrepreneurs (farmers and others) and experts in economic development, rural development, technology and telecommunications.  

Although proximity guaranteed a number of Dutch would be there, participants came from many European countries, including nearby ones like Denmark and Germany, as well as those much further away like Slovenia and Russia.  There were even a few Americans and a Canadian.  

I was asked to set the tone for the conference as its initial keynote speaker.    My themes, familiar to readers of this blog, were that:

• The increasing importance of the digital broadband-connected economy offers rural areas new opportunities that had been precluded by the industrial era’s requirements for mass, density and physical proximity— requirements far better satisfied in urban than rural areas.  This will be especially clear as full video interaction becomes more common, but it’s already starting.   As an example, since 2000 the rural population of France has increased after 150 previous years of decline.

• While broadband alone is not sufficient, if a rural area is connected, there are all sorts of applications to improve life — re-invigorating Main Street with augmented reality and new retail technology, tele-health, online education, precision farming and the like.  

• With a bit of creativity and flexibility in both technology and organizational structure, rural broadband is not an insurmountable challenge.  Indeed, under the umbrella of the KempenGlas cooperative effort, broadband is being installed not far from the site of the Summit in the more rural areas of the region

Although this message about the potential for a renaissance in the countryside has not been the one generally portrayed to city dwellers, it resonated quite well with the attendees who work with and in rural areas.  And these themes were picked up by other speakers.

Also at several points over these two days, people emphasized the interdependence — and, as I have noted, even the convergence — of rural and urban areas.    Drs. Elies Lemkes-Straver, General Director of ZLTO (Southern Agriculture and Horticulture Organization) took up this idea. Her organization of 15,000 farmers, operating under the motto “farmers connect and innovate”, has established relationships with green entrepreneurs, consumers and social organizations.

Although all the presentations were interesting, one particularly unusual talk was by Professor Nico Baken, professor at Delft University of Technology, focused on the changing nature of the economy and our current failure to properly measure what’s going on since we still use industrial era concepts.   He passionately advocated for not being limited by traditional measures of return on investment and instead considering the value of broadband in rural areas for the lives of people there and in cities.  This pleased many there for it makes it easier to get broadband deployment in the countryside.  

It may be surprising, as well, that one of the presentations at this rural conference was on AI and robotics, courtesy of Professor Maarten Steinbuch of the Eindhoven University of Technology.

Since I was in the Netherlands, I took the opportunity to do some exploration of the countryside in relative nearby areas of the Netherlands, France, Germany and Belgium.  The story in Europe, as elsewhere in rural areas of advanced economies, was one of increasing contrasts between the rural communities that are already showing strong evidence of growth and those that lag.  

While I had heard stories of abandoned farms from some participants, from what I could see along country roads, most of the arable land seemed to be under cultivation and the residents appeared to be relatively prosperous.  It helps that this area is a major wine producer, but that wasn’t all that farmers were growing or doing.  

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Aside from rural tourism in a land of chateaux/castles and the kind of manufacturing that is often placed on the far outskirts of cities, it was hard to tell whether the nascent digital economy seen in the rural US has a counterpart in Europe.

The Rural Summit wasn’t only for speeches, workshops and the various side trips attendees took.  There was also a strong desire to take action by establishing a network of rural leaders across Europe to help each other.  

Of course, I encouraged the leaders gathered in Eindhoven to go beyond that and help create a Virtual Metropolis that would connect their residents — and rural residents outside of Europe — for mutual economic, cultural and educational benefit.  This too received a positive reaction and do I’ll be moving forward to build the platform to make this possible.

© 2017 Norman Jacknis, All Rights Reserved

The Virtual Metropolis Moves Forward

The NTCA-Rural Broadband Association held its annual meeting and expo this week in San Diego with more than 2,000 people in attendance.

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I was on a panel to discuss the idea of a Virtual Metropolis, a topic I introduced to the Rural Broadband Association and have written about here.

The idea is simple. In the pre-internet days, cities — especially big cities — brought together lots of people. Because these peoople were near each other and could casually interact, these cities became hotbeds of innovation and economic production.  Along with increased agricultural productivity, this led to the shift of population from rural to urban areas that has threatened many small towns.

As a sort of last gasp, after World War II, many small outlying towns tried to substitute factories as a source of employment.  In the face on increasing automation and cheaper labor markets elsewhere, that strategy crumbled too. In the last couple of decades, the drop in small town and rural population has increased. Many bright, ambitious young people can’t wait to move away to a big city.

And, if you’re an entrepreneur with some great new product or service, it’s easier to start up in New York or Silicon Valley or some other equivalent place. Why? Because no single person has all the skills they need to succeed and it’s easier to find skilled people in those cities than in your small town.

When I write this, you may be thinking about high-tech entrepreneurs. But the historic limitations of small town life affect everyone, even artisans or those in other low-tech businesses.

This all may sound bleak and many people share that bleak outlook.  Even some of the members of the Rural Broadband Association can be overwhelmed by this picture.

But what I’ve described is about the past, not the potential for the future. In this digital age, if you’re connected by broadband you can live anywhere. If you enjoy country living and love the quality of life there, you no longer need to compromise your economic prospects by continuing to live in the country.

We’ve seen some of the positive impact that broadband can have on those rural communities who have invested in broadband, but that impact has not been widespread enough for people to take notice.

Partly this reflects the lack of reasonably priced broadband in many rural areas.   The Rural Broadband folks are working hard to fix that.

More important, there hasn’t been a digital platform devoted to the needs of people in the countryside that would provide a substitute for the casual face-to-face interactions and the breadth of the skill pool that people in big cities take for granted.

That’s where the Virtual Metropolis comes in. We are building this platform to make it easier for people in small towns and rural areas to see and talk to each other about how they can work together for mutual economic benefit.

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Broadband makes this possible because it provides the bandwidth that’s necessary for visual chat. Visual chat is especially critical in helping to establish trust, compared to email, messaging and other forms of communication that are limited to text.

The shared small town experience is also an essential basis for mutual understanding and trust.  That common experience gets drowned out in the overwhelmingly urban outlook of much larger social media and job services.

If even 10 or 15% of the people living in more rural areas join in for business purposes, they will be virtually part of a metropolis of more than five million people. In that way, they can achieve many of the same benefits of physically residing in a big city.

(While my focus is on economic opportunity, broadband will also give these folks access to great educational, cultural and medical resources.)

In addition to creating and setting up the technology for a Virtual Metropolis, we need to build a community — to get people to participate.

In part, that’s where the NTCA plays a key role.  They can reach out to the early adopters, the innovators in their regions and let them know that the days of isolation are over. Clearly, from a business viewpoint, the Virtual Metropolis provides their customers and potential customers with a strong business justification for increasing their bandwidth.

One of the panelists, Dusty Johnson of Vantage Point Solutions in Mitchell, South Dakota.  Despite Mitchell’s selection among the ICF’s Top 7 most intelligent communities in the world, he was initially skeptical as a self-described “cranky old man.”  But as he thought about others in Mitchell, particularly his own children and other young people, he realized the value of the idea.

The other panelist, Michael Burke, CEO of MTA, the local broadband provider for 10,000 square miles of Alaska is already an unusually innovative leader. MTA goes way beyond merely providing connectivity in many ways, for example providing customer training on new technology and funding coding classes in the schools.

Mr. Burke quickly championed the Virtual Metropolis. Of course, considering the distance from the lower 48 and the nature of winter in Alaska, the necessity of being part of a much larger virtual community is crystal clear.

[If you’re interested in joining and helping to build this virtual metropolis, please contact me.]

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© 2017 Norman Jacknis, All Rights Reserved

[http://njacknis.tumblr.com/post/156987590937/the-virtual-metropolis-moves-forward]

The Internet Is Already Reinvigorating The Countryside

The Intelligent Community Forum (ICF) held its annual summit last week in Columbus, Ohio.  As I’ve done in the last couple of years, I ran a workshop for small cities and rural areas.

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Unlike
past years, this time I didn’t only focus on the potential that the
Internet provides for the countryside, but also showed the ways that
some – but not all – of those communities are already being
reinvigorated.  This post will provide a summary of my presentation
during the first half of the workshop.

In addition to the
usual background about ICF, I let people know of the establishment of a
new ICF Institute that is specifically devoted to the study of rural
communities.  It’s based at Mississippi State University and is led by
Professor Roberto Gallardo.

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I quickly outlined the reasons why
changes in technology and the economy enable small towns and rural areas
to flourish again in this century:

  • Now and in the future, size and clusters count less than connections
  • Broadband enables economic growth in the way that proximity enabled urban economic growth in the industrial era
  • An
    ever increasing percentage of people can make a living by providing
    intangible products and services that can be delivered from anywhere to
    anywhere
  • A life-long 9 to 5 job in a big company is being pushed aside by the freelance economy
  • Visual communication will intensify the trends — although we are still only in the early stages of its use

But
I noted that only some small towns and rural areas have taken advantage
of these factors.  As a result, growth is very uneven in the
countryside as reported  by the US Department of Agriculture’s Economic Research Service.

Then
I reviewed the kinds of community building services that the leaders,
in contrast to the laggards, are providing on top of their broadband and
technology foundation.

That was all prelude to the main topics of the day:

  • the
    development of a new urban exodus by digital millennials from high-tech
    cities into those parts of the countryside that provide both a better
    quality of life as well as Internet connectivity
  • the need for
    residents of the countryside to participate in the global economy and
    not limit their horizons to their local areas or even just their region

The new urban exodus to the countryside is a phenomenon that is not only in

the US, but has also occurred in France and the UK.  Nor is it like the migration to exurban homes of more than a decade ago.  As a Pew study has reported:

But
to call these rural hot spots “exurban,” Garreau said, is missing the
point.  As he sees it, today’s urban exiles aren’t looking for a lengthy
commute from the far suburbs to a downtown office.  They’re seasoned
professionals with big incomes who’ve grown tired of the urban rat race,
he said.  They’re looking to completely eradicate the notion of
commuting to work and toiling from 9 to 5.  Rich greenery and wide-open
vistas are a must.

For a better understanding of this phenomenon, I showed a few minutes from Alissa Hessler’s very compelling video explaining what her Urban Exodus website and life is like.

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Then
I reviewed the evidence showing the greater growth path for those
participating in the global economy, even in rural areas.  However,
rural residents are at a competitive disadvantage compared to their city
cousins if they try to do this in isolation.

For that reason, I
emphasized the need for rural residents to achieve scale and influence
by working together in a kind of virtual metropolis
or global virtual
Chamber of Commerce where they can meet and, more important, find
business partners, services and even customers.  Partly, this can work
is because it is also built on the shared experience and perspective
that comes from living in the countryside.

If you or the residents
of your community are interested in joining in this virtual metropolis,
please contact me – njacknis at intelligent community dot org.

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© 2016 Norman Jacknis, All Rights Reserved

[http://njacknis.tumblr.com/post/146306552640/the-internet-is-already-reinvigorating-the]

The Last Big Barrier To A Rural Renaissance: Healthcare

I’ve written before about the ways that small towns and rural areas
can take advantage of broadband Internet connections to gain access to
global economic opportunities, educational and cultural resources, even
the virtual equivalents of coffee shops that used to be only available
in big cities.

Perhaps the biggest remaining barrier to a 21st century rural renaissance is access to world class health care.    

With
that in mind, President Obama’s Rural Council brought together about
three dozen experts to the White House complex last week to identify
innovative ways of bringing health care to the countryside and to
establish a “community of practice” that will help the Obama
administration and hopefully its successor to address the problem. 

The
group included:

  • Federal officials from various agencies, including Secretary of Agriculture Vilsack
  • Leading broadband providers and the Rural Broadband Association’s CEO, Shirley Bloomfield, and Joshua Seidemann, Vice President of Policy (who helped organize this meeting)
  • Exemplary providers of tele-health, and
  • A
    couple of other experts, including myself (in my role as Senior Fellow
    of the Intelligent Community Forum and director of its New Connected
    Countryside initiative)
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This “convening” was led by Doug O’Brien, Senior White House Advisor for Rural Affairs.

It
was noted, although not news to those around the table, that the nearly
60 million Americans who live in rural areas were hit especially hard
by the Great Recession.  Their local economies have taken longer to
recover, still not back to pre-recession employment levels.

But the comparisons of rural versus urban health care were most striking.  Here are just some highlights:

  • Rural areas have higher rates of disease and higher mortality rates than urban areas. In 1980, the rural mortality rate was 2% worse than the urban rate and now it’s 13% worse.
  • While
    approximately one in six Americans live in rural areas, only one in ten
    physicians practice there. There are even fewer medical specialists per
    capita.
  • Suicide rates are higher and getting worse in rural
    areas. Along with a growing drug abuse problem, this is a reflection of a
    growing need for mental health services.

None of these
medical problems are helped by the fact that rural residents are poorer
and less likely to have health insurance.  Of course, given the lack of
sufficient nearby medical resources, rural residents need to travel
further – often hours further – than their urban counterparts.

In
the Internet age, that last problem should be able to be mostly overcome
with health care delivered remotely.  So most of the meeting was
devoted learning about the use and deployment of tele-health care.  In
this post, I won’t be able to describe all of them or any one of them in
detail, but here are some that stood out to me:

  • Using cost-effective solutions, like iPads, Vanderbilt University Medical Center
    has established a network of rural tele-health services. This even
    includes virtual group sessions for people with drug addictions.
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  • The
    US Department of Veterans Affairs has pioneered the use of virtual ICUs
    in its rural clinics and facilities. With a fully developed set of
    tele-health tools, to the patients and local staff, it’s like having the
    expert ICU doctor at the bedside.  As a byproduct of these virtual
    ICUs, the medical staff at these facilities are also getting an
    education in newer and better medical techniques.
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  • Through East Carolina University School of Medicine, there is now a tele-psychiatry network in North Carolina. The relatively low cost of making tele-psychiatry available is helpful, given the increasing need for mental health services.
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Obviously,
many rural areas do not yet have the broadband which is necessary to
deliver these services.  But there are clearly broadband providers,
especially telecommunications coops, which are up to the task.  We heard
about just two of those who had completed gigabit deployments to every
household in their rural areas in Kentucky and North Carolina.  One of
those, Peoples Rural Telephone Coop was reported on in a Daily Yonder article last month, “One of the Nation’s Fastest Networks Serves Two of Its Poorest Counties”.

Even
before the recent recession, there were long term trends in rural
America that called out for a different and new economic strategy.  In
his closing remarks, Secretary Vilsack noted that, since 1950,
agricultural productivity has increased a hundred fold on 27% less land
and with 22 million fewer farmers.  So the challenge today is what
opportunities and quality of life can the remaining families have.  

The
people around that table last week and ICF believe that a revived rural
community can be built upon the intelligent and creative use of
technology – and improving access to quality healthcare is just one very
important example.

© 2016 Norman Jacknis, All Rights Reserved

[http://njacknis.tumblr.com/post/142294161516/the-last-big-barrier-to-a-rural-renaissance]

New Funding For Libraries

The Metropolitan New York Library Council was invited to take part today in a working conference of the New York State Assembly Standing Committee on Libraries and Information Technology on the digital divide, broadband and especially library funding.  We — Nate Hill, Executive Director, and myself as Board president — took the opportunity to address the large and developing problem of how to fund libraries in this century.

We noted that these subjects are all part of a larger problem.  Libraries are delivering more and more digital content and services to larger numbers of people, especially those who are on the wrong side of the digital divide or who still need help navigating the digital economy.  These increased services require much higher bandwidth than most libraries can now offer, which puts an unfair and arbitrary cap on how well people can be served.

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While the need for broadband in libraries and its value to the community is clear, what has been unclear and, at best, sporadic is the financing to make the broadband-based services possible.  When legislators only thought about libraries as just another one of the cultural resources for the state, library funding was limited to a piece of cultural funding.

Now that libraries offer a broader array of services and can offer even more in a digital broadband era, the funding should also be more diversified. 

• To the extent libraries support entrepreneurs and small business as both location for innovation and “corporate reference librarian”, a piece of the economic development budget should support libraries.• To the extent libraries support students, especially with homework help and after school resources, a piece of the very large education budget should support libraries.• To the extent libraries support workforce development and are the most cost-effective, often the only, way that adult learners can keep up their skills to be employable, a piece of the workforce development and public assistance budgets should support libraries.• To the extent libraries support public health education, a piece of the health budget should support libraries.

There are other examples, but the strategy is clear.  Library funding needs to come from a diverse set of sources, just as a good investor has a balanced portfolio and doesn’t have all the money in one stock.

Of course, in the longer run, public officials will recognize the role of the library as the central non-commercial institution of the knowledge age that we are entering.  As such, perhaps the permanent funding of libraries should be a very light tax on the commerce going to through the Internet to support the digital public services that are provided by libraries.

To some degree, the principle of basing support for library broadband on telecommunications revenues has been established with the Federal E-Rate program.  But the amounts are relatively small and the telecommunications base is traditional phone service, which is diminishing, not the Internet which is growing.

Whatever the source of funding may turn out to be, libraries need a consistent source of funding that grows with the demand for their services in this century.

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© 2016 Norman Jacknis, All Rights Reserved

[http://njacknis.tumblr.com/post/140390575384/new-funding-for-libraries]

Broadband And An Open Internet

Six US Senators, mostly from small rural states, wrote recently to the FCC about the inconsistencies they found between its recent report on broadband progress and its Open Internet order that was issued last March.

The
FCC’s stated:

“We find that advanced telecommunications capability is
not being deployed to all Americans in a reasonable and timely fashion…
… many Americans still lack access to advanced telecommunications
capability, especially in rural areas… the disparity between rural and
urban Americans persists”.

The Senators:

  • objected to the FCC’s view that broadband is not being deployed fast enough
  • expressed their “concern” that the FCC’s broadband benchmark (25 Mpbs download and 3 Mbps upload speeds) “discourages broadband providers from offering speeds at or above [that] benchmark.”
  • pointed out difference in broadband definitions between the Open Internet proposal and the broadband report
  • questioned why the Connect American fund only subsidizes rural broadband at speeds of 10 Mbps download and 1 Mbps upload.
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This post is not primarily about the issue of net neutrality, as important as that is. Instead, hopefully I’m giving an objective, third party view of this debate about broadband from the perspective of the Intelligent Community Forum’s more than fifteen years of working with communities around the world and seeing what level and kind of broadband they need.

As might be expected, both sides of this dispute are somewhat off the mark.

Despite the progress that is being made in some parts of the USA by private companies or municipal agencies, the FCC’s statement that broadband is not being deployed in a timely fashion is essentially correct.

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The Senators’ assertion that maintaining a 25/3 broadband benchmark discourage telecommunications companies and other Internet Service Providers from delivering more than this minimum benchmark does not make a lot of sense and is not supported by any evidence. Our observation is that, in areas where these companies feel under competitive threat, they manage to find the money to invest in upgrading speeds on their networks.

It’s also worth pointing out that the speeds that are promised by ISPs are seldom delivered, as anyone who has used Speedtest or similar services can attest. This reality seems unrecognized by both the Senators and the FCC.

The focus of the FCC and the Senators on download speeds ignores the need for upload speeds, especially for those who want to use broadband for business, health care and education. In some respects, it is best to look at the combination of upload and download speeds. The FCC’s discussion about fairness to big content providers might have misled them into thinking mostly about delivery of content from a central source and not to consider the world we have, where people are both consumers and producers of content.

The Senators’ statement that they are unaware of any application needing 25 Mbps ignores the demands of even the near term future. Broadband projects, according to the telecommunications companies, are major investments — presumably made to meet the needs of more than the next six months.

There was a time perhaps a decade ago when people couldn’t figure out why they needed more than dial up speeds. Now they know and demand broadband. The FCC, the Senators and telecommunications companies all need to realize that even speeds that are above today will seem way too slow for the applications that are coming in a few years.

The Senators are correct that there is no good public policy reason to accept different broadband speeds for urban versus rural areas. Our work with rural areas, if anything, would lead us to believe that the reverse is true. Those in urban areas can still seek out a large number of customers and business partners the old fashioned way, in person. To succeed in the global economy today, those living in rural areas need higher speeds to connect with people far away.

Although the Senators brought together the FCC’s Open Internet policy and broadband assessment to criticize the FCC, there is an interplay between net neutrality (the FCC’s Open Internet) and broadband which goes beyond the FCC’s contradictory statements. Simply, if the bandwidth is sufficient, then there would be less reason to throttle any consumer or content provider — and thus less reason for concern about how Internet service providers could be hurt by Open Internet requirements.

© 2016 Norman Jacknis, All Rights Reserved

[http://njacknis.tumblr.com/post/139911411379/broadband-and-an-open-internet]

A National Library Service

Readers of this blog are aware that libraries have continued to adapt
to our evolving digital era. Most provide electronic materials, teach
people about digital literacy, help overcome the digital divide by
making Wi-Fi and even devices freely available, etc.  Some even support platforms for self-publishing.

But
libraries have yet to collectively take advantage of the Internet as a
national (even global) network that connects them all. This is
especially true for reference librarians.

This is not really a new
idea. There are a few examples of collaboration within state borders,
such as Florida’s Ask A Librarian.

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More than ten years ago, going
beyond one state to the whole nation, the Library of Congress helped
create the QuestionPoint service to provide

“libraries with access to a
growing collaborative network of reference librarians in the United
States and around the world. Library patrons can submit questions at any
time of the day or night through their library’s Web site. The
questions will be answered online by qualified library staff from the
patron’s own library or may be forwarded to a participating library
around the world.”

Although it’s now part of OCLC, QuestionPoint
certainly hasn’t grown in use as the Internet has grown in use. Indeed,
the movement for collaboration among libraries seems to have peaked
perhaps ten years ago. This is despite the fact that the demand for
these services has increased, while the tools to meet that demand have
become less expensive. The tools for collaboration – from social media
to videoconferencing – have vastly improved and become more common
recently.

In a world where everyone is drowning in a sea of
information, reference librarians have a unique and valuable role as
guides – the captains of the pilot boats on that sea. However, without
collaboration, every library would somehow have to have reference
librarians on staff who can quickly be expert on all matters. That’s
clearly impossible and no library can do the job adequately all alone.

But,
in its last report on employment, the American Library Association
reported that the USA has 70,000+ paid librarians and 150,000+ other
library staff. Imagine the impact if they worked together and
collaborated, each person specializing in some – but not all – subjects.
Each of these specialist reference librarians, networked together,
would be available to patrons everywhere in the country.

In this way, collaboration through the Internet would enable each library to:

  • Promote economies of scale, both becoming more cost-effective and more valuable
  • Broaden the library’s resource reach to better serve its local residents

Maureen
Sullivan, Past President of the American Library Association and my
colleague in the Aspen Institute’s working group on libraries, has
stated the situation clearly:

“With a nationally networked
platform, library and other leaders will also have more capacity to
think about the work they can do at the national level that so many
libraries have been so effective at doing at the state and local levels”

Jim
Neal, former head of the Columbia University Libraries, current member
of the board of the Metropolitan New York Library Council and hopefully
the next President of the American Library Association, wrote four years
ago wrote an article whose message was clear “Advancing From Kumbaya to Radical Collaboration: Redefining the Future Research Library”. While his focus was on research libraries, his call for radical collaboration should be heard by all libraries.

With
that in mind, Ronna C. Memer of the San Jose (California) Public
Library, reflecting on her 25 years of librarianship, wrote in a 2011
issue of the Collaborative Librarianship journal:

“Although some
collaborative efforts have recently been curtailed due to rising costs,
it seems that more rather than less collaboration would be most
cost-effective to library systems in coming years. As distinctions
between types of library services (e.g. online vs. face-to-face)
diminish, so too do some distinctions between types of library systems
(e.g. academic vs. public) as well as between library systems and other
institutions such as museums. Libraries, their staff and their patrons
all benefit from creative sharing of library resources and services.”

Other
fields of endeavor have created national networks. For example, the
National Agricultural and Rural Development Policy (NARDeP) Center is a
“flexible national network of scientists and analysts ready to quickly
meet the needs of local, state, and federal policy makers.”

Certainly, all libraries – networked together – can do the same thing for the residents of their communities.

© 2016 Norman Jacknis, All Rights Reserved

[http://njacknis.tumblr.com/post/139429516062/a-national-library-service]

The New Urban Exodus

During the last half of the last century, there was much concern
about people leaving cities. Several books explored the phenomenon,
including one titled “Urban Exodus”, a phrase that became almost a rallying cry for urbanists and urban planners.

Many of the cities – even the largest ones – lost population as people moved out to the suburbs and even further to ex-urbs.

Then
over the last decade or two, with a general decrease in crime and
the arrival of both immigrants and young people who grew up elsewhere,
many cities – although certainly not all – were re-populated and turned
around. We read many stories about how these new arrivals are bringing a
new vibrancy to urban areas. And we frequently hear about the various
predictions of the continuing urbanization of the world’s population.

Of course, rural life continues to have its attractive qualities for some people. So, about two years ago, I asked “Will The Best & Brightest Return To The Countryside?
That blog post even had a reference to a New York Times story about
older folks returning to rural life after business careers elsewhere – “A Second Career, Happily in the Weeds”.

A necessary youth movement among farmers has also developed. In western Canada, there is the Young Agrarians
whose motto is “growing the next generation of farmers and food lovers
in Canada”. On the other side of the continent, the Virtual Grange has
run young farmers conferences.

Even more recently, with the
diffusion of information and communications technology, there has
started a new urban exodus, with a more significant twist. This exodus
is not about the movement to the suburbs of middle class families, whose
breadwinners work for large corporations. Rather it is about creative
folks, artists, and others from cities, going past the suburbs, to live
in rural areas where they can practice their craft and/or become
farmers.

The magazine, Modern Farmer, was established to serve
this group of people – in its own special hipster way that would
otherwise be associated with parts of San Francisco or Brooklyn. In a
recent issue, the magazine contained an article “At Home with Jacob and Alissa Hessler of Urban Exodus”.

image

The appropriately named Urban Exodus website describes its founders and cohorts this way:

“The
new age of back to landers. Urban Exodus gives an intimate glimpse into
the spaces and lives of creative urbanites who chose to leave the
concrete jungle for greener pastures. In addition to the idyllic imagery
of rustic farmhouses, working studios and cabins nestled in the woods,
are interviews detailing their journey. These interviews highlight the
triumphs and the struggles they have experienced and the inspirations
they have found since choosing to live a life away from the urban
existences they once knew.“

It’s filled with stories about people like those pictured here:

image

Nor is this just a North American phenomenon. William van den Broek wrote about the same situation in France:

“Many
cities of the world are facing an unexpected phenomenon: urban exodus.
No longer constrained by a localized workspace, an increasing number of
freelancers are enjoying mobility, and ultimately leaving stressful and
polluted cities. After the rural exodus, following the industrial
revolution, are we now facing a digital urban exodus. Perhaps this
movement is now following the digital revolution?”

Any social
trend is complex, especially in the world today. So, for some people,
it’s not a matter of taking leave from the city, but living in both the
city and the country – a combination that technology also makes
possible.  I mentioned Brooklyn before as one of the centers of the
young creatives on the East Coast. Among those splitting their time in
city and country are young Brooklyn families who maintain residences
both in Brooklyn’s urban core and more than a hundred miles away in the
rural parts of the Hudson Valley and Catskills Mountains.

Unfortunately,
rural areas on the wrong side of the digital divide will not be very
inviting to this potential influx of sophisticated folks because those
areas lack the required connectivity to the rest of the world.
Nevertheless, with the creative and idealistic people behind it, this
new urban exodus is very much worth watching.

© 2016 Norman Jacknis, All Rights Reserved

[http://njacknis.tumblr.com/post/139052799904/the-new-urban-exodus]

Getting Us Closer?

When we look at the adoption of new technologies, there often seem to
be two simultaneous divergent trends. The innovators and early adopters
push the technology forward, making significant progress every year.
The laggards still find many reasons not to use the technology.

The current state of videoconferencing provides a very strong example of this divergence.

While
videoconferencing has been steadily increasing in the corporate world,
it hasn’t really taken off. Each year, we see new predictions that this
next year videoconferencing will be unavoidable.

The obstacles to widespread adoption of videoconferencing in the past included:

  • Cost – which has decreased dramatically over the last few years
  • Quality
    — the need for high broadband, low latency on both sides of the
    conversation, which gets better as bandwidth has generally increased
  • Sunk
    costs that make people wary of investing more money — one estimate is
    that more than half of businesses have outdated hardware
  • And, as always, human resistance or impediments to change of any kind.

In
recent years, consumers have tended to adopt new technologies faster
than big corporations do. But reliable data about usage of consumer
video, like Skype Video or Apple FaceTime, is not readily available.

Nevertheless, the technology is moving forward with some interesting results.

Two weeks ago, Skype celebrated ten years of video calls by offering group mobile video conferencing.

Using through-the-screen-camera and a holographic illusion, DVETelepresence
has worked to make videoconferences appear more natural to
participants. This picture is one of my favorites. You’ll notice that to
enhance the illusion they even embed the office plant on both sides of
the screen, as if it really is to the side of the people who are remote.

image

Last week, 4Dpresence, a spinoff of DVETelepresence, announced
the availability of their “holographic town hall” for political
candidates and issues. Taking a page from India’s Prime Minister, who
used videoconferences to appear all over that country during their last
election, this company is offering to host candidates who can appear as
if they are live holograms and interact with audiences. The company
claims:

“In live venues, the patented holographic augmented
reality podium is so bright the candidates appear more compelling than
actually being there in person. The candidates and citizens engage each
other naturally as if they are together in person.”

You can see a video on their website.

Personify
offers what they call “Video Conversation, With a Hint of
Teleportation”. The idea is to eliminate the background that an Intel
RealSense 3D camera or a Primesense Carmine 3D cameravideo camera is
picking up so that you and the people you’re talking to all seem to
share the same virtual space.

Another version of teleportation for videoconferencing was featured a few months ago in a Wall St. Journal article titled “The Future of Remote Work Feels Like Teleportation: Virtual-reality headsets, 3-D cameras help make videoconferencing immersive”. As its author wrote:

“I
have experienced the future of remote work, and it feels a lot like
teleportation. Whether I was in a conference room studded with monitors,
on a video-chat system that leverages 3-D cameras, or strapped into a
virtual-reality headset inhabiting the body of a robot, I kept having
the same feeling over and over again: I was there — where collaboration
needed to happen.”  

The article focused especially on the use of virtual reality gear to achieve this effect. There is DORA from the University of Pennsylvania, in which a person uses the VR headset to see through the eyes of a mobile robot.

This month’s MIT Technology Review also highlighted the use of Microsoft’s Room Alive in an article
titled “Can Augmented Reality Make Remote Communication Feel More
Intimate? A Microsoft Research study uses augmented reality to project a
life-size person into a room with you, perching them in an empty seat.”

image

Eventually, as the technology gets ever more interesting and
intimate, some fraction of the laggards may finally adopt the new
technology. Although as Max Planck noted about scientific progress, the
adoption pattern may just be generational: “A new scientific truth does
not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light,
but rather because its opponents eventually die, and a new generation
grows up that is familiar with it.”

So it’s interesting that “47% of US teens use video chat including Skype, Oovoo, Facetime and Omegle.”

In
the meantime, the early adopters are getting all the economic and
intellectual benefits that can only occur with the full communication
that videoconferencing provides and texting/emails don’t. These people
are literally seeing the real potential of global Internet
communications and will likely reap the economic gains from realizing
that potential.

image

© 2016 Norman Jacknis, All Rights Reserved

[http://njacknis.tumblr.com/post/138040698302/getting-us-closer]

Older Suburban Cities: The New Startups Of Metro Regions

Last week, I was in Ridgeland, Mississippi, a suburban city of 25,000 outside of Jackson.  It is the second city in the state to adopt high speed broadband Internet in response to the challenge by the regional communications company, C-Spire.  For most of the day, I met with city aldermen and other public officials to discuss the various ways that broadband provides the foundation for economic development, learning, healthcare, even quality of life and tourism.

C-Spire also has its headquarters in Ridgeland, so you’d think that adoption would be widespread.  But the pattern of adoption in Ridgeland is similar to elsewhere.  It often is picked up by the more educated and affluent section of the town and slower to be adopted by others – including those who would most benefit from expanded opportunity.

image

It was very encouraging to see the public officials focusing on broadband.  With the local public leadership strongly behind this effort to position Ridgeland for the 21st century, the likelihood that all will benefit will be much greater than in other cities I’ve seen where the local leaders do not seem to understand.

Public officials are critical in creating a 21st century intelligent community because they have the necessary political skills.  While nothing is ever easy in public affairs, it is relatively easier to build a highway – the organizations and companies, who are the usual participants in civic discussions, grew up with older infrastructure investments.  

Broadband-based community building is new and may deliver benefits after the leaders of those organizations have retired.

So, public leaders need to widen the circle of people involved in envisioning the future of their communities.  For an intelligent community initiative to succeed, it needs to include the newer, growing parts of the economy – entrepreneurs, young people, tech businesses, artists, freelancers of all kinds, as well as the many others whose earnings depend on their knowledge.  

Ridgeland also fits into another pattern I’ve observed over the last couple of years – in cities as far apart and different culturally from it as New Westminster in British Columbia, Canada and Dublin, Ohio and Yonkers, New York.

Older, small cities in what is now a suburban ring are often the places where the most interesting adoption of technology is occurring.  These cities are the most far-sighted and devote the most effort to planning their futures.

And it’s not just a matter of having money.  Some are relatively affluent, but these cities are generally in the mid-range of income or even below the mid-range.
Much more than other places, they act as if they are in startup mode – and their leaders are, in a sense, public entrepreneurs.  Of course, like startups in the private sector, a few will fail in their efforts, many will achieve reasonable, if not spectacular, success and a few will achieve legendary status.

image

By contrast, big cities often seem to sit on their laurels.  Besides, with big established interests and big bureaucracies, they are very hard to change and to achieve dramatic transformation.

Unfortunately, not all small cities are jumping on the opportunities presented by a globally connected world.  Too many smaller cities have suffered too long from the loss of their industrial base and population.  They have yet to overcome their despondency about the present, never mind their fear of a worse future.  

They should look to these similar-sized “startup” cities as examples to emulate.

© 2015 Norman Jacknis, All Rights Reserved
[http://njacknis.tumblr.com/post/134727161698/older-suburban-cities-the-new-startups-of-metro]

Urban-Rural Interdependency

Much of the discussion about economic growth and the availability of
broadband assumes there is a vast gulf between rural and urban areas.
I’ve written before about how, in some ways, trends in this century seem to be leading to something of a convergence of rural and urban areas.

So
I thought it especially interesting that the NTCA–The Rural Broadband
Association yesterday hosted a policy meeting in the US Capitol that was
titled: “Beyond Rural Walls: Identifying Impacts and Interdependencies
Among Rural and Urban Spaces”.

image

I was there for the panel
discussion, along with Professor Sharon Strover of the College of
Communication at University of Texas in Austin and Professor Charles
Fluharty of the Department of Health Management and Policy at the
University of Iowa (who is also the CEO of the Rural Policy Research
Institute).

We covered the changing demographics and ambiguities
in the boundaries between urban and rural, broadband deployment and
adoption, and how to measure both the interdependencies between these
areas as well as the impact of broadband communications. Perhaps there
were too many knotty issues for one morning!

Since the NTCA will be making available further information about this, I’m now just going to highlight my own observations.

There
are many examples of rural communities using broadband in innovative
and intelligent ways. One example is the work of the counties in
Appalachian Kentucky, one of the poorest parts of the US.

But most
of these communities don’t know about each other, which means that each
has to re-invent the wheel instead of learning from others’ experience
and experiments. That’s one reason ICF is planning a global virtual
summit for these communities.

The limited distribution of this
news also encourages major national/global philanthropic foundations to
give up hope for rural areas in the US. Dr. Fluharty noted that less
than five percent of philanthropy goes to American rural areas, although
twenty percent of the population lives there.

He also emphasized
that doing something about rural broadband and development is a national
issue, not something to be merely dealt with locally. He even
classified it as a national security issue because the countryside holds
so much of the country’s critical resources – our food, not the least.

The
problem is that for many national leaders, especially members of
Congress, the mental image of the countryside is of past decline and
abandonment. The national media reinforce that image. So they may feel
it’s a hopeless problem and/or have no idea what might be happening that
ought to be encouraged.

Many of our current national leaders also
have forgotten the common understanding of the founders of the USA that
a large country would only succeed if it was brought together. That’s
why building postal roads is one of the few specific responsibilities
given to Congress in the constitution. It’s why the Erie Canal was
built, the Land Grant colleges, etc. We seem to have forgotten what led
to our success. In this century, physical roads aren’t enough. Digital
communications are just as important.

Of course, not all public
officials are oblivious. There was a keynote by Lisa Mensah, Under
Secretary for Rural Development of the US Department of Agriculture.

Representative
Bill Johnson (Republican of Ohio’s 6th District) opened the conference
with a statement about the importance of rural broadband for urban
economies. Senator Al Franken of Minnesota closed the conference by
saying he viewed rural broadband in the same way people viewed rural
electrification decades ago – a basic necessity and common right of the
American people. Or, as he said “A no-brainer”.

Along with these
misperceptions on the part of media, national officials and foundations
is the failure to recognize the increasing integration of rural and
urban areas. The boundaries are getting fuzzy.

Even residence is
no longer clear. There are an increasing number of people – especially
knowledge workers and creative folks – who may spend 3-4 days a week in a
city and 3-4 days a week in the countryside. They may contact you, via
broadband Internet, and you won’t know which location they’re in. Are
they rural residents or urban residents or is that an increasingly
meaningless question?

Finally, in the question-and-answer part of
the conference, one of the many operators of rural communications
companies there pointed out that they know how to deploy broadband and
run it, but that their communities need help figuring out what to do
with it. Of course, that provided me an opportunity to discuss ICF’s
accelerator program and workshops that help community leaders do exactly
that.

image

© 2015 Norman Jacknis, All Rights Reserved

[http://njacknis.tumblr.com/post/133528658560/urban-rural-interdependency]

The Virtual City-State Of All Ohio?

Last week, I attended the conference that launched the new Global Institute for the Study of the Intelligent Community, based in Dublin, Ohio.

image

In the annual evaluation by the Intelligent Community Forum (ICF),
Dublin has been among the most intelligent communities in the world for
the last few years. Nearby Columbus, Ohio was designated the most
intelligent community this past June.

The institute will share
innovations and best practices to help make communities more prosperous,
livable, resilient and intelligent. Although using broadband and
technology is a part of the story, the institute is part of the ICF
movement which has distinguished itself by its emphasis as well on all
the other factors that make a community intelligent. As such, the effort
to become an intelligent community involves all elements of a
community, not just technologists. Much of the discussion encouraged
leaders from Dublin, Columbus and other places in Ohio to think about
what a successful intelligent community means and how to measure it.

Dana
McDaniel, who had been in charge of Dublin’s economic development
strategy and is now its city manager, organized and led the conference.
In the moments when people had a chance to outline their longer term
vision, he had an intriguing thought. He wants to unify and treat Ohio
as the first intelligent community that encompasses a whole state.

This
reminded me of my work on technology-based economic development in
Massachusetts a few years ago. Massachusetts’ problem was that the
Boston/Cambridge area of the state was its primary economic engine, but
that the rest of the state, especially the central region, had suffered
economically.

Several states have a similar situation with only
one truly prosperous region. New York, Illinois, Colorado and Washington
are reasonably good examples of the problem.

So we came up with a
plan that would use broadband connectivity to link the rest of
Massachusetts to the Boston area. We knew this might be fraught with
political objections from other parts of the state not wanting to lose
their identity by being considered virtual suburbs of Boston.

Instead,
we were trying to find a way to link together the whole state. This
would not only provide resources and potential financing from Boston for
those elsewhere, but just as important it could provide people in
Boston with new entrepreneurial ideas that could only flourish in areas
with a different business atmosphere.

While it certainly has
pockets of relative affluence and poverty, Ohio is actually not one of
those states with a single economic engine. Despite that – or maybe
because of that – the idea of weaving together all the communities in a
state is germinating there.

By contrast, some states that do have
the problem of a concentration of prosperity seem to be going in the
opposite direction – splitting themselves into non-cooperating regions,
thus diminishing the state’s overall impact and putting every region in a
weaker competitive position.

I’ve noted before that
communications technology today makes possible a virtual metropolis
created through the linked combination of rural areas.

Ohio’s
variation on the theme is also an interesting development to watch. It
may well position Ohio as the forerunner for economic growth for the
rest of the USA – a 21st century virtual version of the economically
dominant city-states of the European Renaissance.

image

© 2015 Norman Jacknis, All Rights Reserved
[http://njacknis.tumblr.com/post/132017256455/the-virtual-city-state-of-all-ohio]

Lessons From The Intelligent Community Forum Summit

Last week, the Intelligent Community Forum held its annual summit in Toronto.  The underlying theme was “How Intelligent Communities Are Re-Inventing Urban and Rural Planning”, so much of the discussion was about re-invention and innovating.  

In addition to the all-day workshops for large urban jurisdictions and smaller cities/towns/rural areas, all of Friday was devoted to Ideas Day – with a slew of presentations sharing novel approaches to local government and planning.

On Thursday, capping his successful 16 year run as mayor as he retires, Mayor Michael Coleman proudly accepted the award to Columbus, Ohio as the world’s most Intelligent Community this year.

(You can see the full agenda at icfsummit2015.com.  The presentations, including mine, will be available on intelligentcommunity.org in the coming weeks.)

image

One of the other highlights of the week was the keynote speech by David Johnston, the Governor General of Canada spoke on June 10th.  Before that, he was the President of the University Of Waterloo, Canada’s premier engineering school.  

Since it was established in the late 1950s, it has become the cradle for a thriving tech innovation community – Blackberry being one if the best known examples. In part, for this reason, he was part of the team in the City of Waterloo who succeeded in being named the most Intelligent Community of the year in 2007.  

He attributed its success to two policies that stand in contrast with the way that many universities try to contain the fruits of innovation within their campuses – thus actually diminishing their innovation.  

The first policy is that the university makes no intellectual property claims on the research done by faculty, researchers or students.   Instead they encourage them to commercialize their research and reap the rewards for themselves and the community.  

The second policy requires coop education of all students.  Each year, every student spends two trimesters in class and one working in a company (for pay) to apply what they’ve learned.  

Finally, it’s worth noting that all of this – the need for innovation, the changes in ways in communities have to plan – is not happening in a vacuum.  

To provide some urgency to these discussions and in case you don’t realize how fast things are changing in what are still the early days of the Internet, Rob McCann, President of ClearCable, gave an interesting presentation on the growth of Internet usage — increasing roughly 50% per year.  (He also made a strong case for the involvement of local government in building out broadband networks, especially in less dense, more rural areas.) 

image

© 2015 Norman Jacknis

[http://njacknis.tumblr.com/post/121755138995/lessons-from-the-intelligent-community-forum]

“You Belong Here” Says It All

Some of us live in places that are lucky enough to have some highly unusual feature that stands out – whether it’s the mountains in Colorado towns or the surf of Key West, Florida or even the sheer scale of New York City.  But unlike those examples, there are many fine places to live which have a high quality of life, but don’t otherwise have an obvious promotable distinction.  

The big question for these places is how to maintain and build on that quality of life in a century that raises new challenges to every place, as more people are able to earn a living no matter where they are – if there’s high-speed Internet connectivity available.

Consider the small city of Clinton, Mississippi.  It has a population of about 25,000 people and is near Jackson, the State Capitol.  Although it is a relatively old city in the state, having been created in the early 1820s, it was known as Jackson’s first suburb.   More recently, other more affluent suburbs have grown up around Jackson with high-end national stores in upscale shopping malls.  

While many small cities dream of having a Fortune 500 company, Clinton had already “done that, been there”.  WorldCom (later MCI Worldcom), for several years the second largest long-distance phone company in the US, made Clinton its headquarters location.  In the early 2000s, a major fraud and financial scandal was discovered at the company.  It went bankrupt in 2002 and after a while its nice headquarters was empty and the company’s assets were eventually acquired by a company far away, Verizon.  So Clinton was no longer a big company town.

Clinton has, however, retained much of its original small town urban charm, with a number of brick-covered streets and an urban center that’s mostly missing from other suburbs.   It has a well-developed sense of community, which is, in part, reflected in the quality of its schools that are ranked number 1 in the state.

image

Nevertheless, the people of Clinton know there are challenges ahead, so they have been an early adopter of gigabit connections to the home, through a program offered by the regional telecommunications company, C-Spire.  The company announced at the end of last month that Clinton had five neighborhoods where pre-registration for the service exceeded the minimum necessary and Clinton becomes the second city in the state to become a gig-city.  

(See my earlier blog post about Quitman, MS, for a report on the first city to do this last fall.)

Thanks to the work of the Intelligent Community Institute of Mississippi State University Extension Service, there I was last week to talk to a room full of Clinton’s community leaders.  They met to envision how this gigabit network investment can be used to provide new economic opportunity for its residents and to ensure that the city can flourish in the future.

Of course, I pointed out that broadband, while necessary, isn’t sufficient.  It’s only the start in building an attractive 21st century community that will retain and, better yet, attract people to live there.

I presented a picture of where the economy and technology have come from and where they seem to be going – and what Clinton can do to get ahead of the curve.  I offered numerous examples of things that can be accomplished by a small city, pointing out that small cities can make a bigger impact this way than big cities.  After my presentation, Clinton’s community leaders worked together to identify concrete actions they would get done in the next six months.

I was struck especially by the city’s new slogan and campaign.  It was not the all-too-frequent argument that “we’re cheaper than the next city down the road and we’ll give your company big incentives to come here.”  Even before I arrived with my message that, instead, these days the key question for economic development is how you go about keeping people and attracting newcomers to your city, they had already figured it out.

I wish I had come up with their slogan, since it is spot on – “You Belong Here”.  I’ll be following up to see how Clinton goes about making good on that slogan and its promise for the future.

image

© 2015 Norman Jacknis

[http://njacknis.tumblr.com/post/119442323609/you-belong-here-says-it-all]

Innovation Grows Where You’re Not Looking

When people talk about innovative places, they often refer to Silicon Valley or New York or some other urban megalopolis.  By contrast, most of us have a sense that rural areas around the world face overwhelming problems.  Some of us – hopefully the readers of this blog – also know there’s great future potential in those areas.

And that potential is being realized in a few corners of the world that might surprise you.  Consider the countryside in the southern part of the Netherlands – the small city of Eersel and the other towns and farms nearby.  

You may even have an image of the place from Vincent Van Gogh’s paintings of potato farmers 130 years ago.  (He lived in the nearby town of Nuenen.) 

image

It’s a different place today.  Not different in the way much of the world has gone – with modern cities replacing what had been primitive countryside – but rather a modern countryside.  

Taking me on a tour of this region two weeks ago was Mr. Kees Rovers, a long-time supporter of the Intelligent Community Forum (ICF), a noted telecommunications entrepreneur and speaker on the impact of the Internet.  Years ago he was a leader in bringing a high speed fiber network to Nuenen.  Now he’s working on bringing fiber networks to the nearby town of Eersel.

Perhaps partly, but not only, due to the presence of Philips research labs in the city of Eindhoven, Wikipedia has noted:

“The province of Noord-Brabant [which contains the areas I’m describing] is one of the most innovative regions of the European Union.  This is shown by the extensive amount of new research patents by Eurostat.”

The support of innovators and pride about local innovation by the leaders of the community, like Eersel Mayor Anja Thijs-Rademakers, contributes to this local culture of innovation.  The Mayor, along with Mr. Harrie Timmermans (City Manager/Alderman), and Mrs. Liesbeth Sjouw (Alderman), joined Mr. Rovers and myself in visits to three good examples of innovation in the countryside.  

First, we saw the van der Aa family farm, which has invested in robotics – robots for milking the cows and robots to clear the barn of the manure the cows produce in great quantity.  Think of a bigger, smarter, more necessary version of the Roomba, like the one in this picture.

image

Then we visited Vencomatic, which was created by a local entrepreneur but is now a global business, still based in the countryside.  In addition to pioneering animal-friendly technology for the poultry industry, their headquarters won the award as “Europe’s most sustainable commercial building”.

The final stop was at Jacob Van Den Borne’s potato farm in Reusel.  He described his use of four drones, numerous sensors deep in the ground, analytics and scientific experiments to increase quality and production on the land.  You can see his two minute video in Dutch about precision agriculture, with English captions at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nlS8nVaI698

This is a picture of a potato farmer that Van Gogh could never have imagined.

image

Of course, what’s missing in this picture of innovation – and ultimately limits the growth of that innovation and its spirit – is broadband beyond the more densely populated villages.  That’s why Rovers and the City of Eersel are deploying broadband away from the town center, using the motto “Close The Gap”.   (Mr. Rovers is also the Founder/Director of the NGO of the same name.)

It’s also something that Van Den Borne knows, so he has organized a co-operative to build out broadband in the countryside that doesn’t have connectivity yet.  Then he can take his innovations to a whole new level.

Whether it’s just an unusually strong regional culture of innovation or the historical necessity of being creative in rural areas where you can’t just pay someone down the block to solve your problems, this region of the world sets a good example for many other rural areas.  That, in part, is what motivates us to continue ICF’s efforts to build a new connected countryside everywhere.  

[Note: you can see a local report about my trip and more pictures at http://www.eersel.nl/internet/nieuwsberichten_41633/item/werkbezoek-norman-jacknis_68294.html .  If you don’t read Dutch, Google has a pretty good translation.]

© 2015 Norman Jacknis

[http://njacknis.tumblr.com/post/117688410990/innovation-grows-where-youre-not-looking]

A Post-Industrial City Built On Broadband

Situated in the center of Metro Vancouver, New Westminster, which was founded more than 150 years ago, is one of the oldest cities in Canada west of Ontario. Like many older cities, its industrial base was hit by hard times beginning in the 1970s.

Now, with the strong support of its newly elected Mayor and City Council, it has set its sights on a government-sponsored fiber network backbone for its future revitalization.   This is, in part, feasible because of its relatively small size, 7 square miles.  It also helps that the city has a publicly owned electric utility which will also run the broadband network.

With the network underway, the Mayor, most of the City Council, many members of the New Westminster’s Intelligent City Advisory Committee and other leaders met, for two days last week, to consider the city’s future in a broadband era and what they will be doing about it.  

The event started with my hour-long keynote, reviewing the trends in the economy, society and technology that any small city must consider as it plans for the future.  I told the participants that the Internet age is giving small cities, like theirs, a new chance to flourish and so I wanted them to think about these big questions:

  • How can a city of fewer than 70,000 stand out in a world of 7,000,000,000 people?
  • How can New Westminster build a high quality of life by intelligently responding to the trends that will affect all of us in the future?
  • How can the people there expand their thinking about their options?

My underlying theme was that broadband, while absolutely necessary, is insufficient by itself.   I showed many examples – even a few videos – from other intelligent communities around the world who have built on the foundation of a broadband network.

(A copy of the slides can be found at http://www.newwestcity.ca/database/files/library/New_Westminster_Keynote.pdf )

I especially emphasized lifelong learning in a knowledge economy, connecting residents to global economic opportunities and services and creating a culture of innovation.  I finished by pointing out how they could use their network to provide delightful new urban experiences for both residents and visitors, which in turn would also inspire people to be more creative.  

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The second day was devoted to further discussion about the contents of the keynote and a workshop in which the participants broke out into five groups, each on a different subject – education, health, economic development, government services and the network itself.  Each group debated the implications for that subject and came up with projects they will undertake to make use of the new network.

They developed a sophisticated and broad understanding of what they’re getting into with the broadband network.

They clearly understood that high speed Internet made it possible for their residents to overcome large geographic distances and connect to others anywhere on the globe.  But I suggested that, because New Westminster is a small city, they shouldn’t assume that it would be easy for everyone to participate by going downtown.  Even within the city, the Internet can make it easier for residents not to have to travel to participate in public discussions, to get government services, to collaborate on growing their businesses, etc.

I noticed that some people were trying to find an answer that would work for everyone, although the residents of the city had quite varied needs.  (This is somewhat related to another phenomenon you sometimes see in cities trying to figure out their broadband strategy – the search for the one “killer app.”)  So I pointed out to them that the Internet has, instead, renewed our awareness of the long tail – the need for and ability now to deliver many solutions and more personalized service to individual.  There is no longer a requirement for a mass production, one-size-fits-all approach.

At the end of the second day, Mayor Coté said that he realized being an intelligent community is so much more than just laying fiber.  Some of the more technologically savvy in the room offered their own examples and ideas, which is great because these efforts must be led from within the community and not depend on outside experts.

What is often encouraging to people like me is that many participants told me that they felt inspired – yes, that was the word they used – to take on the potential opportunities offered by their new broadband network.

I was also impressed by them.  New Westminster still has much work to do, but they clearly have their act together and have the leadership to get the job done. They will indeed re-create their city for a new century.

© 2015 Norman Jacknis

[http://njacknis.tumblr.com/post/115851214799/a-post-industrial-city-built-on-broadband]

Countryside Complaints Collapse?

You often hear how the countryside is collapsing in various ways.  And clearly the remaining sixty million Americans who live in small towns and rural areas have faced a variety of challenges. 

As I described in my presentation at the Walsh University Leadership Academy a few weeks back, I’ve heard eight major complaints to explain why rural areas are in trouble.  While each of these has been true over the last few decades, increasingly the changes in our world mean that these complaints themselves are no longer relevant – the complaints are collapsing, while the countryside has new opportunities for renewal.

Let me address each of these, briefly, one at a time.  (If you’re interested in a fuller explanation, I can send you a copy of the whole 80-slide presentation.)

1. “We’re not big enough to have sustainable business clusters.”

So many economic development officials have had the cluster strategy drummed into their minds that they don’t realize how out of date it is.   As economist, Paul Krugman, said when he was given the Nobel Prize for his early work on economic geography, “[Clustering] may describe forces that are waning rather than gathering strength.”  My favorite example is the growth of the BATS Exchange at the expense of the New York Stock Exchange on Wall Street.  BATS is headquartered in Lenexa, Kansas.

2. “We’ve lost most good-paying manufacturing jobs.”

So has everyone else.  Just as economic changes over the last hundred fifty years meant that we need very few people on the farm to produce the food the rest of us need, so too productivity in manufacturing means fewer people are needed in plants.  That is part of the growth of the economy.  But there has been a parallel increase in the service sector of the economy and the Internet has made possible a new range of intangible, digital products and services – from which people can make a living.  That, of course, doesn’t even account for the many unmet needs of our economy and society – for example, curing major diseases – that will generate employment.

3. “We don’t have skyscrapers filled with office workers.”

But work is no longer tied to these “places of work”.  Many people can work from home, without the need for a cubicle in a skyscraper.

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4. “We’re isolated in the middle of nowhere.”

You may be physically far from large metropolitan areas, but digital communications connects everyone everywhere, even face-to-face through video-conferencing.  (Of course, this assumes you have broadband connectivity sufficient for video – but that’s part of the point of this argument.  If you get the connectivity, there are all kinds of options open for you, even in the countryside.)

5. “We don’t have a major research university.”

There is an incredible amount of learning available on the Internet, including courses from traditional universities (like edX) and non-traditional sources.  And most of the research at the major universities is now available online, especially the kind of later stage research that is most easily commercialized.  So what you need is not the research university, but people with sufficient entrepreneurial imagination – and those folks can be found all over.

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6. “Whenever we get sick we need to go to a big city for care.”

With telemedicine (and even remote surgery, in the longer run), not all health care requires a visit to a big city.

7. “We can’t participate in developing new ideas and our innovators have no one to talk to (so they leave).”

Again, anyone with an innovative disposition can now reach out to others on the Internet.  Moreover, with the growth of the open innovation movement in corporations and governments, there are a variety of opportunities for people who live in the countryside to offer their new ideas – and be rewarded for them.

8. “There are not enough customers nearby and many of the business skills we need are also not nearby.”

Yet, economic opportunities and services are global.  All you need to be is connected to the global economy.  By the way, this isn’t limited to people who want to write computer software.  There are all kinds of interesting examples of people who live in the countryside making a living outside of the tech industry – for example, by teaching English to foreign students, or selling their works of art and craftsmanship, or providing help desk/customer support or even selling lobster bait bags.  Now the market is not limited to the small number of people who are nearby.

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So before people in the countryside give up on their futures, they should consider how these old obstacles of the past will collapse in the future.

© 2014 Norman Jacknis

[http://njacknis.tumblr.com/post/104844439162/countryside-complaints-collapse]

The Intelligent Community Movement In Universities

The Intelligent Community Forum (ICF) has been around for more than a dozen years and has developed a large knowledge base about the pre-conditions for creating an intelligent community.  But, over the last year or so, ICF has expanded its reach and enlisted various universities in the effort.

Last month, for example, I was at Walsh University in the heart of what was industrial Ohio.  It has become the first of the academic settings for the intelligent community movement.

I was there as part of Walsh’s 3rd Annual ICF Institute Symposium, whose focus was on “Brain Gain and Innovation: Creating Growth in an Age of Disruption”.  There were a variety of interesting speakers and topics:

  • In different ways and with different perspectives, both Christian Long, Co-Founder, Wonder By Design and Google’s Jaime Casap spoke about schools and cities
  • Alvaro Albuquerque, Chief of Staff to the President, The Brazilian Small Business Agency, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, described their “knowledge squares”
  • Tim Jones, CEO, Artscape Toronto, Ontario spoke about creative place-making in cities

You can see these at http://www.walsh.edu/institute

In my presentation to the new ICF Leadership Academy there, I laid out eight obstacles that people in the countryside often cite as to why their areas are destined for decline.  Then I showed how changes in the economy, society and technology have diminished each of these obstacles and opened up new opportunities for a rural revitalization.  You can see the slides here: http://www.walsh.edu/uploads/116031415201951.pdf

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Related to my presentation is the creation of a second ICF Institute at Mississippi State University.  Its focus will be on rural communities.  For some background, see this report in the Mississippi Business Journal – http://msbusiness.com/blog/2014/10/17/msu-extension-named-intelligent-community-institute/

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There’s also a video describing the focus of this new institute, with Professor Roberto Gallardo and ICF Co-Founder Lou Zacharilla at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ysF1MCm2Syw

And finally within the last few weeks, as well, the University of Oulu in Finland announced an ICF project to “examine innovation platforms and innovative approaches” in three of ICF’s top level smart communities worldwide – Taichung, Taiwan, Eindhoven in the Netherlands and Oulu.  See http://www.epressi.com/tiedotteet/telekommunikaatio/oulun-yliopisto-ja-intelligent-community-forum-aloittavat-tutkimusyhteistyon.html  (Google Translate does a passable job with this, if you don’t read Finnish 🙂

I’ll keep you updated as these three universities start to generate more about intelligent communities.

© 2014 Norman Jacknis

[http://njacknis.tumblr.com/post/103553994529/the-intelligent-community-movement-in-universities]