Living Up to Expectations — or, what will Espoo do next?
Espoo? Espoo, who?
You know, Espoo — near Helsinki, Finland — the newly ordained Intelligent Community of the Year?
You’d not heard? Maybe you missed the ICF Global Summit in London last week. Maybe you’ve heard tell of ‘smart cities’ — but what’s all this about Intelligent Communities?
How did this Espoo place lay claim to fame? And why the buzz in London?
For the last two decades the Intelligent Community Forum held its annual gathering in North America — most often in New York.
This year they came to London along with their 2018 finalists from Australia, Canada, Taiwan and Finland. No British communities made the final cut. A suburb of Paris was in the top21 and Leeds might, perhaps, have been in the top 30 — but the competition to seize the Intelligent Community crown from Melbourne, Australia, was intense.
Here in the UK we shouldn’t get too hung up on our recent absence. Any place, any local economy, can choose not to play on the global stage — though it’s worth recalling that we fared rather better in the ICF stakes before the current era of austerity. What matters more right now is to see what UK communities can learn from Espoo’s brilliant and unexpected success, and track where that is leading them.
Some places around the world have been battling for ICF recognition for years. Espoo’s success is remarkable because they won at their very first attempt. The folks from Winnipeg and Hamilton, Ontario (and places in Taiwan and Australia) must be very disappointed right now — but, back home, they know that their investment in local programmes has already delivered for their citizens and local economies. ICF Top7 recognition is in itself a major accolade and they now join a growing network of switched-on communities.
Deconstructing Espoo’s success first needs an understanding of the critical factors — the indicators — of Intelligent Communities. For sure there needs to be a solid foundation in digital connectivity but beyond that it’s all about the imaginative application of that local infrastructure across business and social projects that really impresses the international assessors.
Partly it’s about leadership and a clear consensus on local priorities, but more than that the community must be willing to invest collaborative brainpower — questioning why and how needs get met. All communities include commerce — the places and people we work with — and commercial responsibilities within the community are, in Espoo, writ large. Local employers, for example, have a clear current and future interest in educational outputs. Redefining educational investment, not as school buildings but as services, opens up huge scope for flexible use of public and private resources.
Environmental sustainability and resilience are also high on Espoo’s agenda — as is digital inclusion and the involvement of senior citizens in developing AI software systems. On every lateral thread of the ICF research methodology — the fuel for wellbeing, engagement and prosperity — Espoo is well worth studying. The free movement of ideas is a progressive force — assuming, of course, one doesn’t still support the provisional wing of the 17th century.
Understanding the achievements of Espoo thus far is a first step towards engagement in their future — sharing and encouraging cross-fertilisation of ideas. In the ongoing UK battle against deep addiction to sector analysis, economists and policy developers are, at last, beginning to realise that ‘communities and cities are places where ideas have sex’.
So, the questions for aspiring UK communities are:
· How many are working on building relationships with Espoo and any of the other Top7 ICF communities?
· How many mayors do we have representing their places as members of the Global Parliament of Mayors, meeting in Bristol next October?
· How many UK communities will venture to Copenhagen in November to ‘shape the future’ at the 2018 Global Forum?
· How many communities will be moved to apply for ICF assessment in the 2019 research cycle before next September?
· How many local leaders are brave enough to learn from those experiences?
All around the UK — from Dundee to Bristol, Canterbury to Cardiff, Yorkshire Dales to Bournemouth — you can find brilliant local examples of fresh thinking. Leaders of almost all these projects think their small victories are ‘despite the system’ — and certainly not attributable to any empowering legitimacy around Municipal Enterprise.
If place-based economic strategy is, as Whitehall’s wonks might admit, a potential power in the land — then this is, surely, time to JFDI.
Joint Foriegn Direct Investment? NO. Just Do It (with optional embedded expletive)