Jeff Heuchert and Tori Sutton, Stratford Gazette
For the first time in five years the Intelligent Community Forum (ICF) awarded its top honour to a city in North America.
Unfortunately for Stratford, it was also the first time in 10 years the prestigious Intelligent Community of the Year designation was bestowed to a community south of the border.
Riverside, California was named this year’s smart city during the ICF’s awards ceremony Friday afternoon at Steiner Film Studios in Brooklyn, New York.
Riverside – like Stratford – had made the Top 7 the last two years of the competition, which annually awards a community that has shown its ability to overcome challenges and set a standard for the use of information and communications technology in building a sustainable economy.
Mayor Dan Mathieson travelled to New York City for the announcement with a delegation of city officials and executives from some of the area’s leading high-tech firms.
The mayor said he was happy with the results, noting the city has worked hard to establish itself as a digital community.
“I think we’re moving in the right direction ... it’s going to take a little bit more time,” Mathieson told the Gazette. “Overall, I think our recognition as a Top 7 community speaks well of the work we’ve done to date.”
Just because Stratford didn’t take the top spot, the trip wasn’t all for naught. It was a great opportunity to showcase what is happening in the city to the rest of the world, the mayor said.
“We’re starting to get a lot of traction where people are aware of much of what we are doing and that speaks well to the city’s recognition beyond Stratford.”
Participation in the ICF is important for a number of reasons, Mathieson explained. First, it is an opportunity to raise the city’s profile, which will in turn help attract the best and brightest students to the University of Waterloo’s Stratford campus.
“If you are going to spend $10 million to attract a university and another $5 million on the land, you need to make sure you get a return on that investment,” Mathieson said.
Other economic development opportunities are obvious, and being in the Top 7 shows business that Stratford is ready to compete in the new economy.
“Much of the business world is going online and going digital,” he said. “If Stratford wants to have a 21st century economy it needs to head in that direction as well.”
A report card outlining the city’s strengths, weaknesses and final ranking should be available in the coming weeks.
Mathieson said it’s too early to say whether Stratford would pursue the ICF title again next year, stating all stakeholders will have to sit down at the table before the decision is made.
“There’s volunteers who give their time, there’s city staff who take this on as an extra commitment, there’s sponsors who help pay some of the costs of developing the marketing materials,” the mayor said. “It’s one of those things we’ll have to look at.”
It was also announced last week that Mathieson will sit on the new International Advisory Board for the Walsh University ICF Institute for the Study of the Intelligent Community in Canton, Ohio.
A second ICF institute is slated to open later this year in Stratford at the University of Waterloo campus.
The institutes will bring together world leaders to discuss how their communities were transformed by using broadband and technology to connect their community together and to the world at large.
David Hicks, a local freelance writer and branding consultant who researched and wrote the city’s ICF submission, said he is elated Stratford is a Top 7 community for second consecutive year. He noted other cities on the shortlist are much larger than Stratford. Some are capital cities and others are home to corporate headquarters for companies such as Dell or Nokia.
“They have populations and economies many times the size of ours,” Hicks said. “We’re definitely punching above our weight.”
The process itself has been enlightening and has helped to unify Stratford’s digital story into one narrative, he added.
Prior to announcing this year’s Intelligent Community, ICF co-founder Lou Zacharilla addressed the finalists, a group that also included Austin, Texas; Oulu, Finland; Quebec City; Saint John, New Brunswick; and Taichung City, Taiwan.
While acknowledging the distinction that comes from being named Intelligent Community of the Year, Zacharilla said he believed each of the Top 7 cities were winners.
“Hundreds of communities try to get here and you seven have worked awfully hard and this is your moment,” he said.
Zacharilla and other ICF officials were joined on stage for the announcement by representatives from some of the previous Intelligent Community winners, including Singapore; Calgary; Glasgow, Scotland; Taipei, Taiwan; Waterloo; Suwon, South Korea; and last year's winner, Eindhoven, Netherlands.