Jeff Heuchert, Stratford Gazette
The City of Stratford is back on the list of semi-finalists for the Intelligent Community of the Year.
The Intelligent Community Forum announced its Smart21 Communities of the Year this week in Riverside, California, the city that beat out Stratford and five others to win the smart city honour in 2012.
This year’s list of 21 communities includes two other finalists from last year, Oulu, Finland and Taichung City, Taiwan. It also includes new Canadian entries such as Toronto, Kingston and Winnipeg, and for the first time, cities from Albania and New Zealand.
“You’re seeing more countries from different parts of the world,” Mayor Dan Mathieson noted following the Smart21 announcement. “It shows that there’s a lot of push from all continents now to move in this direction.”
The ICF, a New York-based think tank, recognizes cities each year that have taken steps to develop a competitive and inclusive economy built for today’s world of broadband communication.
While Stratford has advanced to this stage in the competition for four consecutive years – and finished in the Top 7 the last two – city officials and business leaders aren’t resting on their laurels and choosing to rely on what’s worked in the past to impress the ICF judges.
“I think we’ve tried to do the best we can ... but with a higher level of civic engagement, I think that could be what we need to get over the hump,” said Mathieson.
Following a suggestion by Coun. Kerry McManus – who prior to council approving the city’s 2013 Intelligent Community bid said she would like to see a more open and transparent process – the city is planning an upcoming open house. The city is also looking at the possibility of collecting feedback online through Powernoodle’s unique cloud-based brainstorming platform.
Mathieson said they will be looking for people’s opinions as to what makes Stratford a digital community, and what more can be done to improve social inclusiveness, marketing and advocacy, and broadband connectivity in the city.
Those ideas and suggestions will help form the basis for the city’s ICF bid, which when travel and other expenses are factored will cost the city approximately $20,000 – with an equal amount likely to be pitched in by sponsors – though a final dollar amount will be dependent on city council’s approval.
“We believe we’ll be able to move forward with a formidable presentation that is broad-based, not only business but citizens and government coming together.”
Despite the city’s close finish last year – Stratford placed fourth overall, just 2.8 per cent off winner Riverside – the mayor believes there is still much that can be done locally to close the social gap that exists between the city’s high-tech sector and those residents who have limited access to the Internet.
Mathieson pointed to the recent efforts of Riverside, which gave away 6,000 refurbished laptops to its residents and provides free WiFi for limited periods of time, as an example of ways a city can begin to address that problem.
“There’s a lot of stuff we can be doing,” he added, “and probably need to start consider doing.”