Wanganui gets my vote because of their proactive, community-centric approach that includes rural areas
Wanganui is the first New Zealand city to be honoured by US-based Intelligent Communities Forum (ICF) as one of the ‘Smart21’ finalists to their 2013 Intelligent Community Awards.

Wanganui City, Intelligent cityIt is a big deal for Wanganui to join the likes of Singapore, winner of the inaugural Intelligent City award in 1999, and other 2013 finalists that include Rio de Janeiro, Philadelphia, and Toronto.

When the finalists were announced last week, Wanganui Mayor Annette Main noted, “This is great news and recognises the progress we have made by adopting a very proactive approach to ensure this community is able to acquire and use new technologies.”

So what makes an “Intelligent Community”?

The ICF defines Intelligent Communities as “…those which have come to understand the enormous challenges of the Broadband Economy, and have taken conscious steps to create an economy capable of prospering in it.

That shows a community that is open to change and not waiting for someone else to solve their broadband problems.  It also shows leaders who understand that there is more to be gained by the community embracing broadband technologies, than there is to be lost by doing nothing about them.

Five Intelligent Community Indicators define a framework for assessing, planning and developing a broadband economy.

The first is around broadband connectivity, coming from a clear vision of their broadband future and policies that encourage deployment and adoption.

The second indicator is around developing a knowledge workforce that creates economic value through the acquisition, processing and use of information.

The third is building the local innovation capacity of new companies, because it is technological innovation that produces job growth in modern economies.

Fourth is about digital inclusion by creating policies and funding programs that ensure “have-nots” get access to digital technologies and broadband.  It is about providing skills training and promoting a compelling vision of the benefits that the broadband economy can bring to individuals and businesses.

Finally, an intelligent community is about marketing and advocacy.  Wanganui has demonstrated a leadership role in this area with a technology expo for the local community and the establishment of a Community Technology Centre.  The Council have also just announced the use of Council infrastructure to develop a free urban and rural wi-fi service.

In addition to these five Indicators, the 2013 awards also look at a community’s relationship between innovation and employment.

Digital Facilitator, Marianne Archibald, notes that Wanganui has been working on digital inclusion projects since 2006.  With a vision of being a leader in the digital world, Wanganui was proactive in promoting the city as a place where the government’s broadband initiatives were bound to succeed.  This involved the Council giving a commitment to promote the Ultra Fast Broadband network, to make good use of it and to give the government success stories associated with the initiative

Mayor Annette Main also chairs the Wanganui Digital Leaders Forum.  She sees her Council’s work in the broadband field as being wide and varied and importantly, as ensuring that both urban and rural areas will “…be able to see the benefits that flow from the use of new technology.”

In January next year, the ICF ‘Smart21’ finalists will be trimmed to the Top 7, culminating in the selection of the award winner next June.  Wanganui gets my vote because of their proactive, community-centric approach that includes rural areas.