Voices of Digital Communities

Smart or Intelligent? Why Not Be Both?

by / January 15, 2013


What’s the difference between a Smart City and an Intelligent Community?  For my third and final post on the topic, here’s a specific example from Riverside, California, USA, our 2012 Intelligent Community of the Year.

clientuploads/Images/Bell-Blog-Reboot-Comm-2.jpgSmart Cities turn to technology for the solution to their problems, from traffic congestion to leakage from water mains, public safety to parking tickets.  Intelligent Communities turn to technology as a fundamental enabler of transformation: a foundation for building a prosperous, inclusive and sustainable community in the 21st Century.

Intelligent Communities tend to be Smart without making a big deal about it.  The smartness comes as a byproduct of transformation – necessary steps on the path to something that makes a much greater difference in the lives of the people who live and work there. 

Riverside offers a great example.  It used to have a big problem with graffiti left by gangs, who like to “tag” their territory.  Graffiti matters, just as broken windows and boarded-up storefronts matter, because they signal to both the law-abiding and the law-breaking that things are out of control.  They tend to breed fear on the one hand and crime on the other. 

To combat graffiti, the city worked with Microsoft to build an innovative system connecting multiple departments.  City workers take photos of graffiti with their smartphones and transmit them along with GPS data to the system, where pattern recognition software matches it to an ever-growing database of images.  In most cases, police can identify the “tagger” based on past examples of his work.  The system generates work orders for removal of the graffiti at the same time it supports preparation of criminal complaints by the City Attorney.  Since its introduction, successful prosecutions have generated $200,000 in restitution, which helps pay for the removal of a lot of gang tags.

But technology is also the foundation for a much more profound change.  A public-private SmartRiverside organization operates a Digital Inclusion Center that gets technology and training into the hands of low-income families.  The technology comes from a unique collaboration between a computer services company that collects e-waste, and a gang prevention program called Project Bridge. 

The company hires and trains former gang members recruited by Project Bridge to refurbish the used PCs.  Equipment that cannot be refurbished is sold to a certified local recycler.  Working equipment other than PCs is refurbished and sold on eBay, and these sources of revenue help pay for the program.  Former gang members gain marketable job skills while knowing they are contributing to their community.  And, like graffiti removal, the program returns revenue to cover its costs.

There is much more to the Riverside story, including a successful public-private advisory council that has spearheaded high-tech business development and multiple incubators and accelerators that have given birth to, among other things, a vibrant alternative-energy cluster. 

These are not technology solutions to public-sector problems.  They represent technology transforming government operations, the business environment, the educational system and the civic culture.  It is like the outcome of the first Internet revolution, which was supposed to doom brick-and-mortar businesses to obsolescence.  Instead, brick-and-mortar businesses embraced the technology and allowed the way they work to be transformed by it. 

Different definitions produce different results.  To him who holds a hammer, everything looks like a nail.  To her with a full box of tools, the problems are more diverse and subtle and the solutions infinitely more rewarding.

Post #2: Building the 'Shake 'n Bake' City       Post #1: ‘Smart’ or ‘Intelligent?’ – Which Should a City Try to Be?

Robert Bell Co-founder of the Intelligent Community Forum

Robert Bell is co-founder of the Intelligent Community Forum, where he heads its research and content development activities. He is the author of ICF's pioneering study, Benchmarking the Intelligent Community, the annual Top Seven Intelligent Communities of the Year white papers and other research reports issued by the Forum, and of Broadband Economies: Creating the Community of the 21st Century. Mr. Bell has also authored articles in The Municipal Journal of Telecommunications Policy, IEDC Journal, Telecommunications, Asia-Pacific Satellite and Asian Communications; and has appeared in segments of ABC World News and The Discovery Channel. A frequent keynote speaker and moderator at municipal and telecom industry events, he has also led economic development missions and study tours to cities in Asia and the US.