Three U.S. Communities Among 'Top 7 Intelligent Communities of 2015'

Arlington County, Va., Columbus, Ohio, and Mitchell, S.D., are considered "the best on the planet to teach us how we should go about planning the future."

by / January 22, 2015
View of Rosslyn, Va., in Arlington County, from across a frozen Potomac. This is the third consecutive year the county has been named one of the Top 7 Intelligent Communities. Flickr/Jason OX4

The Intelligent Community Forum (ICF) named its “Top 7 Intelligent Communities of 2015” in a live, online announcement on Jan. 22. Three U.S. communities -- Arlington County, Va., Columbus, Ohio, and Mitchell, S.D. -- made the list.

“We know today’s disruptions and technology in the economy and the environment are only going to grow more intense,” said ICF co-founder Louis Zacharilla during the live presentation. “These intelligent communities are leaders in understanding the profound impact the broadband revolution is going to have on them, whether it's physical, whether it's services, or whether it’s their competitive advantage. They are the best people on the planet to teach us how we should go about planning the future.”

The Top 7 Intelligent Communities of 2015 were selected by ICF based on five key indicators:

  • broadband connectivity;
  • the ability to create a knowledge-based workforce;
  • innovation;
  • digital inclusion; and
  • advocacy.

This year, ICF also piloted a new criteria: sustainability. The criteria was not used in scoring this year, but will be formally introduced as part of next year’s competition.

Selecting the winners is a 10-month process that begins each July when ICF receives nominations from around the world. A panel of academics then narrows the list to 21. Those 21 communities are asked to complete a comprehensive questionnaire, which is analyzed by an independent research firm. The top seven scores are announced as finalists.

This year’s theme was “the revolutionary community.”

“This year we wanted to look at how intelligent communities plan for a future in which there is going to be ongoing disruption, because it’s only going to get more challenging,” said Zacharilla. “We looked at things like, how is the digital community changing the physical one? How is it changing demand for services? How is it changing demand for roads, downtown space, etc.? Finally, how are information and communications technology enhancing the experience of the citizens and community? How does it make a community a better place to live?”

This is the third time Arlington County has been named in the top seven. The area was recognized for its Telecom Master Plan, the innovative work being done at Virginia Tech, and The Arlington Way, a formal structure of more than 40 citizen advisory groups and commissions that influence decisions on everything from land use to technology. The area also fosters intense collaboration among government, business and the nonprofit sector to spur innovation.

Columbus also made the list for the third year in a row. The city was recognized for programs aimed at increasing collaboration among government, education, business and institutions. Columbus is one of a handful of U.S. metros that turned a persistent period of “brain drain” into “brain gain.” Employment growth in skilled manufacturing has exceeded 35 percent over the past decade. In 2013, Columbus was named one of the top 10 cities in the U.S. for new college grads.

Finally, Mitchell, S.D., is making its first appearance as a Top 7 Intelligent Community of the Year. Formerly an agricultural community, Mitchell developed a strategic plan in the late 1980s that called for a communitywide emphasis on education, health care, infrastructure and recreation. It led to the merger of two hospitals, creating a unified health-care system that became the city’s biggest employer, and the construction of new schools that partnered with the local university and recreation center to advance educational excellence. Today, telecommunications development has created another economy on top of Mitchell’s agricultural one, consisting of engineering, consulting and software companies that have made Mitchell into a regional hub for expertise and services. 

The other four communities selected as Top 7 Intelligent Communities of 2015 include Ipswich, Queensland, Australia; New Taipei City, Taiwan; Rio de Janeiro, Brazil; and Surrey, British Columbia, Canada.

ICF is a think tank that studies the economic and social development of the 21st-century community and strives to inspire leaders to move ahead, study and share best practices and stories, and connect to foster economic development and problem solving. ICF offers counsel, classes, mentoring programs and metrics that communities can use to help them excel in the information economy.

The ICF awards program formally concludes in Toronto on June 11, when one of the seven finalists will be named the 2015 Intelligent Community of the Year.

Justine Brown Contributing Writer