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COLUMN: Summertime and becoming an Intelligent Community

Summer in the Kootenays. Sunshine, cool water, festivals and friends make it the best place to staycation anytime, anywhere.
Deb Kozak

Summer in the Kootenays. Sunshine, cool water, festivals and friends make it the best place to staycation anytime, anywhere. Council is taking a short break in August and I’m enjoying seeing many of you around town and in the lake. I’m at the computer today to tell you about one of the projects I’ve taken the lead on in the last few months.

I hadn’t heard about the Intelligent Communities Forum before, but my colleagues on the Nelson and Area Economic Development Partnership knew about it and encouraged me to attend.

With Nelson entering the world of broadband, this international network of 126 communities large and small could be a tremendous resource to us. And so, I took a side trip to New York after attending the Federation of Canadian Municpalities conference in Niagara Falls.

The Intelligent Community Forum is a nonprofit policy research organization that focusses on job creation and economic development in the broadband community. It recognizes the best practices of communities around the world who are using technology to improve the economic, social and cultural well-being of citizens. Each year awards are given to communities who demonstrate innovation in using technology to better their communities. This year the City of Toronto won the top award.

A proud moment for me was when another Canadian company, DataWind, won the Visionary award for producing a tablet for under $40 in the hopes of completely changing education in the developing world. Company CEO Suneet Singh Tuli gave a passionate speech about making change in the world by providing people access to affordable technology. You can read more here:

Why should Nelson be interested? Well, for a lot of reasons and here are a few. I attended a lecture where Dr. Norman Jacknis explained how technology can be used to build a renaissance of rural life.

The continuing trend of people moving to big cities is unsustainable and unnecessary. With 60 per cent of the population now living in urban centers, it is time to support rural areas in attracting and retaining residents. Jacknis stated that the cluster strategy that once brought businesses and people together in cities is an old way of thinking. Broadband is making it possible for people to work anywhere.

As an example, 40 per cent of IBM employees work from a location other than an office. We are at the point in history where technology can make it possible for rural communities to be as closely connected to the global economy as their urban counterparts.

He cited success stories about young people being able to return to their communities, small communities being able to reverse population declines, and local businesses gaining access to world markets with the use of broadband. Broadband needs to be seen as part of a city’s infrastructure, just as important as sewer, roads, and water. If a community chooses to ignore this, they will be left behind.

I think of equal importance were the stories I heard about how everyday life in communities can be enhanced when people know how to use technology for learning, entertainment and connecting to each other. We are communicating more and more in pictures. Think about how a grandparent with an iPad connects to a grandchild living across the country. Think about health professionals conferring over long distances about a patient. Technology gives us the speed and capacity to learn and communicate with anyone, anywhere.

Affordability can be a real barrier and this is where public libraries, schools and even churches are being used as places for people to learn in a non-threatening and collaborative environment. I listened to a speaker from England who started a program called Baking with Friends in a church basement as a way to encourage seniors to learn how to use technology. His hook really worked. Not only did people learn to use an iPad or computer, but they made new friends and opened up new possibilities for learning.

Nelson is well on its way to making the most of broadband services. The Civic Theatre, Selkirk College and our schools see great potential. Business owners are learning that it’s not just about faster Internet.

There are many more advantages to improve the bottom line. Community Futures is providing workshops to help people use technology to its full advantage. Nelson is exploring becoming a part of the Intelligent Community Forum and I think it’s a good thing.

There are other communities further along this road who are able to share their experience and help us avoid pitfalls. And, I can visualize us getting one of those awards in the not too distant future.

Next time I’ll tell you about the other initiatives I’m involved in. Enjoy your summer folks. It always seems to leave too soon.

Deb Kozak is a Nelson city councillor.