Knowing Your Place — that place you call home — PART 2

Connected with Success [Part 2 of a nine-part series]

In the introductory episode, ‘Local Fabrics’, we asked why some places thrive whilst others decline. We looked at the cross-cutting threads that bind communities together — the fabric of the local economy and its citizens.

Communities solve problems when they have the capacity to bring multiple mind-sets to focus on priority issues. That networking of ideas and perspectives is a key feature of great cities. Their leaders describe it as ‘convening power’ or, in common parlance, gently ‘knocking heads together’.

During the countdown to the Intelligent Community Forum, future episodes will consider each of several more indicators that are, to a greater or lesser extent, responses to local priorities.

We have long understood that infrastructure means public investment in roads, railways, street lighting, energy, water and waste services, schools and hospitals. Infrastructure investment is now understood to embrace much more. Connectivity embraces both physical and intellectual networking — the data connections and the way we use them. We need infrastructures for both but one is tangible and the other cerebral.

Digital connectivity allows all of us to share information in ways that were simply not possible in a previous era of telephony. As an enabler of wellbeing and prosperity, connectivity reaches across all industrial sectors and citizens. Three questions for any forward-looking community are: ‘How well are we connected? How will that connectivity enable our future? Will that connectivity always be adaptable for those unknown future needs?

We plan great roads and railways to handle future traffic needs. We build energy generators to cope with future demand. Schools are sized, we hope, to accommodate future pupils and we constantly worry about sufficient affordable housing. One of the greatest global triumphs of technology research has been the ability to future-proof connectivity capacity by using light signals travelling through glass fibres. Even future ‘smartphone’ mobility depends on light-speed connectivity. In theory we need never worry about this aspect of infrastructure investment ever again — except, of course, that fibre deployment has been limited. Many communities are still constrained by old telephonic and cable networks stretched to their physical capacity limits.

Any place, any community of any size, seeking to ensure future prosperity and citizen wellbeing, must give high priority to future-proofing their physical connectivity.

In this full-fibre era, ‘Future-Proofed’ is not directly or entirely speed-related: beyond a service floor of, say, 30 Mb/s the key qualities are symmetry (similar upload/download speeds), low latency (minimal response delays), low packet-loss or buffering, no line-distance constraints and minimal differentiation between business and domestic functionality. Very few communities (even rural parishes) would vote to remain digitally isolated and, say, beyond the reach of specialist health or education services or excluded from new employment opportunities.

This primary qualification for any would-be ‘intelligent community’ will be the focus of sessions on Days 1 & 3 of the ICF Global Summit in June — the Rural Masterclass (with B4RN founder, Barry Forde) and a broadband session starring Mikael Sandberg from VXFiber, a Swedish and international fibre operator.

Issues of connectivity (both physical and virtual) are at the heart of inward investment and community development. Attempts to get by with inadequate infrastructure designs affect far more than whether the children can do their homework or play games.

At the Intelligent Community Forum (4–6 June):

· We will understand how a rusting steel town was able to become a focus for new investment.

· We will explore the motivations that have led rural communities to create their own connectivity.

· We will ask why new services like Skype and Spotify were invented in well-connected places.

· Delegates will understand why businesses need easy flexibility to create new employment in new locations.

Great places are connected with success. Their networking of ideas— using multiple talents, public and private, from across communities to build stronger local fabrics — requires a solid foundation of connectivity.

High-quality future-proofed connectivity is, for communities of any size, the key enabler — not only for commercial enterprise and public services but for of all of the cross-cutting indicators featured in the next seven episodes.

Part 3 of this 9-part series is scheduled for 19thApril.

‘Where Have All Our Flowers Gone?’ will consider the community challenges of creating, retaining and recreating a Knowledge Workforce in the context of massive talent migration and rapid innovation.

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