EcDev Journal

Canada’s Intelligent Communities - Global Models of Success

Posted on Monday September 02, 2013
University of Waterloo
University of Waterloo’s Mike and Ophelia Lazaridis Quantum-Nano Centre (QNC).

John G. Jung

Chairman and Co-Founder, Intelligent Community Forum (ICF)

President, Intelligent Community Forum Foundation (ICFF)

John is an award-winning registered urban planner, urban designer, economic developer and global speaker on planning, development, urban design and economic development related issues, especially related to intelligent communities.


In case you are wondering - yes, Canada has some very Smart Cities and Intelligent Communities! In fact, the Intelligent Community Forum, a global think tank and social enterprise that studies the economic and social development of the 21st Century community, headquartered in New York City, has identified 19 Canadian cities since 1999 that meet its criteria to be named an Intelligent Community. And why should mayors, economic developers and urban and regional planners care if they are Smart Cities and Intelligent Communities? Because it could mean the difference between prosperity and simply surviving, or worse.

Cities, towns and rural communities that have become Smart Cities and Intelligent Communities have a much higher degree of maintaining and expanding their economic success, especially in an economic downturn, than those that have not prepared themselves for this possibility. That amounts to the same impact that the railways had on city development across Canada in the 1880’s. If you had access to the train and its system across the country, you had the opportunity to have commerce, education and innovation to be part of your town. If it didn’t, many communities never had a chance to prosper and thrive. 

In Canada, look at Fredericton, Quebec City, Ottawa, Toronto, Waterloo, Stratford, Winnipeg, Calgary and Vancouver, some of the cities that have been identified as Intelligent Communities. They may have been hard hit during the past economic downturn, but generally would have fared better than most other communities across Canada. Over the past two or more decades, these communities have been expanding their infrastructure including high speed broadband, attracting investment to their business parks and buildings and have evolved a strategic direction as knowledge centric communities, inspiring innovation and creativity and marketing their cities as highly attractive communities for growth and prosperity.

More recently, many of communities around the world have seized on the Smart City concept as a sustainable and cost-effective solution to urban problems ranging from traffic congestion and pollution to efficiently delivering basic utilities and citizen services. But some have gone beyond simply the smart city approach and like the 19 cities in Canada mentioned earlier, have taken a more holistic approach advocated by the Intelligent Community movement. They have learned to work with their universities and colleges to develop talent and knowledge workers specifically geared for the new and highly competitive knowledge-centric businesses and industries. They have developed supportive ecosystems promoting creativity and innovation in their communities; trained their citizens to become digitally involved; undertook sustainable and other environmentally-sensitive initiatives; and wrapped them all in a bow and went around the world to promote their communities as Intelligent Communities. Their differentiation and competitive advantages have helped them to attract foreign direct investment, develop, attract and retain their talent and create an extremely powerful brand that attracts people and investment to their communities. Since the late 1990’s the Intelligent Community Forum has been tracking, benchmarking and promoting these types of communities and their characteristics. Today 119 globally unique Intelligent Communities have been recognized by the Intelligent Community Forum, representing examples from every corner of the globe..

In Canada, the following towns, cities and regions have been identified by ICF as Intelligent Communities:

1.           Burlington, Ontario      

2.           Calgary, Alberta                       

3.           Edmonton, Alberta                                    

4.           Fredericton, New Brunswick     

5.           Kenora, Ontario,

6.           Kingston, Ontario         

7.           Moncton, New Brunswick        

8.           Nunavut

9.           Ottawa-Gatineau Region, Ontario

10.         Quebec City, Quebec

11.         Saint John, New Brunswick

12.         Stratford, Ontario

13.         Sudbury, Ontario

14.         Toronto, Ontario

15.         Vancouver, British Columbia

16.         Waterloo, Ontario

17.          Western Valley, Nova Scotia

18.         Windsor-Essex, Ontario


19.         Winnipeg, Manitoba



Global models have been identified in Canada such as the Intelligent Community of the Year (2007), Waterloo, Ontario. This is a community that leads its Intelligent Community effort with their educational institutions.. Recognizing that North America was being transformed from a manufacturing powerhouse to a country with a knowledge-centric focus, it is not surprizing that Waterloo has worked closely with its educational institutions, incubators, research parks and 150 think tanks to place its talent creation in the forefront of the community. That image and the University of Waterloo’s brand has helped to ensure that the city and region are able to punch well above their weight in Canada as well as around the world. Well over 100,000 full and part time students call the University of Waterloo, Wilfrid Laurier University and Conestoga College home. Add the University of Guelph and institutions in nearby Stratford and Brantford, and the region has a huge student-to-population ratio with nearly a fifth of the overall region involved in knowledge –centric educational activities. And next door in the Greater Toronto and Hamilton region, there are many more institutions, which make the Golden Horseshoe Region a hotbed of talent, attracting foreign direct investment and creating an environment that nurtures innovation and creativity.


For a small city with a population of just over 120,000, the city of Waterloo is part of a geo-political region of just over 550, 000 people, called the Waterloo Region, this community excels in all of the criteria that made it stand-out in 2007 as the global Intelligent Community of the Year. However it was the unique Intellectual Property policy of the University of Waterloo (namely, “if you created it, you own it”) and its global diaspora of co-op students that helped propel the community to the top. These programs and attitudes have attracted the best and the brightest to teach or learn in Waterloo and to stay and grow their companies within this nurturing ecosystem. The university and its alumnus continue to propel the city, region, province and country into the forefront. A prime example is  the philanthropy of Blackberry Co-Founder, Mike Lazaridis whose vision to develop Waterloo and region as the major global center for foundational theoretical physics and quantum computing, attracted global science and technology celebrities such as Stephen Hawking and Neil Turok to the Perimeter Institute and Raymond Laflamme and Arthur Carty to the Quantum-Nano Centre. Other characteristics included Waterloo’s ability to collaborate; excellence in governance, promoting its environment of innovation and helping to launch the companies well known across the country and the world such as Blackberry, Christie Digital, Comdev, Desire2Learn, Open Text and Dalsa Teledyne.. Today, organizations such as Communitech and the Accelerator are nationally recognized for their support for home grown companies, currently developing at a rate of two per day. Through the Intelligent Community Forum, Waterloo promoted itself globally and has become a fixture in the Intelligent Community movement globally as a model example to inspire small and medium sized cities.


 Another Intelligent Community that has inspired many smaller rural communities is Stratford, Ontario. This is a community that could have simply sat on its laurels and cruised along as a seasonal Shakespearean Festival in Southwestern Ontario. However, at the ICF Summit a few years back, Stratford Mayor Dan Mathieson’s eureka moment was when he saw an opportunity to capture all of the elements of the intelligent community movement into his community . Stratford owns its own municipal electric utility, Festival Hydro. Through Festival Hydro, Stratford was able to build an open-access fiber network and spin it out as a separate business called Rhyzome Networks, which provides advanced communications infrastructure as well as a backbone for the utility’s smart-grid project. But it also became more attractive to competitive service providers by offering them a ready-made backbone for hire. Firms came to beta-test their initiatives in a ready and willing sample size community of 32,000 people. But it didn’t stop there. Stratford recognized that they needed to align themselves with institutions of higher learning. Accordingly, in order to develop the talent and knowledge workers needed in an Intelligent Community, Stratford did the amazing feat of creating a Stratford campus of the University of Waterloo specializing in business and digital arts.  Along with the Stratford Accelerator, and programs such as Canada 3.0, the city has created an innovation ecosystem building on the collaboration of government, education, and business.  In a few short years this small community in Southwestern Ontario has evolved into a digital powerhouse that has attracted the RBC Data Center and has turned Stratford into a test bed for technology pilots for such companies as Toshiba, Research in Motion and Cisco. The city-owned utility has done more with less, but its strategies have also done much more with more involvement with its triple helix approach to involving all levels of government, institutions and the private sector.


Many more cities in Canada and around the world are now promoting themselves as “smart cities”. But as the Mayor of Stratford, Ontario has proclaimed, “it takes a Smart City to become an Intelligent Community”. This is an important point to ponder, especially as literally hundreds of “Smart Cities” are evolving as I write this. I am aware of proposals underway in China for 90 smart cities being created; dozens in India and many more in Europe, North America and elsewhere. In fact, we should salute the brilliant technology companies, such as IBM, Cisco, Siemens, Alcatel and Tech Mahindra, among many others, and dedicated government leaders, who are establishing smart city systems in their communities, delivering ultra-efficient and highly productive infrastructure and community services. However that should only be the beginning for cities that want the best for their citizens and want to be able to truly differentiate themselves from their competition. Intelligent Communities exercise a 360 degree view of the world by encouraging communities to use high speed broadband and applications of ICT to create new and powerful competitive advantages for their economies, to help deal with significant social needs, and ensure that everyone is able to participate in their knowledge-based digital economy. ICF applauds this notion of doing more with less, but also attempts to educate the world to do more with more:

  • to go beyond the smart cities efforts and generate more economic energy in the form of new employment from new employers by creating and attracting new talent and attracting and growing foreign direct investment 
  • to create a supportive environment through excellence in governance, thereby nurturing an ecosystem of innovation and creativity 
  • to use technology to help break down social and cultural barriers that hold back part of their population, so that more citizens can benefit from the digital world
  • to advocate locally and market globally to help build prosperous cities and regions for all their citizens.


Smart cities build on asset management performance and efficiencies; Intelligent Communities, strategically leverage these highly productive assets and collaboratively combine them with the sense of community as a whole to seize on their vision.

Annually, the Intelligent Community Forum holds a Summit in New York City which brings together mayors, chief administrative officers, chief information officers, economic development officers and urban planners from cities, states and provinces around the world.  It is a unique opportunity to learn from the world's most dynamic communities. Seven of the top cities in the world are invited to this annual gathering to explain how they use information and communications technology to build prosperous, inclusive and sustainable communities. The 2013 theme was Innovation & Employment.

Economists tie innovation with prosperity.  Economists estimate that up to 80 percent of economic growth comes from innovation and the generation, adoption, adaptation and commercialization of new knowledge. New demand is generated through innovation, such as creation of smartphones and applications, generating prosperity. Similarly, communities that have become empowered to do more with the less can claim higher productivity and demonstrated growth.  Read any advertisement from IBM, Cisco and others, where they focus on efficient asset management and continuous improvement through analysing big data that comes from monitoring and measuring these systems and they present a picture of increased productivity, increased cost savings and better management of limited resources.

Innovation can create jobs across the manufacturing spectrum from design and development of new products and services to marketing and distribution. However, innovation also destroys jobs.  Through innovation, old products and services and the way they are produced may become obsolete.  In making innovation the pillar of their economy, Intelligent Communities seek to balance its positive and negative impacts and to generate economic growth and high-quality employment in an environment that delivers exceptional quality of life to all citizens.  Their ability to carry off this balancing act is a critical factor in their success. Urban and regional planners and economic developers are essential in this process and need to become more fully engaged to ensure that every citizen thrives in their community. They can look to the Canadian cities for inspiration as well as other cities around the world that have uniquely benefitted from becoming Intelligent Communities.