How Montreal could end up this year’s ‘Intelligent Community’

Montreal is vying for the crown of 2016’s “Intelligent Community.”

The city was selected along with six other city finalists by the Intelligent Community Forum, a global network of cities and regions with a US-based think tank at its centre.

On June 16th, one city will be crowned champion in Columbus, Ohio, last year’s winning city. We chatted with the ICF cofounder Robert Bell, on how Montreal made it to the finals, what could push it to the top spot, and what could hinder its chances as well.

Intelligent Communities are those which have – whether through crisis or foresight – come to understand the enormous challenges of the Broadband Economy, and have taken conscious steps to create an economy capable of prospering in it.

Montreal serves as a good example. As ICF wrote on its website, the region was hit by the decline of heavy industry in the 80s, and launched a large-scale transition of its economy to ICT, aerospace, life sciences, health technologies and clean tech.

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The Smart City plan was introduced in 2011, which focuses on building out the city’s wired and wireless broadband infrastructure, as well as deploying technology to make city services and systems more efficient. Meanwhile, current plans call for build-out of free WiFi across the 17 square kilometers of the central city bodes well for a city that is said to have the most students, per capita, in North America.

“Montreal is doing the things that the intelligent cities forum says cities need to do to be successful in the 21st century,” Bell told MTLinTech. “They’ve worked hard to get private and public sectors working together, it’s got a strong educational community and it brings together partners to create a ‘knowledge workforce’ –  improving everyone in your economy to have better and better skills, because that’s where prosperity comes from.”

Bell said his trip to Montreal was filled with countless meetings with startups. He said there’s an “incredible excitement building, and you can tell theres this ecosystem that’s falling into place.” Bell claims that a genuine innovation ecosystem exists, where “now you’ve got first generation entrepreneurs helping to guide and fund the second generation, and when that engine starts going it’s ultimately what’s going to power the economy in Montreal.”

However, “there’s a role along the way for city government, a role for educational institutions and a role for business working together to ensure that the economic benefit is not just going to a shareholder somewhere, and it’s not going to mountain view. It’s going to go to Montreal.”

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Bell said the ICF has been looking for examples of cities that are incorporating tech to change the face of the city. He said Montreal is “probably one of the best examples I’ve seen.” Bell references Montreal’s abundant public art that’s been used to remake parts of the city that have fallen by the wayside.

But with six other competitors in the Top7, including fellow Canadian locales Winnipeg, Manitoba and Surrey, BC, Montreal will have its work cut out for it. The other finalists include: Hsinchu County, Taiwan, Muelheim an der Ruhr, Germany, New Taipei City, Taiwan and Whanganui, New Zealand.

When asked what Montreal will need to improve on to be considered more seriously for the award, Bell took a moment to answer. It was more about what lies in the future, he said, rather than what it needs to improve on now.

“One of its economic advantages right now is that it’s inexpensive to start a business or to live. As you become more successful, that could start to drain away.”

“It’s probably a good idea now to think how is Montreal going to adapt to that. You don’t want a Toronto,” said Bell. “London [England] is choking on its own inability to approve more housing. So that’s the next thing that I think Montreal needs to think about. How’s it going to deal with the disadvantages of success?”


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