Stratford's intelligence leading the way By Mike Beitz, staff reporter: I-Canada
January 28, 2011

First the city, then the country.

That's the motto of i-Canada, a technology-focused initiative aimed at defining and developing the path Canada needs to take to become an Intelligent Nation.

And Stratford has a role to play in drawing that digital road map after securing a spot last week on the Intelligent Communities Forum (ICF) list of the world's Top 7 smart cities for 2011.

"It's leading the way," said i-Canada co-founder Barry Gander in an interview, suggesting that Stratford will be seen as a model for others to follow.

Stratford earned its place on the prestigious ICF list due in large part to its high-speed, fibre-optic and city-wide Wi-Fi network, which has helped make it easier for local residents, visitors, businesses and institutions to connect and communicate.

"Stratford really took its fate into its own hands and worked very strongly to make sure that it was developing in the right direction," said Gander, who also serves as executive director of the Ottawa-based Canadian Advanced Technology Alliance (CATA).

Having two Canadian cities - Stratford and Windsor-Essex - on the ICF Top 7 list this year is a positive sign, he said.

"It's very, very good news from a Canadian point of view," he said. "And it shows that, in a world striving to achieve this, Canadians are more aware than most and we can really fight above our weight level."

Still, it has ground to make up, he said, pointing out that Canada is "well-down the list" of the world's best-connected nations when it comes to broadband communications.

In fact, the Net Index, an online ranking of countries comparing, among other things, consumer download speeds, puts Canada in 34th place, just one spot ahead of Ghana.

"It's quite a slip considering that Canada almost single-handedly invented modern communications," said Gander. "We hope to be able to arrest that fall and leapfrog it."

Forward-thinking cities like Stratford and Waterloo will be instrumental in that effort, he said.

"We know that Stratford will help us develop other communities in the same way," he said, pointing out that i-Canada is currently working on an online platform where it will share best practices with others interested in becoming smart cities.

"Certainly many of the things Stratford is doing will be put on display for all to copy and all to enquire about," said Gander.

In a congratulatory letter to the city last week, i-Canada chair Bill Hutchison said, "Stratford and Windsor-Essex illustrate what can be done when an entire community gets behind a powerful vision. We are dedicated to supporting and ensuring that other communities in Canada obtain the tools needed to follow in their lead."

It's all part of a strategy to begin at the local level and then build.

"First the community, then the country," said Gander. "You have to start with the grassroots and then you will have an intelligent nation afterwards."