Is Madison a truly smart city? GMCC dinner might produce some clues.

Dr. Colin Harrison acknowledged that he doesn't know enough about Madison to say whether the city is developing "smartly," so when he visits this week, don't expect him to expound on things like hyper democracy and economic development barriers.

Harrison, the director of IBM's Corporate Strategy Team and the inventor of the "Smart Cities" Initiative at the IBM Research Lab in Zurich, Switzerland, will deliver the keynote address on Thursday evening during the Greater Madison Chamber of Commerce's 58th Annual Dinner, which will be held at Monona Terrace. I love the title of his address, which suggests that even communities with ample intellectual firepower can get it frightfully wrong: "Why and How Even the Most Intelligent Cities are Developing 20/20 Foresight."

I'm sure the more than 1,000 business leaders who are expected to attend the dinner will get a kick out of that, but they also will hear examples of how other communities are wisely developing, giving them an opportunity to gauge how Greater Madison leadership measures up on the smart-city scale.

According to Harrison, Madison and other communities can learn from the likes of nearby Dubuque, Iowa when it comes to deploying intellect, technology, and collaboration to compete globally. Now before you recoil in horror at the notion of Madison learning from Dubuque, which also happens to be a college town with Loras, a Catholic liberal arts institution, remember that most successful economic strategies are developed out of the need to sustain some sort of job-creating momentum, something all communities have in common.

Dubuque is in the process of transforming its old millwork district from an underutilized area into a place where newer urban planning concepts take root, including technology-based approaches to building efficiency. Such redemption stories are unfolding in cities all over the world because local leaders are putting some inspired thought into development.

In Harrison's view, the ongoing urbanization of our society results in mounting cost pressures for cities, but that pressure also creates opportunities for metro areas to better use their wealth and other resources. This includes the use of social networks for community-building rather than pure consumerism.

Harrison, who studied electrical engineering and physics and earned a PhD in materials science, didn't gain his title of IBM Master Inventor by just showing up every day. He is fluent in three languages, he has been awarded 27 patents, he's well-published in scientific journals and books, and he has served as a visiting scientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Harvard Medical School, and the Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory. Among his technical innovations is the first use of a distributed, real-time control system at CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research.

His quality-of-life vision is aligned with what modern cities are trying to build in terms of sustainable buildings, sustainable transportation, and sustainable human capital. Smart cities are "about many things," Harrison said, "but it varies from one city to another."

With the advance of rail options and a more intense focus on efficient building operation, Madison will no doubt score highly in some "smart city" categories. But unless the obvious hostility to economic development is tempered in the core of this region, the broader area's economic development IQ will definitely take a hit.

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