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The Record
Ahmed Galal and Bob Vrbanac
Wednesday, July 4, 2007

Waterloo held an official celebration of its win as the 2007 Intelligent Community of the Year last week, and it looks like the victory lap will be a short one.

That was the main message of the local movers and shakers gathered last Tuesday at the Centre for International Governance Innovation to celebrate Intelligent Waterloo, as it is now called. They say it isn't time for the city to rest on its laurels.

The win at the Intelligent Community Forum in New York in May was a springboard, a launching pad, or whatever appropriate analogy you could come up with. In modern marketing parlance it's the branding of Waterloo. And the mission now is to get the name out to as many people as possible.

I don't really think it's a worry that Waterloo will let the Intelligent Community win literally go to its head. There are too many people involved with the process who know the win was as much about this area's innovative attitude as it was about highlighting its impressive track record.

And innovation doesn't rest. Especially in this day and age when technology is creating scientific breakthroughs that change societies in weeks and years instead of decades and centuries as they have in the past.

But that's something Waterloo, and this region, has understood since it's changed from an agrarian economy to an industrial one, and finally to an information-based one in a century and a half.

A replica of Waterloo's first industry, the Abraham Erb Grist Mill, sits right across Silver Lake from the Perimeter Institute, which might be the site of the next great theory, or quantum leap, that moves the community even further into the future.

And the wattage of brain power being collected on the site of the former Seagram's Distillery grows brighter by the day with the addition of the Balsillie School of International Relations slated to open its door in 2009.

This is the new Waterloo, where ideas incubate until they can shape developments in the rest of the world. We want to be exporters of these ideas that will power the new economy instead of being a branch plant for other genius centres.

John Jeung, one of the founders of the ICF, said it was only natural that Waterloo would win the Intelligent Community honour one day because it was where the engineer started forming his ideas of a collaborative and connected community while attending the University of Waterloo.

The question is who will come back to this community in 10 or 20 years and tell the same story.

The same holds true for the community leaders who shape Waterloo today. What far-ranging impacts are their decisions going to have in the same way that decisions made in the 1950s and 1960s have come home to roost.

It was a similar challenge made by Jim Balsillie, attending the celebration a day after committing $50 million that may shape the next 50 years of the city. He challenged the people of Waterloo to commit themselves to a number of core projects that will make us world leaders throughout the rest of this century.

And it was eloquently summed up by UW president David Johnston. "Our moral imperative is to take these tools and technology and use them very assiduously to improve the human condition everywhere in the world," he said.

We are an Intelligent Community for now. But we'll be a smarter one for knowing that it's a process of continuous improvement.