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ICF Institute Learns from GOPC’s Research on Building Civic Capacity in Smaller Legacy Cities

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GOPC’s Manager of Research and Policy, Torey Hollingsworth, recently presented on Ohio’s smaller legacy cities at the ICF Global Institute for the Study of the Intelligent Community’s workshop. The ICF Institute is a Dublin-based program that focuses on educating communities throughout the state on six Intelligent Community Indicators: broadband, knowledge workforce, innovation, digital equality, sustainability, and advocacy. These indicators are key in determining a community’s ability to compete in the broadband economy. The Institute serves as a convener for other communities that are working to build on the Intelligent Community Indicators and prepare for the digital economy.

The ICF Institute particularly focuses on expanding broadband access, and that was the focus of keynote speaker Christopher Mitchell, the Director of Community Broadband Networks at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance. Mitchell discussed challenges and opportunities for expanding fast, reliable broadband networks, particularly in less dense areas. These areas offer less financial return to companies that provide internet service, so access is often less reliable. Particularly as companies consolidate and few local providers remain, ensuring broadband access statewide becomes more challenging.

Mitchell discussed the opportunities presented by municipal broadband networks, where local governments run broadband networks as a public utility. These kinds of networks can provide access in very rural areas, ensuring that residents are still able to participate in the digital economy.

Hollingsworth then presented on Ohio’s smaller legacy city work, highlighting the many global economic and demographic forces that play out in these communities and the impact on their ability to compete in the digital age. Her presentation focused on the need for smaller communities to focus on building civic capacity and quality of life in order to revitalize and transition into the new economy.

As more and more workers are able to work remotely, smaller legacy city communities have an opportunity to build on their unique sense of place, historic downtowns, and human scale to retain or attract these workers. A vibrant future for Ohio’s smaller legacy cities is going to require that the appropriate infrastructure is in place for them to weather the ongoing transition into the digital economy. Civic capacity, a strong sense of place, and broadband are all important components of that infrastructure.