How to build a city
TAIPEI, TAIWAN — An hour and a half southeast of Taoyuan Airport nests a seaside town named Yilan. Its colorful yards, tiled streets, and old bamboo houses have long attracted many a busy Taipei entrepreneur or working professional seeking a quiet and slower-paced weekend with the family. When a nearby 13-kilometer tunnel opened in 2006 and brought Yilan within day-trip distance to Taipei, a small-but-growing crowd of Taipei entrepreneurs and creatives began moving shop to Yilan permanently, as they found it to be prime real estate for a home base away from the noise and pollution of the big city without having to sever all ties with the outside world. It was not a surprise that their presence began invigorating Yilan’s economic growth and diversification shortly after.
Yilan is hardly the only example of an innovation-minded community helping to upgrade a whole city. Three-thousand kilometers southwest of Yilan is Singapore, which declared independence in 1965. The wealthy world city-state was so successful in transforming itself from an isolated backwater town that — though few speak of it now — it served as an inspiration and guide to China’s later stunning rise. Today, the Lion City continues to bustle with creative energy. Just last year, a few local entrepreneurs launched We the People, an incubator that combines the best of crowdfunding and retail by providing a physical space where innovators can present their prototype and pitch potential investors the vision and roadmap of their product. Meanwhile, about as far as one can go to the other side of the Eurasian continent, the Makers of Barcelona is a co-working design strategy consultancy firm with two quirky and attractive locations in Eixample, and since its founding in 2011, it’s been a staple of the Catalan capital’s startup scene. Then there’s the medieval Spanish city of Zaragoza, an hour by high-speed train west of Barcelona, which has been placed firmly on the innovation map when local firm Libelium burst onto the IoT scene a few years ago.
But as technology disrupts the global political economy at an accelerating pace, thoughtful cities will need to identify new ways — and partners — to up their game in the competition for talent. In addition to innovation-friendly policies drafted in city halls, private sector initiatives can and often play a synergistic role. AspenCore believes that engineers and the electronics design and distribution sector as a whole have much to contribute. For example, earlier this year, the Hong Kong Science and Technology Park partnered with Arrow Electronics (owner of AspenCore) to build a high-end design lab in Sha Tin District. The open lab’s myriad of advanced equipment and free public access have lent Hong Kong a new research and development platform for high-value-add areas such as smart ports and smart manufacturing. Just as importantly, the lab also opened a new door to attract funding from China’s ambitious and well-financed One-Belt-One-Road Initiative to strengthen Hong Kong’s own economic ecosystem.
As AspenCore scans the globe, we find London grappling with the uncertainty of Brexit, Eastern European capitals such as Warsaw or Budapest seeking a stronger brand and voice within Europe and on the world stage, Detroit and Saint Petersburg having recovered recently but still smarting from the last recession, and Perth and Doha in search of a more diversified economic portfolio before it becomes too late. In all of these cases, we see promising opportunities for smart policy makers to join with enterprising and civic-minded members of the local engineering, design chain, and supply chain communities to maximize the multiplier effect of what a vibrant hardware-AI-IoT ecosystem can do for their city’s competitiveness.
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