Ontario community launches citizen-oriented site

Talking over the fence to your neighbour just got some competition in one Ontario community from an interactive Web site.

Smart City Cornwall Tuesday launched a citizen-to-citizen portal, The Village Hub. Francis Loughheed,

facilitator for the not-for-profit group, says the portal is to serve as an information hub for Cornwall residents that will develop technology literate citizens.

Loughheed says the site, which was built with Lotus (K-station) and IBM (Web Sphere Portal Server) software. It includes instant messaging, discussion forums and allows users to create the content. In fact, they’ll be creating all of it.

“”Content comes from the people, not from Francis and his organization, and it’s dynamic. They can continue to create new private spaces as needs within the community come up,”” says Doug Leitch, business unit executive, Lotus Software.

“”We don’t know what the citizens of Cornwall will choose to do with this in a year’s time. We have no idea what the creative applications they will decide are important to put together and execute.””

What Leitch does know is this solution can be used elsewhere. Now that IBM has done it once, he says, it’s a cookie cutter solution for cities of up to 100,000 residents.

Cornwall residents stand to benefit in more ways than knowing when a local hockey plays next. Loughheed says a building a computer literate workforce can turn into a gold mine. Companies, he says, are looking for these people when deciding where to set up shop.

“”Gartner has looked at a number of these smart community initiatives and looking at it from the private sector side, about 65 per cent of the global 2,000 companies who are heavily dependent on IT look very favourably on smart community initiatives,”” says French Caldwell, a research director with Stanford, Conn.-based Gartner.

Caldwell says the Village Hub is unlike the majority of e-government projects, which focus on services that don’t necessarily help citizens.

“”Government is all about — at least in the liberal democracies — enabling people to be able to engage in civic life. And most of the e-government initiatives that hasn’t even crossed the officials’ minds,”” Caldwell says, adding that this is one of only two projects he knows of that have “”an actual e-democracy aspect to it, versus e-government.””

But before every Cornwall resident can join the e-democracy, Internet penetration must increase. Loughheed says just under half of the approximate 21,000 households have Internet access.

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