Illustration by Alix Ayoub

We are so SMRT


Columbus was just named Intelligent Community of the Year by the Intelligent Community Forum. It’s an international award, so that makes us the smartest community in the world. The whole thing. We’ve been in the top seven for three years running, but this year, we finally hoisted the banner. This wasn’t just some people looking at numbers across the ocean, either. We had to apply for this, and they sent inspectors here to evaluate us. If inspectors of an international organization walking around our city deciding whether or not it wins an award isn’t the premise for a mad cap comedy film, I don’t know what is.

I can see the trailer for it already:

[Open on Billy Dee Williams as Mayor Michael Coleman walking through town hall, followed by mayoral aide Kenneth Parcell, played by 30 Rock’s Jack McBrayer, carrying a clipboard. Plucky movie music plays.]

Voice Over: Kenneth is just a hard-working mayoral aide with
a lot on his plate…

Mayor: Is everything ready for the inspector’s arrival?

Aide: Yes sir! We’ve got a full schedule we’ve been planning for months, and I just know we’ll win that award.

Mayor: Well, we’d better win. It’s our third year, and if we lose to Palo Alto one more time, the whole city’s going to go out of business.

Aide: Don’t worry sir. I’ve got everything under control.

Voice Over: Or does he…

[“Walking on Sunshine” starts playing. Cue montage of Kenneth running around town distracting a grumpy inspector, played by Michael Caine, while wacky antics take place just out of his view. Worried Kenneth engages the inspector while an OSU couch dumpster fire rages behind him. A homeless man played by Steve Buscemi is cleaned up and put in a suit to pass as some important professor who was accidentally knocked unconscious earlier. Cleaned-up Buscemi says something brilliant, which causes Kenneth to raise his eyebrows. Several mayoral aide are forced to run down Front Street with a giant cardboard cutout that’s meant to pass as a light rail train. Inspector Caine says something about wanting to take a ride on it, and now they’ve got to rig up a train car with screens for windows and make train noises to simulate the real thing.]

Voice Over: This summer, Columbus, Ohio really is…the smartest city in the world.

[Cutaway to Inspector Caine going to tie his shoe, nearly missing a swinging beam that knocks Kenneth off a building and into a vat of Jeni’s Ice Cream.]

Guy in Jeni’s Coveralls: Hey, get out of the Pistachio and Honey!

Aide: (With a visibly swollen face) I’m allergic to pistachios! Oh God!

Coming 2015…Smart Fellas.

I imagine in the final scene of such a film (which definitely takes place at a huge formal gala, because that’s what happens in movies) the jig is up and Kenneth makes an impassioned speech about how we may not have the biggest brains, but we’ve got something Palo Alto doesn’t have: the biggest hearts. It’s a moment so touching that even the evil mayor of Palo Alto (Shooter McGavin’s Christopher McDonald), who’s at the dinner for some reason, is touched by the speech. Then a softened Inspector Caine says that only a genius city could have faked being so smart. We get the award and Columbus doesn’t go “out of business.”

Fun for the whole family.

Of course, the second the news came out that we were named the world’s most intelligent community, an army of cynics popped up on social media with a litany of reasons why we shouldn’t have been. Pretty predictable, and of course almost all of them cite problems that they’re not actively working to fix themselves. Yeah, we have no train. We get it. Study civil engineering and figure out what we need to do. Upward economic mobility is low. Get somebody a good paying job who needs one, then. The thing that made us stand out to the ICF was how much we have going on. Ever been to a city where nothing’s going on? I’ll take this any day. The first rule of being an intelligent community is that when an international organization says you’re the smartest city in the world, you take the compliment.

I don’t know if I think we’re the most intelligent community on the planet, but I’m pretty impressed. We’re basically an island in the middle of small towns and farm land, inhabited largely by people from small towns and farm land, and we just made international news because we have, and I quote, “a relentless embrace of new ideas.” The revitalization of this city from what it was like in the ’80s is miraculous to me. I nod approvingly every time somebody gives my home a pat on the back, because good press doesn’t come along as often as you’d think.

Accepting it when it does is just a smart move.