A Smarter Approach to Making Cities More Resilient
Cities face numerous challenges these days, from population growth to deteriorating infrastructure to the threat of environmental disaster. And this is made more difficult by the fact that most municipalities must deal with these challenges with finite resources at their disposal.
Which is why George Atalla, EY’s Global Leader for Government & Public Sector, says cities need to get creative; they can no longer rely on old-school approaches to overcome modern day problems. For example, tackling the challenge of population growth by building out and expanding a city’s footprint is no longer an option for many urban centres such as Delhi, Beijing and Lagos because they’re simply running out of land. Instead, he says “cities need to define smart initiatives that will enable them to become more resilient to shocks and stresses and ultimately make them better places to live.”
Atalla points to five key barriers to adopting smart technology in order to run a city more efficiently. One: Mining and securing the right data. Two: Finding a way to fund smart initiatives, recognizing that past public/private models may not apply. Three: proper governance to ensure different sectors and departments are communicating with one another. Four: adopting best practices for financing smart initiatives. And finally: leveraging the right technology to address such challenges as traffic congestion.
Despite these barriers, Atalla is convinced there are solutions worth exploring and reason to feel positive about the future. One example he gives, is that cities are dealing with vast amounts of data and need to sort out which information to zero in on and analyze, in order to become more resilient. He points to cities like Barcelona as leading the way “by using technology to analyze such things as public transit, parking, street lighting and waste management to reduce costs and not only improve services but the overall quality of living for residents.”
Equally interesting to Atalla is New York City’s WiFi initiative designed to better connect residents and visitors alike. “In New York they’re replacing 7,500 pay phones with a growing number of LinkNYC kiosks that offer Wifi, USB phone chargers and tablets to access city services and maps. Subway stations have joined the Wifi bandwagon as well. What this tells me, is they clearly recognize that we live in an age where people need to be plugged in.”
The common thread of cities like Barcelona and New York Atalla says, is they’re becoming more creative in their approach to dealing with modern day problems. And he says this creativity is occurring more and more in the business world as well, with different sectors beginning to converge. “Take Tesla and Google,” observes Atalla. “The first is a car company that’s more interested in tech than in making cars. And the second is a tech company that’s very interested in making cars. They’re converging because they share an interest in the technology behind driverless cars.” Of course, it’s cities and their residents that stand to benefit the most from this cooperation and accelerated approach to problem solving.
Atalla also feels we’ve reached the stage where both the public and private sector are waking up to what a smart city can offer. “There are a growing number joining the 100 Resilient Cities initiative pioneered by the Rockefeller Foundation. More urban centres are setting up smart city offices. And all kinds of vendors are springing up in response to city needs.”
He’s also encouraged by the volume of public discussion tied to both the opportunities and obstacles of becoming a smarter city. “I’m seeing unprecedented dialogue taking place at events like Urban Future, as well as through the media and online.” And it’s a dialogue that, despite the many challenges cities face, is beginning to pay off in his view.
“Cities that ‘get it’ are using digital technologies and data to do everything from making everyday life more convenient for citizens, to improving health and safety to cutting running costs. Some are even using it to drive innovation, in the hope of attracting new business to the city. I think it’s proof that necessity really is the mother of invention.”
To solve rapidly growing populations and changing citizen needs, cities need to address the root causes.
I’m excited by the growing number of smart initiatives around the world.
To thrive especially when money’s tight, cities need to explore alternative financing models.
By working together business, government and entrepreneurs can tackle the many challenges of urbanization.