A few months ago, DataCity launched its smart city program in 3 new cities: Singapore, Bangalore and Barcelona. Many solutions are being created around the globe, sometimes simultaneously, but too many are left unknown or unimplemented. Once we create or identify a solution it must be scaled at a global level for greater and faster impact. Hence the need for a global smart city network to share knowledge, solutions, best practices and build upon what has already been experimented. This is the ambition behind DataCity, and the reason why we believe we must go global. But can we really look at urban challenges only through a global lens? What about local disparities and specificities? We asked our new partner cities to share their perspective and we take this opportunity to reflect on the need to balance a global ambition with local perspectives.
Global challenges: energy & mobility
Some challenges seem to be highly correlated with a city’s specific situation, be it demographic, historical or geographic. Air pollution, waste management or food safety are some of them. For instance Bangalore reports a strong interest in aquaponics linked to its food security issue, whereas Singapore’s concerns about ageing citizen’s health are specific to a demographic pressure. But we also realized some challenges seem to be systematically shared across cities: energy and transportation.
Energy is an interesting one because it is directly correlated to both environmental and economic perspectives. The energetic transition often means acting for our future and the planet, but also saving money or investing it for better efficiency in the future, therefore improving the city’s balance sheet and its attractivity. So far, very few countries or cities have reached sustainable energy production – Costa Rica leading the way with 300 days of clean energy in 2017. But most of them did start a process to diversify their energy sources and are eager to harness the power of data and engage in innovative programs to accelerate change.
Traffic congestion also plagues almost all cities around the world. According to the 2017 Traffic Index, all 18 mega cities have congestion levels over 25% (up to 66% for Mexico, and many cities reaching congestion levels over 80% during evening peaks). Mobility is again a “macro” issue with direct correlation to air pollution but also a city’s attractivity and efficiency.
Local perspectives: history, geography and politics
If these issues are shared by most cities, can they be all be scaled? Yes, but they still need to be adapted to local specificities. Two cities may face the same rush hour situation but this challenge could be based on very different urban landscapes and could have very different public transportation systems available. Scaling cannot do without local anchoring. It must also take into consideration the vision and long-term ambition. And in this department, local perspectives reflect a greater diversity linked to history, political influence as well as geographical components.
Singapore envisions a future-oriented smart city “using technology to create possibilities for ourselves beyond what we previously imagined possible”. On a very different environment, Barcelona pursues a people-oriented smart city with the goal of “supporting more circular, inclusive, and collaborative economic models, […] integrating the collective intelligence of all citizens in the political decision-making process with clear social impact and public return.” But one can only go beyond the objectives of a “smart city” if there is an existing foundation for smart initiatives. Bangalore’s minister for IT and tourism reminds us there is a long-term objective: “The meaning of smart cities is not fulfilled unless there is greener or eco-friendly ways of doing things.” but also down-to-earth objectives: “achieve optimum utilization of [its] existing resources in a sustained manner”.
Local anchoring is instrumental to the success of the program because it is the difference between mere duplication of a solution and revelant adaptation. To achieve both global impact and local relevance, DataCity relies on a multi-actor ecosystem of local partners: local authorities of course but also a network of incubator, whether it is through a local NUMA or partner, such as Impact Hub in the case of Singapore. With this glocal perspective, we aim to start rolling out these new editions of DataCity as early as Spring 2018.
Thank you to Singapore, Bangalore and Barcelona representatives for sharing their view with us:
“The possibilities are endless […] We see tremendous potential in leveraging data in several areas. We believe that the challenges which Singapore faces – an urban and ageing population, traffic congestion, healthcare, and more – make us the perfect testbed for solutions which can then be scaled to solve these issues globally.
Tan Kiat How, Chief Executive, IMDA Singapore
“The challenges that any growing city encounters are tremendous. Some of the areas where data comes in handy is solving the mobility/traffic related issues [but also…] problems such as food security with the help of new age farming techniques like aquaponics.” “The Government is Open to ideation, innovation, collaboration and any such initiative which will help build a smart, sustainable city and a greener planet eventually.”
Mr. Priyank Kharge – Minister for IT/BT and Tourism, Government of Karnataka
“Barcelona wants to set world’s standards for ethical, open and responsible innovation. Our priority is to go far beyond the simple construction of a smart city. Barcelona wants to become an open, equitable, circular and democratic city that takes advantage of the data opportunities and data-driven innovations to transform the city and the life of citizens.”
Francesca Bria, Chief Technology and Digital Innovation Officer, Barcelona City Council