It is a well documented fact that approximately 70% of the global population will be living in urban areas by 2050. Every country therefore, will need to find ways to manage urbanization and the challenges associate with it. Urbanization of course derives a number of benefits such as better access to jobs, healthcare, social & cultural integration, improvement of infrastructure, adoption of new technology & overall improvement in the economy to name a few. The topic of building smarter and sustainable cities is now a common agenda item among multiple stakeholders including policy makers, researchers and Public Private partnerships (PPP's). We must keep in mind that managing urbanization is not (and should not) be the sole responsibility of a government. In fact one can argue that the role of a government should be to create a policy framework and provide incentives that will encourage multiple stakeholder engagement that results in identifying solutions to effectively deal with urbanization challenges. To build smarter and sustainable cities there needs to be a long term vision, stronger local/regional collaboration and a win-win mindset irrespective of country related dynamics such as size,level of development & resources. If cities are equipped with the right leaders (political and community), strategic direction, and access to finance/funding, then urbanization will definitely bring about overwhelming positive changes to the lives of many people regardless of their social status.
Exemplified below are 4 tips that can help to build smarter and sustainable cities
- Innovation should be at the heart of the overall Urbanization Planning & Management Process - New ideas are the key to building smarter and sustainable cities. Conventional norms and processors need to be challenged. Innovation should be encouraged at a community, district, provincial/state and national level. Successful models and ideas across the globe can be adopted and localized by innovating within the value chain. it is fair to say that in today's context, cities need to innovate to survive. The innovation however, should be people & community centric to be more sustainable. A great idea alone should not be the basis for implementation if it does not benefit the wider community. The introduction of sensors to identify air quality and noise pollution in Pune, India is an example of innovation being in the heart of the urbanization management process.
- Invest in Technology- Smarter & Sustainable Cities are built with technology as an important pillar in the planning and implementation process. Technology enables better communication among multiple stakeholders. It also improves efficiency and allows greater monitoring and control capability. Barcelona in Spain for example has smart LED streetlights which operate on motion detection through the use of technology. It is estimated that the implementation of this technology has helped the city achieve energy savings of around 30-40% which is very commendable. Investing in technology does not necessarily mean building new technology. Through a multi country partnership/collaboration model there could be an easy (and less costly) replication of technology. It should be noted that technology will always be the platform and medium but not the end game.
- Continuously engage the community & stakeholders - The notion of 'by the citizens -for the citizens' is paramount to effectively manage urbanization. Communities usually better understand the challenges they face and by allowing them to prioritize the key initiatives and getting them involved in the process will ensure far greater commitment and support. The city of Jakarta in Indonesia actively uses crowd-sourcing as a means of generating ideas and devising strategies when implementing smart city initiatives. Leadership (both political & community level) plays an important role in order to ensure greater engagement among multiple stakeholders.The City of Newcastle in Australia is using an 'Interactive Ideas Wall' in order to encourage the community to share ideas which will shape the future direction of the city and its smart city strategy. This is a classic example of how a city can engage its community early to generate greater commitment and support when managing urbanization and building a sustainable city. The Porto Alegre City in Brazil engages more than twenty thousand people every year to discuss how best to use around 17% of the city’s budget. This is another example of how community engagement will help build a more sustainable city.
- Find new ways to finance/fund initiatives - It is clear that traditional methods of financing or funding smart and sustainable city initiatives through local taxes is no longer viable or adequate. Policy makers need to find innovative ways of financing such as "Green Financing', 'Social/Development Impact Bonds', Impact Investments & Public- Private Partnerships (PPP's). Encouraging social entrepreneurs and impact investors to find solutions to better manage urbanization by providing incentives will not only ensure innovative ideas but will also ensure faster implementation. The financial burden to the local and national government will also be lower in this approach as opposed to using taxes. A Social Impact Bond is essentially where private investors pay for government run programs based on the success of the project(s). These type of programs help improve governance and accountability when managing urbanization without a major drain on the fiscal position of a city or country. Africa as a region has introduced a number of Social Impact Bonds to deal with many issues including healthcare & education. Hong Kong for example is planning a sovereign green bond plan of approximately US$12 billion. The proceeds of this would be utilized for green public works projects which is a part of ensuring the sustainability of the city/country.
The above 4 tips are not the only factors that can help build smarter and sustainable cities. Neither are they mutually exclusive. However, understanding and consciously using these tips in the planning process would allow a city or a country to devise more effective strategies to deal with the challenges associated with urbanization.
This article is culled from daily press coverage from around the world. It is posted on the Urban Gateway by way of keeping all users informed about matters of interest. The opinion expressed in this article is that of the author and in no way reflects the opinion of UN-Habitat.