From Toronto to Tokyo, the challenges faced by cities today are often remarkably similar: climate change, rising housing costs, traffic, economic polarization, unemployment. To tackle these problems, new technology companies and industries have been sprouting and scaling up with innovative digital solutions like ride sharing and home sharing. Without a doubt, the city of the future must be digital. It must be smart. It must work for everyone.
This is a trend civic leaders everywhere need to embrace wholeheartedly. But building a truly operational smart city is going to take a village, and then some. It won’t happen overnight, but progress is already under way.
As tech broadens its urban footprint, there will be more and more potential for conflict between innovation and citizen priorities like privacy and inclusive growth. Last month, we were reminded of that in Toronto, where planning authorities from three levels of government released a 1,500-page plan by Alphabet’s Sidewalk Labs meant to pave the way for a futuristic waterfront development. Months in the making, the plan met with considerablyless than universal acclaim.
But whether it’s with Sidewalk or other tech partners, the imperative to resolve these conflicts becomes even stronger for cities like Toronto. If they’re playing this game to win, civic leaders need to minimize the damage and maximize the benefits for the people they represent. They need to develop co-ordinated innovation plans that prioritize transparency, public engagement, data privacy and collaboration.
The Sidewalk Labs plan is full of tech-forward proposals for new transit, green buildings and affordable housing, optimized by sensors, algorithms and mountains of data. But even the best intentions of a business or a city can be misconstrued when leaders fail to be transparent about their plans. Openness and engagement are critical for building legitimacy and social license.
Sidewalk says it consulted 21,000 Toronto citizens while developing its proposal. But somecritics have already complained that the big decisions were made behind closed doors, with too many public platitudes and not enough debate about issues raised by citizens, city staff and the region’s already thriving innovation ecosystem.
In defense of Sidewalk Labs and Alphabet, their roots are in Internet services. They are relative newcomers to the give and take of community consultation. But they are definitely now hearing how citizens would prefer to be engaged and consulted.
As for the public planners, they have a number of excellent examples to draw from. In Barcelona, for example, the city government opened up its data sets to citizens to encourage shared use among private, public and academic sectors. And in Pittsburgh, which has become a hub for the testing of autonomous vehicles, the city provided open forum opportunities for the public to raise questions, concerns and issues directly with civic decision-makers.
Other forward-looking cities, such as San Francisco, Singapore, Helsinki and Glasgow, are already using digital technology and smart sensors to build futuristic urban services that can serve as real-world case studies for Toronto and others. However, to achieve true success, city officials need to earn residents’ trust and confidence that they are following and adapting best practices.
Access to shared data is crucial to informing and improving tech-enabled urban innovation. But it could also fuel a technologically driven move toward surveillance capitalism or a surveillance state – profiteering or big brother instead of trust and security.
The Sidewalk proposal respects the principles of responsible use of data and artificial intelligence. It outlines principles for guiding the smart-city project’s ethical handling of citizen data and secure use of emerging technologies like facial recognition. But these principles aren’t yet accompanied by clear, enforceable standards.
Members of the MaRS Discovery District recently co-authored an open-source report with fellow design and data governance experts, outlining how privacy conflicts could be addressed by an ethical digital trust. A digital trust ought to be transparently governed by independent, representative third-party trustees. Its trustees should be mandated to make data-use decisions in the public interest: how data could be gathered, how anonymity could be ensured, how requests for use should be dealt with.
They come with big questions to be resolved. But if a digital trust were developed for the Sidewalk project, it could be adapted and reused in other cities around the world, as civic leaders everywhere grapple with innovation plans of their own.
The private sector creates jobs and economic growth. Academia and education offers ideas, research and a sustainable flow of tech-savvy workers. The public sector provide policy guidance and accountability. Non-profits mobilize public awareness and surplus capital.
As Toronto is learning, it isn’t always easy to get buy-in, because every player in every sector has its own priorities. But civic leaders should be trying to pull all these innovation levers to overcome urban challenges, because when the mission is right, collaboration creates more than the sum of its parts.
One civic example we like to point to is New York, where the development of the High Line park and the rezoning of the West Chelsea Special District created a “halo effect.” A $260-million investment increased property values, boosted city tax revenues by $900-million and brought four million tourists per year to a formerly underused neighborhood.
A mission-oriented innovation ecosystem connects the dots between entrepreneurs and customers, academia and corporates, capital and talent, policymakers and activists, physical and digital infrastructure – and systems financing models can help us predict and more equitably distribute the returns. Organizations like Civic Capital Lab (disclaimer: a MaRS partner) work to repurpose projects like the High Line into real-life frameworks for other cities and communities.
That kind of planning works because the challenges cities face are so similar. When civic leaders are properly prepared to make the best of modern tech-driven innovation, there’s no problem they can’t overcome.
As Climate change could cause 29% spike in cereal prices: leaked UN report, because Food supply chains will get disrupted globally, the study warns. Report to be officially released in August informs Nitin Sethi, of New Delhi in this article of Business Standard.
As far as the MENA region is concerned, food has always been in short supply, but does this mean it would get worse.
The report will be put before all member countries of the UN Framework Convention and once it gets their stamp of approval by consensus it will be made public on August 8. Photo: Representative Image
“The rate and geographic extent of global land and freshwater resources over recent decades is unprecedented in human history,” a report authored by UN’s panel of scientists from across the world on climate change is set to inform. Business Standard reviewed a leaked copy of the draft report sent to the governments of 197 countries. The report warns that as the global temperatures rise, the stress on land resources and its productivity is set to rise.
The report by the UN Inter-governmental panel on climate change, is called, “IPCC Special Report on Climate Change, Desertification, Land Degradation, Sustainable Land Management, Food Security, and Greenhouse gas fluxes in terrestrial ecosystems.”
The report will be put before all member countries of the UN Framework Convention and once it gets their stamp of approval by consensus it will be made public on August 8.
The authors of the report, gleaning through state-of-art science research have concluded that, “Observed climate change is already affecting the four pillars of food security – availability, access, utilization, and stability – through increased temperatures, changing precipitation patterns, and greater frequency of some extreme events.”
Continuing climate change is expected to further “create additional stresses on land systems exacerbating risks related to desertification, land degradation and food security,” the report says.
In a significant finding for countries such as India, the authors say, at global warming of 2° Celsius, the population of drylands exposed and vulnerable to water stress, increased drought intensity and habitat degradation could be as high as 522 million. Scientists conclude that at current levels of greenhouse gas emission reductions committed by the countries under Paris Agreement there is a good likelihood for the planet to breach the 2° Celsius temperature rise barrier.
“In drylands, desertification and climate change are projected to cause further reduction in crop and livestock productivity, modify the composition of plant species and reduce biological diversity,” research endorsed by the scientific panel shows.
Half of the vulnerable population due to the climate-change induced aridity would be in South Asia. The degradation of land due to climate change is already leading to consequent shaving off of the global economy, the scientific panel notes. “There are increasingly negative effects on GDP from impacts on land-based values and ecosystem service as temperature increases,” the report says. But, it notes that, at the regional level, the impacts would vary. “Compound extreme events, such as a heat wave within a drought or drought followed by extreme rainfall, will decrease gross primary productivity of lands, the authors warn
The impact on agriculture in higher latitudes is recorded to be different than in lower ones, such as one covering India. “Increasing temperature are affecting agricultural productivity in higher latitudes, raising yields of some crops such as maize, cotton, wheat, sugar beets, while in lower-latitude regions yields of crops such as maize, wheat and barley are declining.
Modelling results, that the scientific panel reviewed, show that cereal prices could rise by up to 29 per cent in 2050 due to climate change, which would impact consumers globally through higher food prices, though the impact would vary by regions. The stability of food supply is expected to decrease as the magnitude and frequency of extreme events caused by climate change increases, disrupting food chains globally.
The increase in global temperatures and consequent climate change is already affecting the productivity of livestock, which is one a main-stay of Indian rural economy. The authors conclude, “Observed impacts in pastoral systems include pasture declines, lower animal growth rates and productivity, damaged reproductive functions, increased pests and diseases, and loss of biodiversity.”
At the same time coastal economies are already suffering an impact as well. “Coastal erosion is affecting new regions as a result of interacting human drivers and climate change such as sea-level rise and impacts of changing cyclone paths,” though the scientists hold a low level confidence in the scientific research that concludes the impact of climate change on cyclone paths.
The real estate market in Egypt’s capital Cairo continues its rapid growth with the construction of large-scale projects stimulating economic expansion and driving demand for Grade A office projects, according to Savills, a leading real estate services provider in the Middle East.
There is a systematic shift of tenants towards newer developments away from the erstwhile central business hubs in Central Cairo, towards modern speculative and purpose-built developments across New Cairo in the East and Sheikh Zayed City in the West, stated Savills in its latest report that analyses the Cairo Metropolitan Area (CMA) office market for the first half.
Demand is also driven by new market entrants – both domestic and global – along with expansion and consolidation exercise, it stated.
The city’s strong demographic vantage in terms of young, educated and comparatively low-cost workforce and a further improvement in global investor confidence towards the economy in the medium-to-long term will continue to drive demand for office real estate in the city, it added.
Head of Egypt Catesby Langer-Paget said: “As Egypt’s macro-economic situation continues to improve on account of prudent policy measures, our recent research shows that the demand for office space in Cairo has increased, driven by a mix of relocation, expansion and expansion led consolidation exercise.”
The sustained demand for office space has led to a spurt in project launches and completions over the past few quarters. This increase in the availability of Grade A options has created a short-to-medium term pressure on rental values across most markets.
However, headline rental values continue to remain stable but we have noticed enhanced flexibility among landlords with regards to incentives and lease terms. During H1 2019, rents for Grade A stock across Heliopolis ranged between E£300 – E£350 / sqm / month while in New Cairo and Sheikh Zayed City it ranged between E£350 – 400 / sqm / month.
“We noticed strong interest from the pharmaceutical sector, technology, banking and financial services and media firms to occupy Grade A space within the city,” stated Langer-Paget.
“In terms of new supply, no new projects were completed during the current review period. However, to meet this growing demand, we anticipate approximatively 155,500 sqm of Grade A space to be handed over across key areas such as New Cairo and Nasr City over the next six months,” he added.
In effect, three ways cities can help feed the world . . . without costing the Earth, per Silvio Caputo, University of Kent seem to be one of the few options remaining for life on earth to carry on.
Climate change is underway, and human activities such as urbanisation, industrialisation and food production are key contributors. Food production alone accounts for around 25% of global carbon emissions. Ironically, the changing weather patterns and more frequent extreme weather events resulting from climate change also put the world’s food supplies at risk.
Food production drives deforestation, meaning there are fewer trees to absorb carbon dioxide, which contributes to the greenhouse effect. What’s more, the fertilisers and pesticides used to protect crops have caused a dramatic decline in insect populations, and in soil fertility, by affecting the microbial organisms that enrich the soil and enable plants to gain nutrients.
At the same time, the world population is rising and there are expected to be more than 9.5 billion people on Earth by 2050. In response to these projections, the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) is campaigning for a 60% increase in food production by 2050, by intensifying agriculture to be more productive and use fewer resources, all without increasing the amount of farm land.
It’s not yet clear exactly how this “intensification” should happen. Alternative methods, such as organic farming, are respectful of soil ecology and insect life and can restore soil fertility. But they cannot, at present, produce as much food as industrial agriculture.
Yet the idea that we need more food is debatable. Although, according to the FAO, there are 821m people globally suffering from hunger, the world produces 50% more food than is needed to feed the global population. Another estimate from biologist and author Colin Tudge suggests that the current food production can feed as many as 14 billion people. But one third of this food is wasted because of distorted supply systems, unjust food distribution and unhealthy and unsustainable diets.
So, the efforts of experts in the food sector should not concentrate on agriculture intensification, but rather on strategies to change patterns of consumption and waste at a local and global level. My own research on urban agriculture and sustainable cities suggests there are three main areas where effective changes can be made.
1. Recycling food waste
Food consumption needs to become “circular”. This means that organic waste such as food scraps does not go to landfill, but is instead transformed into compost (which will be needed in a transition to organic agriculture) and biogas.
At present, organic waste is only recycled to a small extent, with some countries such as Germany and the Netherlands leading, while others including Italy and Belgium lag behind. But there are new technologies emerging to make this process easier.
For example, the Local Energy Adventure Partnership (LEAP) has created an anaerobic digester designed for an urban context: this machine can transform organic waste from residential or commercial buildings into compost and biogas that can fuel urban food growing.
Some experts also suggest that some food waste – if treated properly – could be used as animal fodder: a practice currently forbidden on hygiene grounds. If reinstated, this measure could reduce the environmental impact of grain cultivation, as less is grown to feed livestock.
2. Urban farming
Another option is to decrease demand for agricultural land by growing food in cities, where more people need it, thereby reducing the distances food has to travel. This would also allow producers to map and match consumers’ demand more effectively, by producing close to the places where food is consumed.
There is a lot of research on urban agriculture and how cities can support it, spanning from vertical farms – hydroponic systems enabling cultivation on vertical surfaces – to principles for planning cities that facilitate the use of land, rooftops and other spaces to grow food into a continuous green infrastructure.
In this area, too, it’s possible to find innovations designed to make urban farming easier and more sustainable. For example, The Farmhouse is a modular housing system suitable for vertical stacking that enables all residents to grow food. And Blockchain Domes is a patented system that uses excess heat from computer servers to provide optimal thermal conditions for greenhouses in colder climates.
3. Changing diets
The third option is to encourage people to change their diets. Growing middle-income groups in developing countries are consuming ever higher quantities of meat, cheese and eggs. In China, since 1990, consumption of beef and poultry has quadrupled. But the diet of farmed animals is heavy in grains, which instead could be used to feed people more efficiently. Also, cattle farming requires vast quantities of water and grassland, sometimes obtained through deforestation.
Getting people to eat less meat will help to ease the pressure on the world’s food system. In cities, governments, research institutions, communities and businesses can collaborate on food initiatives to give people healthier, cheaper and more sustainable choices – but this requires political will and organisation between different levels of government.
Clearly, each of these approaches has a limited scope of action, compared to agricultural techniques or strategies which can be deployed at an industrial level. But with so many promising proposals, there can be a many-pronged approach that that makes efficient use of the existing resources in cities, while also changing consumers’ habits. Together with these three changes, more effective policies for food justice and sovereignty can establish fairer food supply chains and more just distribution of food around the world.
There is no doubt that urbanisation trends and the ensuing acceleration of . . . lifestyle of many had a definite bearing on life on earth generally. The causes could perhaps be attributed to the recent additional availability of high earnings in the developing world’s peoples, and this had a direct impact if only by their sheer numbers on the whole planet. These trends got concentrated as elaborated on in the proposed article of Audrey de Nazelle, Lecturer in air pollution management, Centre for Environmental Policy at Imperial College London in certain regions only of the globe.
So, would urbanisation trends and the ensuing acceleration of . . . life generally, have a similar impact on all those ‘left behind’ other regions?
“It’s outrageous that we’ve reached a point where it’s healthier for some people to stay inside and not exercise, rather than walk outside and breathe polluted air” Image: REUTERS/Ognen Teofilovski
Air pollution is now the fourth biggest killer in the world after smoking, high blood pressure and diet. It contributes to more than six million deaths every year. The majority of these are in poorer nations. Worryingly, air quality may become increasingly worse with rapidly expanding urbanization.
More than half the world’s population now live in cities. By 2050, this will reach two thirds. As more people move from rural areas to cities, there will be more cars on the roads, more traffic congestion hotspots near homes and workplaces, and less green space.
City dwellers are already suffering from fumes and smog on their daily commutes. It’s outrageous that we’ve reached a point where it’s healthier for some people to stay inside and not exercise, rather than walk outside and breathe polluted air.
Why do nations, political leaders, experts and campaigning organisations want to reduce air pollution? The main reason is to improve people’s health. But we can be bolder than simply mitigating this problem by trying to reduce particle concentrations. There is an exciting opportunity to go much further, and fundamentally rethink the way cities work.
Paradoxically, air pollution can spur us to transform public health and infrastructure, and change how we design cities in the future.
We currently spend a lot of time focusing on ways to reduce emissions or develop cleaner and more efficient fuels. Lawmakers apply taxes and levies or ban older cars in cities. The car industry is seeing a boom in hybrid and electric vehicles, which are much more environmentally friendly.
Of course, these solutions play an important role in cleaning up our urban air. But we are missing a huge opportunity to take a more holistic approach to the health and well-being of people living in cities.
For example, what if we rethought the purpose of our streets. Are they really just meant for cars to get from A to B? Or can we see them as a place to walk and cycle, where children play and neighbours meet?
Smog surrounds the Shard and St Paul’s Cathedral in London Image: REUTERS/Suzanne Plunkett
By removing cars from cities, you are not just reducing emissions – there are countless other benefits. Researchers in London studied the health impacts of cutting emissions by two different methods. The first scenario used a technology-led policy, while the second promoted walking and cycling instead of driving.
Both scenarios resulted in similar levels of improved air quality. But the method which encouraged people to walk and cycle generated up to 30 times more benefits, due to health improvements from increased physical activity. I have carried out similar research in other cities and reached the same conclusions.
Sadly, current levels of air pollution may be putting people off from enjoying the outdoors and getting regular physical activity. A recent study in London compared the health effects of a walk in Hyde Park against one along Oxford Street. For people over 60, toxic air pollution cancelled out some of the benefits they got from the light physical activity.
And in some of the world’s most polluted cities, such as Delhi and Beijing, cycling for more than an hour every day can do more harm to you than good.
Smog over the Chao Phraya river in Bangkok, Thailand Image: REUTERS/Athit Perawongmetha
Some cities have announced car-free or car-less visions, including Milan, Copenhagen, Madrid and Paris. Oslo plans to ban all cars from its city centre permanently by 2019. Chengdu in China is designing a new residential area in which people will be able to walk everywhere easily, reducing the need for cars.
Although it was forgotten for a while, we do have some history of planning cities with public health in mind. The urban sanitarians in the mid-1850s called for new planning strategies that included more green space, better ventilation through streets and increased sunlight into homes, to combat the epidemics of the time – cholera and the plague.
These people made their mark on their respective cities through a conscious effort of planning for better health. We’re hoping to make similar strides again. Imperial’s Network of Excellence in Air Quality aims to identify the next big frontiers in air quality research, collaborating across disciplines to deliver new insights. Scientists and researchers from medicine, engineering, business and other disciplines are coming together to share expertise and find solutions to some of the biggest challenges.
My colleagues, Dr Marc Stettler, Dr Laure de Preux and I will be exploring some of these issues with peers and global leaders at the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting of the New Champions in Tianjin in China later this year.
Like the urban sanitarians of nearly 200 years ago, we again have the opportunity to design our cities to improve public health. I have no doubt that we will get there, and that we will realize this new vision of what streets and neighbourhoods are for – a place for people to live in, not just cars. Why not start now, and start reaping the benefits
What is most challenging about leading public organizations in the MENA countries today? And do the challenges differ from those of around the world?
Sameh Wahba in this blog for the World Bank seems to be amazed by that is done, especially by how it is done in Japan. Of course, this is quite understandable on behalf of anybody native of the MENA region, let alone a well-educated blogger; Japan being in everyone’s eyes a success at all levels, has no equivalence in the Middle East nor in the world for that matter. Leadership that is the good one as professed these days in the world high education institutions has always been an issue in the Middle East since perhaps the advent of civilisation.
How do city leaders get things done? Learning from mayors in Japan
The picture above is of the competitive Cities Technical Deep Dive participants enjoying a walk through the Minato Mirai 21 area (with the Cosmo Clock in the background), which aims to concentrate high-value added activities and a high quality of life in an integrated urban core in downtown Yokohama. Photo Credit: TDLC
We spent the week as part of a Technical Deep Dive, studying and living the experience of two exceptional Japanese cities-Yokohama and Kobe. These cities have dealt with:
Industrialized at a rapid pace,
Responded to environmental challenges,
Reached the technological frontier,
Undergone a housing bubble,
And even went through a major disaster (the Kobe earthquake) and recovered from it.
WHAT needs to be done?
City leaders use a menu of interventions to increase competitiveness, including institutions and regulations, infrastructure and land, skills and innovation, and enterprise support and finance. Mayors directly influence several of these factors, and they work with regional and national level leaders to shape other levees.
A common theme was that long-term job growth was usually driven by tradable sectors. For instance, Kobe reclaimed land and crowded in investments into a life sciences cluster, to bridge medical research and commercialization. Over fifteen years, the cluster attracted over 500 companies, outperforming that in Singapore – a city of roughly six times the population. Yokohama invested in physical infrastructure, to restructure its economy – from port and heavy-industry led to frontier research and development.
HOW will it be done? City leaders recognize that an economic development strategy alone is insufficient. Implementation mechanisms and delivery systems are equally (and perhaps more) important to achieving the desired results. Both Japanese cities, Yokohama and Kobe, carefully and patiently built institutional capabilities to design, implement and manage. This included the ability to execute the basic tasks of projects – whether procurement, hiring, asset disposal or similar; The ability to accumulate knowledge – systematically noting what worked, adjusting plans and trying new ideas; and the ability to coordinate – to mobilize stakeholders to clear blocks when they arose in implementation.
The interaction with city leaders coupled with practical exchange across peers has presented World Bank teams with an overwhelmingly important question – what are the pathways to economic success across different types of cities? Given the huge differences in challenges, contexts and capabilities, what will it take to put city leaders in the driving seat of competitiveness? Our future efforts will continue to focus on helping cities better design, manage and implement policies, programs and projects. Understanding learning from Yokohama and Kobe’s experiences will help tackle the challenge.