Developers can shape urban environments to achieve sustainability

Developers can shape urban environments to achieve sustainability

The spaces created, the air quality and biodiversity must meet the requirements in a post-pandemic building ecosystem, says Michael Long in his article on how developers can shape urban environments to achieve sustainability. Here it is.

The picture above is for iullustration and is of Sustainable Futures

Developers can shape urban environments to achieve sustainability

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Projects like Paya Lebar Quarter ensure that the public area includes more trees, incorporates flood-resilient design elements and connects people to nature. PHOTO: LENDLEASE

With World Environment Day round the corner, there has never been a more poignant time than now amid the Covid-19 pandemic to appreciate what this means to corporates and individuals globally.

This year’s theme on ‘Ecosystem Restoration’ coincides with the launch of the United Nations Decade on Ecosystem Restoration. It extends from planting trees and greening cities, to plant-based diets and regenerating degraded rivers, coasts and lands.

As our cities and communities grapple with the lockdown impacts, many of us find the inherent need to reconnect with nature even as we were confined to our own homes or neighbourhoods over the last year.

The pandemic has offered a glimpse into what cities could look like if we pursued an alternative growth model – one that actively reduces waste and carbon emissions, while concurrently creating space for nature.

The UN has forecast that by 2050, over 68 per cent of the world’s population will live in cities. Combined with population growth, this could add another 2.5 billion people to these already densely populated areas.

The clock is ticking on collective action on climate change, failing which we may face more natural and man-made catastrophes that threaten human life and the economic sustainability of our communities globally.

The time is now to collectively work towards bridging the gap between nature and us.

Everyone has a part to play in making real change to the environment

The public and private sectors have the opportunity to collaborate on making transformative change.

The Singapore government recognises the need for green infrastructure and has set clear goals to address it in the Singapore Green Plan 2030 launched earlier this year, which Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong reiterated during the recent Asia Regional Commonwealth Leaders’ Roundtable calling for regional collaboration.

The “80-80-80” plan – setting tangible goals for the greening of 80 per cent of all buildings by 2030 and 80 per cent of new buildings to be ‘Super Low Energy’ from 2030 as well as an 80 per cent energy efficiency improvement (compared with 2005) for best-in-class buildings – is a great start.

The built environment sector itself is responsible for consuming over a third of the world’s natural resources and producing around 40 per cent of global emissions.

Even a miniscule reduction in emissions and waste produced by the sector can have a multiplier effect, making it critical for industry-wide engagement in sustainable practices.

Corporates alike have to acknowledge environmental risks and take that leap of faith to arrest the degradation of our environment. This is also why at Lendlease, we have set Mission Zero to pledge ourselves to achieve net-zero emissions by 2025 and absolute-zero emissions, without offsets, by 2040.

Ultimately, it is about translating these real environmental risks into a core business strategy and operationalising this into meaningful action.

Moving the needle by building smartly through the design process

For a start, the built environment should consider undertaking detailed Climate Change Adaptation and Resilience assessments.

Over the past few years, we have combined local meteorological and geographical information to evaluate developments’ vulnerability to heatwaves, extreme weather, flooding and various climate scenarios.

These assessments are crucial in mitigating environmental risks. Across the projects we have planned and built, elements of sustainability and design go hand-in-hand in mitigating environmental risks.

At the same time, marrying these design qualities improves the wellbeing of shoppers, tenants and residents.

Precinct-wide local projects such as Paya Lebar Quarter (PLQ) have made significant strides in ensuring that the public area includes over 300 per cent more trees, incorporates flood-resilient design elements to mitigate flooding and connects people to nature through natural landscapes.

Greening the supply chain through digitalisation

Incorporating sustainability through sourcing practices is also an important step as 90 per cent of a company’s impact on the environment originates from its supply chain.

On the construction front, gradually weaning off the reliance on fossil fuels will become more important than before.

While we are using biodiesel and working with construction plant and equipment manufacturers to make these options more widely available, we are also ensuring that the source of biofuel feedstock does not create unintentional environmental consequences.

Moving towards 100 per cent electrification of site-based construction activities, together with the purchasing of green power are some tactics that developers can incorporate as part of their strategy.

Doing so is a great opportunity to combine battery storage technology, digital solutions and smarter processes in constructing in a more efficient and cleaner way.

In Asia’s construction sector, 49 per cent of respondents surveyed by McKinsey shared that transparent end-to-end supply chains would help to mitigate risks in the long term.

About 11 per cent of the building and construction sectors’ global carbon emissions are associated with materials and construction processes throughout the whole building lifecycle.

Integrated supply chains can contribute to greener, more efficient supply chains translating into reduced carbon footprint, and ultimately a cleaner planet.

A multi-stakeholder approach across the supply chain is essential to transform the way materials are used, alongside cascading efforts that extend the adoption of circular economic and other waste reduction practices.

Smart building management to adapt and respond to occupants’ needs

Autonomous buildings – the sustainable buildings of the future – will represent an evolution from static physical spaces to self-aware and self-governing environments that can anticipate and adapt to human needs.

In the future, we can also look forward to autonomous cities which can leverage data insights into the needs of the urban population and carry out predictive maintenance using artificial intelligence.

As we move towards the digitalisation of the built environment sector, developers should look at utilising digital twin technology as an intelligence interface for autonomous adaptive control.

For example, PLQ utilises an Open Building System Integration (OBSI) programme to streamline all building management functionalities including air-conditioning and ventilation.

The OBSI system led to significant savings in water and costs, presenting a use case for how the construction sector can leverage technology to support smart building management.

As we commemorate World Environment Day (on June 5), we need to call attention to the important role the built environment sector plays in helping us safeguard the sustainability of our living environment.

The journey towards decarbonisation is not an easy one, and the post-pandemic world will accelerate the demand for better buildings.

The spaces that we create, the air quality that we circulate and the biodiversity that we introduced have to all work in synergy to meet the requirements in a post-pandemic building ecosystem.

Establishing a safe and trusted corridor for shoppers, tenants and residents will become the new reality in the future of city planning and everyone has a part to play as they embark in this transformation.

  • The writer is head of sustainability, Asia at Lendlease
A Global City or One that is Equitable and Sustainable

A Global City or One that is Equitable and Sustainable

Observation of the physical form of Indian cities is the tool employed by Mehrotra to exemplify the clash between two opposing political rhetorics: constructing a global city or one that is equitable and sustainable.

Urban India: negotiating the impatience of global capital

By Rahul Mehrotra

8 February 2021

The contemporary urban condition in India symbolises the two simultaneous transitions at play on the political landscape – moving out of socialism and into capitalism, or from state-controlled imaginations of the city to a free-market production of the built environment. In the occurrence of transitions, which are often at play for decades in India, the built environment is naturally a muddle and the fallout from each condition finds expression in the physical form of the Indian city. Ruptures in the fabric and startlingly bizarre adjacencies characterise the city which evolves with these narratives colliding in urban space. The two narratives, or the political rhetoric, then counterposed against each other are of “building a global city”(in other words, pandering to the impatience of global capital) and developing a city premised on nurturing a civil society that is equitable in terms of access to amenities. Clearly, the former is propelled by impatient capital and articulated as an aspiration by private interests, such as multinational corporations, developers and increasingly the Indian State itself! The latter voice emanates from civil society – the academy, the non-government sector, foundations, institutions, labour unions and all other formations where “capital” acquires patience so as to reside and grow in more inclusive ways.
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The physical paraphernalia of these opposing city aspirations is also dramatically different. In the former case, the ground has to be prepared to allow capital to land softly and securely. This results in the deployment of a standard tool kit: airports, freeways, five-star hotels, convention centres and subway or elevated rail systems followed by the preservation of historic buildings (to assert a local identity) and a general clean-up of the streetscape. In this configuration the rich retreat into gated communities both in the form of vertical inner-city towers and sprawling suburban compounds on the peripheries. In reality, in both cases they withdraw from the city and the nitty gritty of its everyday life. The architecture that results from this attitude often displays a complete detachment from its surrounding environment as well as from the place and community in which it sits.

A Global City or One that is Equitable and Sustainable

Furthermore, its tectonic quality and materiality is most often unmindful of local resources and building traditions. Such architectural production is usually a quick response to the demand for the large-scale infrastructure projects (e.g. upper-income housing, hospitals, schools, colleges and commercial development) that allow private participation in otherwise largely government-controlled sectors. Most importantly, this form of global architecture thrives on its perceived ability to provide predictable and stable services for impatient capital, searching for a host terrain in which to invest and quickly realise its value. At the same time, the other emerging landscape in India is one that is evolving naturally in a vacuum, the result of a retreating state.

This is a city that has ensued from the state relinquishing the responsibility for projecting an “idea of India” through the built or physical environment. Today, the major state-directed projects are highways, flyovers, airports, telecommunications networks and electricity grids that connect urban territories but they do not help determine or guide their physical structure as masterplans did in the state-directed (Socialist) economy. At the very least, the masterplans sought to create entitlement to housing and proximity to employment. Instead, the “everyday” space has become the place where the economic and cultural struggles of the majority are manifested and the physical shape it adopts is that of a bazaar or informal city! These are the landscapes of the self-help settlements – often referred to as slums – or the peripheries of cities that grow outside the formal state-controlled urban limit. Similarly, the 400-plus small towns in India expected to become cities of close to one million people (and maybe more) in the next two or three decades are actively producing forms of urbanism outside the mainstream discussion on architecture or urban planning.

A Global City or One that is Equitable and Sustainable

This emerging landscape is the image of the Indian urban condition. The processions, weddings, festivals, hawkers, street vendors and slum dwellers all create an ever-transforming streetscape – a city in constant motion where its very physical fabric is characterised by the kinetic elements. This city is not dependent on architecture for its representation. In this “kinetic urbanism”, architecture is not the only “spectacle” upon which society relies to express its aspirations nor does it even comprise the single dominant image of most Indian cities. Quite the opposite, with festivals such as DiwaliDussehraNavratriMuharramDurga PujaGanesh Chaturthi and many more having emerged as the visual and representational spectacles of contemporary India. Their presence on the everyday landscape pervades and dominates the popular visual culture of India’s cities and towns.

Set against this imagination is a new landscape of global derivatives or the images of globalisation. It is an irony – that of the collusion of consciously dysfunctional land markets and exclusionary design and planning at multiple scales that has created this strongly contested fabric of contemporary urban India. Interestingly, in this condition both the rich and poor communities have managed not just to survive but to thrive! However, this reality is constantly challenged by the world-class city idea and slum-free city imagination. The government and financial institutions often drive this via a poorly informed appreciation of Singapore, Dubai and Shanghai – the havens of impatient capital set on autocratic political landscapes: cities where “humans” and especially the poor are not even considered in the imagination of the physical setup they will inhabit. In a democracy, citizens must be placed at the centre of any imagination of the city.

A humane and sustainable city must necessarily be premised on access to a basic infrastructure and patterns of mobility that will determine how the city grows and how people have equitable access to these amenities. In democracies, cities must be judged by how they treat their poor. It is really the choice between these two directions – or attitudes to city building – that will be central to the discussion on the future of urban India: a choice between constructing equitable cities or being bullied by impatient capital.Read also: Cities, increasingly global in the future, are the solution to the pandemic

Rahul Mehrotra (New Delhi, 1959) is the founder/ principal of RMA Architects. He divides his time between working in Mumbai and Boston and teaching at the Graduate School of Design at Harvard University where he is the Chair of the Urban Planning and Design Department and the John T. Dunlop Professor in Housing and Urbanization. His most recent book is Working in Mumbai (2020), a reflection on his practice as an architect and urbanist, evolved via association with the city of Bombay/Mumbai.

Opening image: Peter Bialobrzeski, Mumbai 2017, images taken from the book No Buddha in Suburbia, Hartmann Books, 2019 .

This article was originally published in Domus 1054, February 2021.




Egypt presses on with new capital in the desert

Egypt presses on with new capital in the desert

ZAWYA‘s INVESTMENT on 13 May, 2020 reports that Egypt presses on with new capital in the desert amid virus outbreak.
Officials see mega-projects as key source of jobs .

By Aidan Lewis and Mahmoud Mourad, Reuters News

CAIRO- While Egypt’s economy has stumbled due to the coronavirus outbreak, construction at a new capital taking shape east of Cairo is continuing at full throttle after a short pause to adjust working practices, officials say.

Cairo, Egypt – 1st December, 2016: The bridge, the Nile river & the Corniche Street in central Cairo.
Getty Images

The level of activity at the desert site – where trucks rumble down newly built roads and cranes swing over unfinished apartment blocks – reflects the new city’s political importance even as the government grapples with the pandemic.

Known as the New Administrative Capital, it is the biggest of a series of mega-projects championed by President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi as a source of growth and jobs.

Soon after coronavirus began to spread, Sisi postponed moving the first civil servants to the new city and moved back the opening of a national museum adjoining the pyramids to next year.

Productivity dipped as companies adapted to health guidelines and some labourers stayed home.

But officials have sought to keep the mega-projects going to protect jobs, and after 10 days of slowdown construction had fully resumed at the new capital with a shift system, said Amr Khattab, spokesman for the Housing Ministry, which along with the military owns the company building the city.

“The proportion of the labour force that is present on site doesn’t exceed 70%, so that the workers don’t get too close,” he said as he showed off the R5 neighbourhood, which includes about 24,000 housing units. “We work less intensively, but we do two shifts.”

Sisi, who publicly quizzes officials responsible for infrastructure projects about timetables and costs, launched the new capital in 2015.

Designed as a high-tech smart city that will house 6.5 million people and relieve congestion in Cairo, it includes government and business districts, a giant park, and a diplomatic quarter as yet unbuilt.

One senior official said last year the cost of the whole project was about $58 billion. While some Egyptians see the new capital as a source of pride, others see it as extravagant and built to benefit a cocooned elite.

‘RUNNING ON TIME’

“We have clear instructions from his excellency the president that the postponement of the opening is not a delay to the project,” said Khattab. “The project is running on time.”

Disinfection and other protective measures were visible at the construction site 45km (30 miles) east of the Nile, though some workers were only ordered to don masks when journalists started filming and others drove by crammed into a minibus. Egypt has confirmed more than 10,000 coronavirus cases, but none at the new capital.

Delays in payments to contractors and to imported supplies were additional risks, said Shams Eldin Youssef, a member of Egypt’s union for construction contractors. Khattab said the government had contractors’ payments in hand.

The Housing Ministry expects to deliver two residential districts by late 2021, while the business district should be finished by early 2022, said Ahmed al-Araby, deputy head of the new capital’s development authority. Private developers and the army are building six other neighbourhoods.

In the government district, which Khattab said was 90% complete, ministry buildings fronted with vertical strips of white stone and darkened glass lead to an open area being planted with palm trees and mini obelisks in front of a domed parliament building.

To one side a large, low-rise presidential palace is under construction.

Sisi has urged people seeking work to head to new cities being built around the country, including the new capital, which Khattab said employs some 250,000 workers.

Critics have questioned the diversion of resources away from existing cities, including Cairo, parts of which are in slow decay.

“The question about how rational this is – whether it makes sense economically, whether it is doable, whether it’s the best course of action – this question is not even asked,” Ezzedine Fishere, an Egyptian writer and senior lecturer at Dartmouth College in the United States, said by phone.

On the other side of Cairo at the new museum next to the Giza pyramids, work has also been continuing at a slower pace.

In mid-April staffing levels sank to about 40%, with plans to recover gradually to 100%, said General Atef Muftah, who oversees the project.

An update on Egypt’s New Administrative Capital is here offered by Futurology

Sustainable construction projects completed in Qatar during 2019

Sustainable construction projects completed in Qatar during 2019

I love Qatar with Mark Alexander on 6 April 2020 elaborates on more than 50 sustainable construction projects completed in Qatar during 2019. Qatar Construction increased with Permit Issuance up last year.

Once considered a farfetched possibility by skeptics, global warming and climate change are now surfacing as palpable realities of the day. From wildfires in Australia to melting glaciers in Iceland, the year 2020 bid farewell to the hottest ever decade recorded on the planet. Fortunately, though, measures are being taken across all industries to curb our modern world’s carbon footprint, and the case of building and construction sector is no different.

According to a recent UNEP-supported report titled 2019 Global Status Report for Buildings and Construction, construction sector in 2019 continued its notorious position as the largest contributor of greenhouse gas emissions, resulting in 39% of the energy and process-related carbon emissions recorded during the year. The report further states that whilst as many as 136 countries have expressed intentions to work towards sustainable buildings, only a few have elaborated on tangible actions strategized to achieve such plans.

The global building stock is forecasted to grow twofold by 2050 as a direct consequence of increasing urbanization. If left unchecked, GHG emissions resulting from the building industry can rise to 50% of the global carbon emissions in the next three decades. While technological innovations have given way to reduced energy consumption, increasing cooling demand emerging from hot regions have overshadowed a significant positive trajectory. That said, countries across the world are increasingly targeting the urban built environment as a part of their national strategy towards a low-carbon future.

Within the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region, Qatar houses one of the highest collections of sustainable buildings. Concluding 2019, the country saw completion of more than 50 projects certified under the Global Sustainability Assessment System (GSAS) – MENA’s first performance-based assessment system for green buildings. Based on their overall sustainability credentials, projects registered under GSAS can achieve up to 5 Stars, representing the highest levels of sustainable features in terms of design and build. The award of final rating and certificates follows a comprehensive process whereby auditors from the Gulf Organisation for Research & Development (GORD) analyze several aspects of projects at multiple stages throughout the construction phase.

For the year 2019, here are some green projects successfully completed under GSAS.

Metro Stations:

During 2019, many recipients of outstanding sustainability ratings were linked with Qatar Rail’s Doha Metro project. With Mesheireb Station achieving the highest rating of 5 Stars, another 17 metro stations and 2 stabling yards at different locations within Doha received 4 Stars for their environmentally friendly design and build aspects. Doha Metro is by far the world’s first metro project with accredited sustainable certification specific to rating railway stations. This has been achieved through GSAS’ unique Railways Scheme that is used for rating the sustainability and ecological impacts of new main station buildings, including spaces that serve various functions of a metro station. According to Consolidated Contractors Company, sustainability of the project has been achieved through responsible site development, water saving, energy efficiency, materials selection, cultural and economic value support and innovation in design. Stations awarded GSAS accreditation during 2019 included those located in Msheireb Downtown, Ras Bu Abboud, Al Sadd, Al Sudan, Bin Mahmoud, Qatar University, Hamad International Airport Terminal 1, Al Doha Al Jadeda, Umm Ghuwailina, Ras Bu Fontas, Economic Zone, Al Wakrah, Al Bidda, Corniche, Hamad Hospital, Al Riffa, The White Palace and Education City.

Lusail City Projects:

A number of projects receiving green certifications during 2019 represented Lusail City – Qatar’s first smart city covering 38 square kilometers, that has mandated GSAS to ensure sustainability of all of its buildings. A flagship project of Qatari Diar, Lusail City has been dubbed as the “largest single sustainable development” ever undertaken in the State of Qatar. Use of native flora and water efficient landscaping mechanisms are some ways the city conserves water. Its integrated transport system reduces GHG emissions resulting from private vehicles. The city’s urban connectivity has been achieved through light rail, ample pedestrian walkways, bicycle tracks and park-and-ride facilities at the public transport stations. With a capacity to reduce up to 65 million tons of CO2 per annum, Lusail’s district cooling plant boasts of being one of the largest in the world. Other green credentials benefiting the entire city include a pneumatic waste collection system, sewage treatment plant and an interconnected natural gas network designed to cut down energy consumption.

Within Lusail, Marina Yacht Club Al Khaliji Tower received the highest sustainability rating of 4 Stars during 2019 followed by another 8 commercial, residential and mixed-use developments receiving 4, 3 and 2 stars. Once complete, the city will have the capacity to accommodate 200,000 residents, 170,000 employees and 80,000 visitors without significant impact on the environment.

Health Centers:

Sustainable development is one of the four key pillars of Qatar National Vision 2030, a fact that has provided a natural impetus for public projects to be designed and constructed sustainably. Now, all government projects within Qatar are now mandated to pursue and achieve sustainability under GSAS certification system. To this end, health centers in Al Waab, Al Wajbah, Muaither and Qatar University were successfully completed with 3 Stars sustainability rating during 2019 under the supervision of Public Works Authority ‘Ashghal’. Interestingly, all projects undertaken by Ashghal have been designed and built following sustainability principles – a fact that has been reiterated by Ashghal’s President, Dr. Eng. Saad bin Ahmad Al Muhannadi, who recently emphasized that “Ashghal is implementing GSAS standards in all its public buildings in Qatar, specifically in educational and health buildings.” In the light of these comments, one can safely assume that the upcoming stock of health centers in Qatar will continue to have sustainability at the core of their design and construction.

Hamad Port Project Facilities:

Increasing Doha’s total port capacity, Hamad Port Project started operations in 2016. However, construction has been underway to develop new facilities aimed at enhancing the port’s functional efficiency. The year 2019 witnessed completion of multiple facilities inside the new port with sustainability certification. From accommodation and mosques to civil defense and business center buildings, 19 projects under the umbrella of Hamad Port received sustainability rating between 3 and 2 Stars. Development of the new port has followed comprehensive mechanisms aimed at preserving the environment. For instance, 39,117 mangroves, 14,252 sqm of sea grass and 11,595 hard corals were relocated prior to the construction phase. The relocated flora and fauna are being continuously monitored and have so far proven to be surviving.

Sports Infrastructure:

Taking green sports infrastructure to another level, Al Janoub Stadium received GSAS 4 Stars during 2019, and rightly so. Soon to be a venue for FIFA 2022 World Cup games, the stadium consumes 30 percent less water in terms of international plumbing codes. More than 15% of its permanent building materials are made from recycled content and more than 85% of the waste generated during construction was processed to be reused or recycled, making it one of the most sustainable stadiums worldwide. Apart from Al Janoub, Qatar University’s Sports and Events Complex was another distinguishing project that received 4 Stars under GSAS Design & Build scheme.

mark@iloveqatar.net

Source: Press Release

Transparency, data privacy and collaboration critical to urban innovation

Transparency, data privacy and collaboration critical to urban innovation

Yung Wu, per this contribution of his holds that transparency, data privacy and collaboration critical to urban innovation are of vital importance especially in the MENA region whilst:

Cities must plan ahead for innovation without leaving people behind

Yung Wu is CEO of MaRS Discovery District, a Toronto-based innovation hub.

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 considerably less 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.

Transparency

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 some critics 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.

Toronto skyline courtesy of Shutterstock/Niloo

Data privacy

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.

PCs on a grid in front of a city skyline.
Image courtesy of Getty Images/Colin Anderson

Collaboration

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.

More posts of Yung Wu :