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MENA Travel & Tourism Competitiveness Index 2019

MENA Travel & Tourism Competitiveness Index 2019


It has been revealed by the local media that Chinese tourists numbers are growing by the day in the Gulf region. In effect, the number of Chinese tourists travelling to the GCC is expected to increase 54 percent from 1.4 million in 2018 to 2.2 million in 2023, according to new research. In however a wider view of the flows, here are excerpts of the WEF’s MENA Travel & Tourism Competitiveness Index 2019.


MENA Travel & Tourism Competitiveness Index 2019

Overview

The Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region significantly improved its T&T competitiveness since the last edition of the TTCI. With 12 of the 15 MENA economies covered by this year’s index increasing their score compared to 2017, the region was able to slightly outpace the global average in competitiveness growth. This is particularly important given that, in the aggregate, T&T accounts for a greater share of regional GDP than in any of the other four regions. MENA is also the only region where international visitor spending is greater than domestic visitor spending. Yet despite improved competitiveness and a strong reliance on T&T for overall economic growth, MENA continues to underperform the global TTCI score average.

MENA’s below-average competitiveness is primarily a result of low scores on indicators related to natural and cultural resources and international openness. The region’s historical and religious heritage and geographic features create the potential for significant natural and cultural tourism; yet, while some individual nations come close, no MENA country scores above the global average for natural resources and only Egypt and Iran score above for cultural resources. In fact, the entire region’s score in both of these areas has fallen in recent years. More needs to be done to expand habit protection and heritage sites. Moreover, digital demand for MENA’s natural, cultural and entertainment demand is fairly low, indicating potential gaps in marketing and traveller perceptions. One potential reason for this gap is continued safety and security concerns. Eleven MENA countries rank within the bottom 40 for terrorism incidents, with two among the worst 10 countries globally. Further, the region is plagued by geopolitical tensions, instability and conflict. Security concerns also play a role in why MENA members are some of the most restrictive when it comes to international openness, with only Qatar, Oman and Morocco making significant improvements. Consequently, travellers often face barriers when visiting the region, while the aviation and overall T&T sector is stifled by limiting bilateral air service and regional trade agreements.

More positively, stability, safety and security have started to recover throughout the region, slightly reducing travel fears and underlying one of the key reasons for the recent pickup in arrivals. Furthermore, it seems that there has been greater recognition of T&T’s importance, with broad regional improvements in T&T prioritization, including increased government funding and more effective marketing campaigns to bring back or attract new visitors. Greatly enhanced environmental sustainability also has the potential to pay dividends for natural assets (note that environmental sustainability comparison is influenced by the use of new data to measure marine sustainability). In addition, prices have become more competitive among countries within the region, amplifying MENA’s single biggest advantage relative to the global average. As one of the world’s main producers of fossil fuels, MENA includes some of the world’s lowest fuel prices, with some governments offering subsidies. Moreover, many of the region’s economies offer visitors greater purchasing power (especially Egypt, Algeria, Iran and Tunisia), which has been increased by lower exchange rates. Yet it is reductions in ticket taxes and airport charges as well as lower hotel prices that have primarily driven regional price competitiveness in recent years.

Infrastructure has also improved, with particularly impressive growth in the number of airlines and route capacity. Despite these gains, world-class infrastructure remains concentrated among the Arab states of the Persian Gulf. The Gulf countries have been able to use their natural resource wealth, central geographic location and relative security to develop world-class T&T infrastructure, defined by quality airports, ports, roads, tourist services and some of the world’s leading airlines. These efforts are in stark contrast to some other MENA nations that—due to a lack of investment and ongoing instability—have yet to develop competitive infrastructure, especially regarding air transport. Similarly, the region’s above-average score on the Enabling Environment subindex is due to the performance of the Gulf countries and Israel, which have developed economies, strong business environments, ICT readiness and some of the highest scores in safety and security. Finally, most regional economies also score near the bottom when it comes to female participation in the labour market, depriving the T&T industry of a greater labour and skills pool.

MENA Travel & Tourism Competitiveness Index 2019

Subregion Analysis

The Middle East subregion is by far the more competitive of the two subregions, outscoring North Africa on nine pillars. Thanks to the Arab states of the Persian Gulf and Israel, the subregion is wealthier and more developed than the North Africa subregion. Consequently, it is no surprise that the Middle East scores above the global and regional averages on indicators related to enabling environment and infrastructure, with particularly high ranks on ICT readiness and business environment. Nevertheless, the subregion does trail the world and North Africa on T&T prioritization and policy and natural and cultural resources. In particular, many Middle East nations score relatively low on the International Openness and Natural Resources pillars, which represent the subregion’s greatest disadvantages relative to global competition. One of the Middle East’s highest-scoring pillars is Price Competitiveness, with some economies leveraging their fossil fuel abundance to offer lower fuel prices. Since the 2017 edition of the report, the subregion has improved across all pillars of T&T policy and enabling conditions, safety and security, ICT readiness and much of infrastructure, but declined or stagnated on other pillars.

This year, eight out of the subregion’s 11 members improved their TTCI score since 2017. Oman demonstrated the greatest improvement, moving up eight places to 58th. MENA’s safest (3rd) country recorded the subregion’s fastest improvement for its human resources and labour markets (103rd to 65th), and is among the most improved when it comes to international openness (116th to 97th), environmental sustainability (109th to 57th) and overall infrastructure (60th to 52nd). Yet some of the improvement in environmental sustainability is exaggerated due to new marine sustainability metrics. In contrast, the UAE had the Middle East’s largest decline, falling from 29th to 33rd, including the biggest percentage decline in score on the Safety and Security pillar (falling from 2nd to 7th) and Ground and Port Infrastructure (19th to 31st) and the subregion’s only decline on Environmental Sustainability (40th to 41st). Nevertheless, the country remains in the lead in the Middle East and is MENA’s top TTCI scorer, leading on ICT readiness (4th), air transport (4th) and tourist service (22nd) infrastructure. The Middle East’s—and MENA’s—largest T&T economy is Saudi Arabia (69th), which scores above the subregion’s average on most pillars, but near the bottom on international openness (137th). Plagued by ongoing conflict and a lingering humanitarian crisis, Yemen (140th), ranks at the bottom of the global index.

North Africa scores lower than the Middle East, but demonstrates far greater improvement in overall competitiveness. The subregion outscores the Middle East on five pillars and bests the global average on four. North Africa is the most price competitive subregion in the world, with three out of its four members among the 12 least-expensive economies covered in the report. North Africa’s greatest advantage relative to the Middle East is its natural and cultural resources—although it still underperforms the world on both the Natural Resources and Cultural and Business Travel pillars. The subregion also bests the MENA average in prioritization of T&T and environmental sustainability, areas where it has improved since 2017. On the other hand, North Africa has underdeveloped infrastructure and T&T enabling environment, contrasting some of the high performers in the Middle East subregion. In particular, North Africa trails when it comes to tourist service infrastructure and ICT readiness. The subregion’s strong rate of improvement is due to enhanced safety and security, overall T&T policy and enabling conditions and air transport and ground infrastructure.

All four members of the North Africa subregion increased their TTCI scores over 2017. Egypt (65th) is the subregion’s top scorer and its largest T&T economy. The country is also MENA’s most improved scorer. Egypt is price competitive (3rd) and has MENA’s highest score for cultural resources (22nd). Its improvement comes from increases on 11 pillar scores. These include the world’s second-best enhancement of safety and security (130th to 112th), albeit from a low starting base. Morocco (66th) demonstrates North Africa’s slowest improvement in TTCI performance. The country is a close second to Egypt when it comes to overall competitiveness, boasting the MENA region’s top TTCI scores on natural resources (63rd) and North Africa’s best enabling environment (71st) and infrastructure (69th). However, TTCI performance improvement is tempered by declining safety and security (20th to 28th), which remains well above the subregion’s average, and a deteriorating combination of natural and cultural (41st to 54th) resources. North Africa’s lowest scoring member is Algeria (116th), which nonetheless did move up two ranks globally. The country ranks low on business environment (118th), T&T prioritization (132nd), tourist services infrastructure (136th), environmental sustainability (133rd), natural resources (126th) and international openness (139th). On the other hand, Algeria is one of the most price-competitive countries in the world (8th).

MENA Travel & Tourism Competitiveness Index 2019

Read more on the original PDF document.

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Urban resilience critical to combating climate change

Urban resilience critical to combating climate change

AMEinfo produced this essay titled Urban resilience critical to combating climate change impact on Middle East cities on November 5, 2019.

The subject being a hot one all around the MENA, Sharjah Architecture Triennial has shown the way by addressing climate change last summer.

Urban resilience critical to combating climate change

New research by AESG outlines key Urban Resilience design principles and best-practices and provides insight to enable cities to better mitigate the impact of climate change.

  • 68% of the world’s population is expected to live in urban areas by 2050
  • There is a proven correlation between increases in urbanization and climate change
  • Therefore, it is imperative for governments, city planners and developers to future-proof their cities by investing in urban resilience programs

With 68% of the world’s population expected to live in urban areas by 2050 and a proven correlation between increases in urbanization and climate change, it is imperative for governments, city planners and developers to future-proof their cities by investing in urban resilience programs. AESG, an international Specialist Consulting, Engineering and Advisory firm, has released a new research article which presents clear guidance on urban resilience concepts and best practices. The company intends for this report, titled ‘Urban resilience: A look into global climate change impacts and possible design mitigation’, to aid governments, city planners, engineers, architects and developers in building resilient cities that can better tackle the urban challenges resulting from climate change.

Saeed Al Abbar, Managing Director at AESG advocates the need for a concerted effort by these stakeholders to mitigate the climate change impact on cities through better urban planning. “While the effects of climate change can be detrimental, a large majority of these can be alleviated by strengthening interdependent infrastructure systems and ensuring resilience on infrastructure, policy and economic basis,” he said.

“Building resilience in cities is essential to not only make populations and infrastructure less susceptible to damage and loss but to also make them more agile to the unpredictable nature of climate change impacts. We are at a pivotal moment in human history, and the actions we take today will bear a profound impact on the security and quality of life, of us, and our future generations,” he added. 

Read: GCC’s $80 Billion investment in Water Sustainability

The report, developed by AESG’s qualified team of sustainability, environmental and planning experts, stresses that achieving urban resilience necessitates planning a city at a macro-level, understanding interdependencies of its systems and implementing solutions to mitigate the anticipated risks. In addition to reporting the key climate-related threats that cities today face, the article expertly analyses the innovative locational, structural and regulatory approaches being implemented globally to address a myriad of urban challenges.

Briefly summarizing the insight and guidance detailed in these best practices, Al Abbar said. “For city and municipal governments, resilience implies planning development, providing safe and affordable infrastructure and services, regulating building design and construction, regulating hazardous activities, influencing land availability and construction requirements, encouraging and supporting household and community actions to reduce risk, and finally, putting in place effective disaster early warning, preparedness, and response systems.”

Interview: Smart utilities will bring major cost savings and sustainability to the region

A first in a planned series of urban resilience themed reports by AESG, the article focuses on showcasing the extent of the problem on a global level while recommending mitigation measures that could be incorporated from planning all the way through operation and maintenance. ‘Urban resilience: A look into global climate change impacts and possible design mitigation’ is available to download from https://aesg-me.com/urban-resilience-a-look-into-global-climate-change-impacts-and-possible-design-mitigation/

Alternative Transport market is Egypt-born startup Halan

Alternative Transport market is Egypt-born startup Halan

Taking a bite out of the opportunity in the alternative transport market is Egypt-born startup Halan. So, Egypt’s Halan is keen to dominate the Ride-Hailing Space for Two And Three-Wheelers. Let us read more on that if you please. But before we do so here is Codatu’s intro to their essay on the matter two years ago.

Greater Cairo (GC) is the largest urban area in the Middle East and one of the most populated cities in the world. The urban growth patterns of the metropolitan area reveal a fragmented city of heterogeneous parts that developed unplanned over the years. GC public transport network offers a large variety of means of transportation throughout three governorates but its lack of efficiency is forcing more and more people to use private cars. The extreme density of the urban fabric and the widespread congestion on the road network end up making the city’s livability very difficult.

Pamella de Leon, Startup Section Editor, on October 29, 2019, wrote in Entrepreneur Middle East, an international franchise of Entrepreneur Media the following.

Egypt's Halan Is Keen To Dominate The Ride-Hailing Space For Two And Three-Wheelers

Aside from private cars, taxis, and other four-wheeled vehicles, a ubiquitous sight on the streets of Cairo (and in other parts of the MENA, as well as the world at large) are the three-wheeled tuktuks and two-wheeled motorcycles to navigate daily traffic- and taking a bite out of the opportunity in the alternative transport market is Egypt-born startup Halan. The ride-sharing app for tuktuks, motorcycles, and tricycles -a first in the region- was launched in November 2017 in underserved communities in Cairo where roads tend to be too narrow for cars, and provided a cheaper alternative to cars and buses.

It grew across Giza, Alexandria, Minya, Luxor and Qalyubia governorates, and expanded to Sudan in 2018. It also offers on-demand logistics solutions to support large organizations and small businesses alike in their distribution and supply chain. Founded by Mounir Nakhla and Ahmed Mohsen, the former had the lightbulb moment when the idea was proposed to him by one of Gojek’s seed investors.

After meeting Nadiem Makarim, the CEO of Gojek, a startup that has been dubbed Indonesia’s first unicorn venture and has grown as an on-demand tech company for the transport, payment, and food sector, Nakhla was inspired from its success, and saw potential for a similar impact in Egypt. With Egypt’s population of more than 100 million, internet penetration, fast-growing sales of smartphone devices and a growing use of mobile apps, all the elements were positive, he notes.

“Transportation is one of the fastest ways of acquiring customers by solving a real need, and we wanted to be the app of choice for the underserved,” he says. “Egypt has north of 700,000 tuktuks already operating as taxis, and just over 1.5 million two-wheeler vehicles, used for both personal transportation and for delivery services, and this is where Halan comes in.”

Halan team

As part of the startup’s efforts to organize the market and ensure safety, Nakhla says they also have a meticulous screening process when recruiting drivers. Besides offering convenience to customers, Nakhla says they also provide incremental business for their drivers, and thus increase their incomes.

The founder and CEO is no stranger to working with Egypt’s mobility scene and underserved communities- he co-founded Mashroey, an Egypt-based light transport financing business, and Tasaheel, an Egypt-based micro-financing venture, which Nakhla says, has served more than 1 million customers combined. And the rest of the founding team are veterans in the transport field too: co-founder and CTO Ahmed Mohsen has published several papers in IEEE on AI, was part of the founding team and a shareholder in SecureMisr, a security consultancy company in Egypt, and founded MusicQ and CircleTie.

Plus Mohamed Aboulnaga, Careem’s former Regional Director and Fawry’s Business Development Manager, joined as co-founder and COO. They also have key members who have worked previously with Uber and Ghabbour Auto, which has resulted in a team that is comprised of “technically very competent, passionate, creative, results-driven individuals with a high work ethic. Each one with a unique strength, that when brought together make for an unrivalled team.”

After launching in 2017, Nakhla says that the company was doing around 50,000 rides by March 2018, and they closed their Series A round in the same year in a round co-led by Battery Road Ventures Holdings (BRVH) and Algebra Ventures. As for their funding, Nakhla put in 20% of the seed capital and raised the rest from Raouf Ghabbour, founder of GB Auto, as well as BRVH.

According to Nakhla, Halan has so far raised single-digit millions in total, and are currently in the process of their Series B funding round. The company’s business model involves taking a percentage of the ride fare as commission. Currently serving more than 100,000 customers, Halan has exceeded 10 million rides and operates in around 20-25 cities in Egypt and Sudan. As for its on-demand logistics offering, Halan is currently partnering with prominent names in the fast-food industry, including McDonald’s, KFC, Pizza Hut, Hardees, and many more. The startup has also been recently awarded Fastest-Growing Mobility Solution in the Market during the second edition of the E-Commerce Summit in September this year.

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Related: UAE App CAFU Brings The Fuel To Wherever You (And Your Vehicle) May Be

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Does micro-mobility have a place in the GCC?

Does micro-mobility have a place in the GCC?

Mark Anthony Karam in an October 21, 2019, article that is a response to his “Does micro-mobility have a place in the GCC?” elaborates on possibilities of moving around obviously the plush urban centres of the GCC. But only during certain times of the year unless a personalised Air Conditioning apparatus is provided with the ‘cyacle’. The image above is credit to The National.ae .

Does micro mobility have a place in the GCC?

With the rest of the world continues to see the micro-mobility sector enjoy growing success, could we see a similar success in the GCC?

  • Micro mobility was an ideal solution to the last-mile issue in countries like China or the US
  • The GCC might not be as ideal for a replicated success
  • There are several factors today that pose obstacles impeding its growth

Micro mobility, which involves light-weighted means of transportation like electric scooters and bikes for short trips, usually in urban areas, has continued to grow internationally. Countries like China, the United States and many EU nations are finding great success with this novel sector, which builds on many of the concepts of the sharing economy that innovators like Uber brought into the mainstream.

Lime and Bird, US rivals in the sector, reached unicorn status in a handful of years each since their founding. One of the reasons for their sudden success is that they solved the long-standing last-mile issue, capitalizing on a neglected market gap.

Does micro-mobility have a place in the GCC?
Image: Careem

The GCC goes mobile
Today in the GCC, some are attempting to solve this last-mile problem as well. Earlier this year, Careem announced that it had acquired Abu Dhabi bikeshare startup Cyacle, which would add a micro-mobility offering to their services. Launched in December 2014, Cyacle is a fully-automated docked bike-share service currently operating in Abu Dhabi. Stations run 24-hours a day via an app, a touch screen kiosk and docking system that releases bikes using a ride code or a member key.

At the time, Careem had also announced that it was partnering with Dubai’s Roads and Transport Authority (RTA) to install 350 bike docking stations across the Emirates, where citizens would have access to 3,500 bicycles to bike share.  

Besides Careem and its affiliates, many startups have ventured into the field as well. European e-mobility startup Circ launched its Middle Eastern HQ in the UAE this summer, bringing the region a new player in the micro-mobility field. It deployed its bikes in Abu Dhabi, recently partnering with real estate management services provider Provis to make its e-scooters available across their communities. 

Another firm, Dubai-based Arnab Mobility, is also providing a similar service. 

“Global cities are currently trying to find solutions to the global warming problems mainly caused by fossil fuel vehicles,” Dr. Dheeraj Bhardwaj, Group CEO of Arnab Mobility, tells Gulf News. He ponders an age-old question: “Also, city inhabitants and visitors struggle with first/last mile transportation, congestion and expenses. How efficient is it for a one-ton hulk of metal to take one person two to three miles? Conventional transportation systems are currently insufficient with people dealing daily with traffic, a lack of parking spaces, as well as long walks from bus stops and metro stations.”

Yet, while these solutions offer a service on par with international counterparts, it is important to remember the financial, cultural, and climate situation of the region. 

Does micro-mobility have a place in the GCC?
Image: Arnab Mobility

Regional-specific constraints

Firstly, it is important to remember that the GCC region is known for its oil-derived wealth, with many nationals owning multiple vehicles and often employing personal drivers to help family members commute. Secondly, travel distances for major outings are already quite short. 

“With urbanization on the rise, the majority of trips people take fall within the category of micro-mobility and thus are prime candidates for bike and scooter usage. In the US, for instance, roughly 60% of all trips are 5 miles or less,” CBinsights explains. 

One of the reasons micro-mobility solutions are so attractive abroad is because of their perceived value for the service provided. Instead of paying a whopping fee for a taxi get you across 4 city blocks in New York, a US citizen would opt to rent a Lime scooter for a fraction of the cost. In the GCC, with its small-sized nations, large roads and affordable taxi services, this is not yet a problem. The countries in the region, save for Saudi Arabia, are sometimes comparable to entire Western cities in size. Bahrain, for example, has an area of 765.3 km², which is half the size of London (1,572 km²). 

Therefore, from a financial and spatial perspective, micro-mobility services might struggle. 

Then arises the issue of culture perceptions. While women have been driving for more than a year now in Saudi Arabia for example, breaking gender bias and perception is still an ongoing challenge. The country is certainly moving towards progress, but micro-mobility firms will have to consider this nonetheless. Also, consider that environmental awareness and consideration only just recently began to receive mass attention in the region in the past few years. Getting people to opt for bikes over a more convenient car ride will still prove a struggle. 

Finally, and perhaps the most glaring of the issues plaguing micro-mobility companies in the region, is the climate and weather. The GCC is infamous for its scorching desert sun and sweltering heat. While public transportation like the Dubai metro or public buses offer some reprieve from the heat with their AC units, an e-scooter or bike doesn’t. When it’s 50 degrees Celsius outside and you need to just get home after a long day at work, a taxi or Uber, even for the higher fee, will prove the go-to choice. That remains the sector’s greatest obstacle. How it addresses it is still in question. 

Mark Anthony Karam has 4 years of experience in the field of visual and written media, having earned his Masters degree from the UK. You can get in touch with him here: m.karam@mediaquestcorp.com

Bahrain tops region for expat living

Bahrain tops region for expat living

The MENA’s Gulf area is home, though temporarily to numerous people from around the world, with nationals being a minority for decades now.  All the neighbouring countries to Bahrain rely heavily on this imported manpower to not only get things done but mainly to keep the respective economies going. Life and above all its quality aspect, therefore of the various expat communities in the different countries does, unlike in the recent past, account for much in the socio-political stratosphere of the various work environments. And, Bahrain tops region for expat living.

However, while the populations in the area are recently noticed to be somewhat slowing, especially if compared to the boom years that started around the early 2000s, there are varying differences in the communities’ growths. But that’s a different story.

Bahrain remains the best place for expatriates to work and live in the Middle East, even as it dropped to the seventh place globally from being on top of the list last year in the InterNations Expat Insider survey. 

With more than 20,000 respondents, it is one of the most extensive surveys about living and working abroad, sharing insights into expat life in 64 destinations. The survey offers in-depth information about expats’ satisfaction with the quality of life, ease of settling in, working life, personal finance, cost of living, and family life in their respective country of residence. 

Despite Bahrain losing ground in terms of working abroad and family life, expats are still generally happy with both aspects of life abroad. They also keep finding it easy to settle in this country, the survey said.  

Taiwan, Vietnam, and Portugal are the best expat destinations: all of them attract expats with their ease of settling in and good personal finances. While expats in Taiwan and Portugal are also extremely satisfied with the quality of life, those in Vietnam appreciate their great work life.  

At the other bottom of the ranking, Kuwait (64th out of 64), Italy, and Nigeria are the worst destinations for expats in 2019. While Kuwait is the country where expats find it hardest to settle in, Italy offers the worst work-life, and Nigeria the worst quality of life in the world, the study found, it said. 

After a first place in the Expat Insider survey in 2018 and 2017, Bahrain loses six places in 2019 (7thout of 64). These results may be affected by its sudden drop of 17 places in the Working Abroad Index(from 1st to 18th).  While Bahrain is still in the top 10 countries for career prospects and job satisfaction (10th), expats seem to be less satisfied with their working hours (3rd in 2018 to 27th in 2019) and their job security (5th to 19th). In fact, 62% are happy with the state of the economy, which is just about the global average (63%). Expat parents are also slightly less happy, ranking Bahrain 13th out of 36 countries in the Family LifeIndex (vs. 7th out of 50 countries in 2018). Still, more than nine in ten parents (93%) rate the friendly attitude towards families with children positively (vs. 81% globally), and expats keep having no issues with settling in in their new country (2nd): more than four in five respondents (82%) say it is easy to settle down in Bahrain (vs. 59% globally). They find it easy to make friends (68% vs. 54% globally) and to live in the country without speaking the local language (94% vs. 45% globally). 

Taiwan: Coming first out of 64 countries and territories in the Expat Insider 2019 survey, Taiwan stands out for its great quality of life (3rd place). Taiwan is rated best in the world for the affordability of healthcare, with almost nine in ten respondents (89%) satisfied with this factor (vs. 55% globally). Expats in Taiwan are also happy with the quality of medical care (92% vs. 65% globally) and their personal safety (96%vs. 81% globally). In addition to that, 78% agree that it easy to settle down there (vs. 59% globally), and88% find the locals generally friendly (vs. 68% globally). 

Vietnam: After ranking 14th out of 68 destinations in 2018, Vietnam is voted the second-best country for expats in 2019. Expats there are particularly happy with their career prospects (68% satisfied vs. 55% globally)and their jobs in general (74% satisfied vs. 64% globally). However, Vietnam is not only the highest ranking country when it comes to working abroad, it is also the best destination for personal finance(1st out of 64). In fact, 81% of expats are happy with their financial situation (vs. 64% worldwide), and75% state that their disposable household income is more than they need to cover daily costs (vs. 49%globally). 

Portugal: According to the Expat Insider 2019 survey, Portugal offers an excellent quality of life (1st worldwide) and a “relaxed lifestyle”, as a British expat highlights. It is one of the world’s best countries for leisure options (2nd): more than four in five expats (83%) are happy with the socializing and leisure activities available to them (vs. 65% globally), and almost every expat (95%) rates the climate and weather positively (vs. 61% globally). Moreover, Portugal ranks among the top 5 expat destinations where it is easy to settle in for the third year in a row (4th in 2019).

TradeArabia News Service
Dubai remains one of the world’s most visited cities

Dubai remains one of the world’s most visited cities

AMEinfo on September 5, 2019, came up with this superlative statement article because Dubai remains one of the world’s most visited cities in the world of today. The same media has already covered the same topic last year.

Dubai remains one of the world’s most visited cities – Global Destination Cities Index 2019

Dubai remains one of the world's most visited cities

“The impressive visitor numbers are set to increase even further next year, as we welcome 192 nations for a once-in-a-lifetime celebration at Expo 2020 Dubai” – Sanjive Khosla, CCO, Expo 2020 Dubai

  • Dubai welcomed 15.93 million overnight visitors in 2018, retaining its ranking as fourth most popular destination globally
  • Abu Dhabi is Middle East and Africa’s fastest-growing city with a 2009-2018 CAGR of 16.7%
  • When looking at the cities by dollar spent, Dubai tops the list with travellers spending USD $553 on average a day

Dubai has retained its position as the fourth most visited city in the world for the fifth year in a row, according to Mastercard’s Global Destination Cities Index (GDCI) 2019. The city welcomed 15.93 million international overnight visitors last year and the city is expected to continue building on its success in 2019.

The UAE’s capital, Abu Dhabi, was ranked as the fastest-growing city in the Middle East and Africa, with a Compound Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) of 16.7% between 2009 and 2018 in overnight arrivals.

“Once again, Dubai has earned and maintained its position as the fourth most visited city in the world in Mastercard’s Global Destinations Cities Index. As the most attractive destination in the Middle East and Africa region for international visitors, Dubai connects people from all over the world with a diverse range of offerings for leisure and business travellers alike,” said Girish Nanda, General Manager, UAE & Oman, Mastercard.

Sanjive Khosla, Chief Commercial Officer, Expo 2020 Dubai, said: “The impressive visitor numbers are set to increase even further next year, as we welcome 192 nations for a once-in-a-lifetime celebration at Expo 2020 Dubai. With millions of visitors projected to come from outside the UAE, we anticipate that the region’s first ever World Expo will create short- and long-term benefits for Dubai’s tourism industry while enhancing its reputation as a dynamic and diverse global meeting point.” 

Read: New real estate committee in Dubai aims to balance supply and demand in the property market

Mastercard Global Destination City Index 2019 – Key Findings

Over the past ten years, the world has seen economic ebbs and flows, evolving global competition and partnership, and boundless technological innovation. But, one thing has remained constant: people’s growing desire to travel the world, visit new landscapes and immerse themselves in other cultures. Mastercard’s Global Destination Cities Index, released today, quantifies this desire: since 2009, the number of international overnight visitors grew an astounding 76 per cent.

This year, the Global Destination Cities Index—which ranks 200 cities based on proprietary analysis of publicly available visitor volume and spend data—reveals that Bangkok remains the No. 1 destination, with more than 22 million international overnight visitors. Paris and London, in flipped positions this year, hold the No. 2 and 3 spots, respectively both hovering over 19 million. All top ten cities saw more international overnight visitors in 2018 than the prior year, with the exception of London, which decreased nearly 4 per cent. The forecast for 2019 indicates across-the-board growth, with Tokyo expecting the largest uptick in visitors.

When looking at the cities by dollar spent, Dubai tops the list with travellers spending USD $553 on average a day. Makkah, new to the top 10 last year, remains at No. 2 for the second consecutive year, with Bangkok rounding out the top three. 

Read: Exclusive: Musafir.com allows corporates to pilot their own journeys and save big

Notably this year, the Global Destination Cities Index offers a decade of insights to consider, with three key trends standing out. 

-Consistent & Steady Growth: Over the past decade, the one constant has been continual change. Each year, more people are travelling internationally and spending more in the cities. Between all of the destinations within the Index, arrivals have grown on average 6.5 per cent year-over-year since 2009, with expenditure growing on average 7.4 per cent. 

-The Sustained Dominance of Major Cities: While there has been significant movement in visitors to smaller cities, the top 10 has remained largely consistent. London, Paris and Bangkok have been the top 3 since 2010, with Bangkok as No. 1 six of the past seven years. New York is another top 10 stalwart, with 13.6 million overnight visitors this year.

-The Rise of Asia-Pacific International Travelers: Cities in the Asia-Pacific region have seen the largest increase in international travellers since 2009, growing 9.4 per cent. In comparison, Europe, which saw the second highest growth, was up 5.5 per cent. This is spurred on by the growth in mainland Chinese travellers. Since 2009, mainland China has jumped up six places to be the No. 2 origin country for travellers to the 200 included destinations—behind only the U.S.

Dubai remains one of the world's most visited cities

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Sharjah Architecture Triennial will address climate change

Sharjah Architecture Triennial will address climate change

The Sharjah Architectural Triennial could be one of the built environment professionals gatherings of importance in the MENA region. Here is an article dated 25 August 2019 written by Rima Alsammarae who gives a fairly well-described idea of some thoughts of this event’s main contributor. And according to this latter, the Sharjah Architecture Triennial will address climate change.

The event was founded in 2017 and is led by Sheikh Khalid Al Qasimi, Chairman of Sharjah Urban Planning Council. The Triennial editions aim to highlight topical aspects of architecture and urbanism that have local relevance and to engage Sharjah’s existing built environment and social fabric. 

Interview: Sharjah Architecture Triennial will address climate change says curator Adrian Lahoud

Middle East Architect (MEA) speaks with curator Adrian Lahoud, who says the triennial is an invitation to ‘radically rethink’ questions about architecture and address climate change – ‘the most urgent challenge facing humanity today’.

The coastal emirate of Sharjah is the third largest city in the United Arab Emirates – and it’s considered the cultural capital of the country. Among the many cultural centres, government institutions that support art-led initiatives, and the ongoing regeneration of heritage spaces, the emirate’s creative realm is further defined by the upcoming Sharjah Architecture Triennial.

The latest move in connecting the city’s motivations with its architectural past and future, as well as a step towards rethinking its urban and environmental footprint, in addition to that of the wider Middle East, North Africa and South Asia, the triennial was launched as a non-profit initiative and is legally housed under the Sharjah Urban Planning Council and funded by the Government of Sharjah. Chaired by Khalid bin Sultan Al Qasimi, the team behind the initiative is formed by its partners including the Directorate of Town Planning and Survey; the American University of Sharjah’s College of Architecture, Art & Design (CAAD); the Sharjah Art Foundation; and Bee’ah.

Sharjah Architecture Triennial will address climate change

The curator of the triennial, Adrian Lahoud, architect, urban designer and dean of the School of Architecture at London’s Royal College of Art, spoke to MEA about the event ahead of its launch in November 2019.

According to Lahoud, the theme ‘Rights of Future Generations’ is an invitation to “radically rethink” fundamental questions about architecture and its power to create and sustain alternative modes of existence.

“The theme prompts us to interrogate the fact that, while individual rights have expanded over the past few decades, collective rights, such as rights of nature and environmental rights have been neglected,” he said.

Sharjah Architecture Triennial will address climate change

“Following various lines of enquiry around housing, education and the environment, the triennial seeks to question and decolonise architectural discourse; it uses architectural design as an opportunity to realise these alternative modes of living, including new concepts of buildings, cities, landscapes and territories, and to consider how these may be better adapted and understood as part of contemporary life and possible futures.”

Rights of Future Generations intends to explore how inheritance, legacy and the state of the environment are passed from one generation to the next, and how present decisions have long-term intergenerational consequences, as well as how other expressions of co-existence, including indigenous ones, might challenge dominant western perspectives.

Lahoud noted that inherent in the theme is a commitment to address climate change as the most urgent challenge facing humanity today.

Sharjah Architecture Triennial will address climate change

“Through its exploration of how particular conditions in the Global South produce unique relationships between human beings and the environment, the triennial seeks to bring awareness to specific models,” he said. “Ones that allow interacting and living with the environment, rather than dividing ourselves from it.”

In addition to raising awareness via the exhibition and public events, the triennial has formed the Rights of Future Generations Working Group. Its mission is to advance the protection of future generations’ fundamental rights in a world where climate change is dramatically shifting along socio-economic, legal, gender, racial and political dimensions.

The group will collaboratively produce the Sharjah Charter to be presented as part of the triennial, which Lahoud hopes will prove to be a significant moment in the ongoing global discourse around climate change.

“I believe that architecture as a practice holds a key role in addressing climate change,” Lahoud said. “However, in order to leverage this potential, we must move away from the extractive and exploitative models that dominate architectural practice. We are at a point of ecological collapse and one fact must not be ignored: that the sites, regions and populations most immediately and irreversibly threatened by climate change are the same ones that face regimes of global socio-economic extraction and exploitation.

“Valuable insight can, therefore, be drawn from paying attention to existing social struggles at the frontline of climate change, including indigenous ones. There is a particular problem with the western ontological distinction between humans and the environment. This distinction views architecture as ‘shelter’ from the environment, thereby validating land grab and resource extraction. Human history offers a myriad of examples of alternative social orders, of relationships between humans and other beings that evolved according to various beliefs and practices, and through these examples, we might understand our agency and relationship with the world differently.”

Most recently, the triennial announced the two venues that it will be held at – the old Jubail vegetable market and the Al-Qasimiyah School, which is currently being renovated to form the triennial’s permanent headquarters.

The choice in venues was no coincidence, asserts Lahoud. They speak directly to the theme of the triennial. Both buildings are leading examples of the emirate’s 1970s and 80s architecture. And in the adaptive reuse of these structures, the triennial offers a sustainable approach and example of working with existing infrastructure.

“The mission of the triennial is to serve as a space for dialogue that supports an emerging generation of architects drawn from across the Global South and their diaspora,” said Lahoud. “Ultimately, we hope to prompt our audiences to rethink the potential of architecture – to interrogate existing models, disrupt dominant perspectives and consider the alternative ways of living that can be formed.

Sharjah Architecture Triennial will address climate change

“Inherent to the theme of Rights of Future Generations is a commitment to legacy building, and I hope to create a lasting community beyond the exhibition,” Lahoud said. “Physically, the school will serve as a central hub for architectural learning within Sharjah. For those based in other regions, texts and publications produced during the triennial will be available across a variety of online platforms long after the exhibition has ended, offering a globally accessible resource for those who wish to interrogate existing architectural discourse.”

(Images courtesy of Sharjah Architecture Triennial)

Increasing Egypt’s limited area of farm land

Egypt Today.com posted an article dated August 7, 2019, that brings to light an unusual construction project concept. It combines building towers with an agricultural development project. The project concept if multiplied in numbers will certainly be increasing Egypt’s limited area of farm land that is confined to the Nile Valley and Delta, with a few oases and some arable land in the Sinai peninsula.

Asil Rashid in his Green Buildings: The Solution To Cairo’s Unmanageable Urban Sprawl back in 2016, said that “One way we can make our cities more sustainable and therefore, more livable is through the application of green building design principles – a subject that is near and dear to my heart.”

Would Stefano Boeri’s idea be an answer?

Increasing Egypt’s limited area of farm land
The first ever vertical forest designed by Italian Architect Stefano Boeri in his home city of Milan – Stefano Boeri

Construction of Africa’s 1st vertical forest blocks to begin in 2020

CAIRO – 7 August 2019: Italian Architect Stefano Boeri spoke to CNN about Africa’s first vertical forests that will be built in Egypt’s New Administrative Capital (NAC), which is still under construction and is 30 miles east of Cairo. 

Each of the three cube-shaped blocks will be 30 meters high and will house seven floors, 350 trees, and 14,000 shrubs of over 100 species. “Each tower of trees aims to provide its human residents with an average of two trees, eight shrubs and 40 bushes each,” as reported by CNN. 

Boeri has been designing the blocks in collaboration with Egyptian designer Shimaa Shalash and Italian landscape architect Laura Gatti. Shalash told CNN that execution of the project is set to start in 2020 and finish in 2 years. One of the three buildings will be an energy self-sufficient hotel, while the other two will contain residential apartments. 

“Each apartment will have its own balcony with a range of plant species suited to the local climate, planted at various heights and to bloom at different times to provide a lush appearance year round. Plants at every level will provide natural shading and improve the surrounding air quality by absorbing an estimated 7 tons of carbon dioxide and producing 8 tons of oxygen per year,” CNN reported. 

Shalash and colleagues explained to CNN that the project – owned by a private real estate developer – is part of a bigger plan to introduce “thousands of green flat roofs and a system of “green corridors” in the city.” 

Qatar is the most open country in the Middle East

Qatar is the most open country in the Middle East

Posted on July 29, 2019, and written by Whitney, an American traveller, is the following article titled Doha, Qatar… Epitome of Opulence. Having personally stayed in the country in the 90’s through to early 2000, I can confirm every single detail of the author’s story. The difference would perhaps be that I was leading a quasi-normal resident life whilst making a living through practising my skills of Architect. Indeed, today there is a bit of a situation vis a vis its surrounding neighbours, Qatar is the most open country in the Middle East but it was not exactly as enthralling as you might imagine in my early years but at least I had the privilege to see before my very eyes, the making of this city. I must say, I did contribute however modestly into the shaping of its skyline. But enough of me, here is Whitney’s.

A tidbit of information – Qatar is the most open country in the Middle East, allowing Transit Visas upon arrival for free, given you have a valid passport and return ticket. These Visas are valid for stays from 5 hours and up to 96. Additionally, Discover Qatar offers one-night free hotel stay in a variety of 5-star accommodations, or two to three nights for a fee of $100 in the same hotels. Given that the layover in Doha is a whopping nine hours, this was absolutely worth the extra money for a good nights sleep in luxury lodging.

Qatar is the most open country in the Middle East
Impressive Skyline

Unfortunately, I did not know that Qatar Airlines offered a stopover through Discover Qatar in Doha when Hubs and I initially booked our Maldives flights through Qatar Airlines (ranked the #1 airline in the world). We made this delightful discovery after we had already departed the States. However, the airline (for a fee, of course) altered our flights, and we made a two day pit stop in the incredibly wealthy, insanely hot, and bustling country.

Qatar is the most open country in the Middle East

The money flowing through Qatar is obvious before you even land at the airport. From the sky, you can see the intricate, man-made island. The skyscrapers litter the cityscape. Upon landing at the airport, a sparkling air-conditioned building greets you. We were met by a smiling gentleman driving a black luxury sedan. He ferried us the 25 minutes through Doha to our accommodations for the next couple of nights. He deposited us at our five-star hotel in the ‘City Center’, the Marriott Marquis.

Qatar is the most open country in the Middle East

Unlike US hotels, security has a much larger presence. We had to go through a metal detector upon returning to the hotel each time we left. They scanned our bags before allowing us access to the enormous lobby. The friendly, multi-lingual front desk checked us in, and we took the elevator up to our room.

Qatar is the most open country in the Middle East

Downside to vacationing in a conservative Muslim country… twin beds in hotel rooms.

We are actually married (at least in Slovenia), does that entitle us to at least a queen-sized bed?

Negatory!

However, we were at least provided a decent view through the floor-to-ceiling windows of the city center on the 11th floor.

Tiny little admission… I may have slept brilliantly while buried beneath the blankets in my personal feathery, comfy haven in the starkly cold room thanks to the wonderfully chilly air conditioning.

Qatar is the most open country in the Middle East
Snapshot from the harbor

We began our Doha exploration with a City Tour provided by Discover Qatar for a minimal cost of $24 a person. We were ferried around the city by a local gentleman, who regaled us with Doha facts throughout the jaunt. Doha is the capital of Qatar and boasts a population of about 2.4 million. It is located along the Persian Gulf. He informed us, water is more expensive than fuel in the wealthy country. And if we happened upon any green spaces (grass is a novelty there), it was likely watered every 30 minutes in order to survive in the extreme heat of the desert.

We cruised through the city in air-conditioned comfort in a van, just the two of us and our insightful guide. A few highlights and/or stops:

PEARL-QATAR

Qatar is the most open country in the Middle East

The Pearl-Qatar, an artificial island jutting into the Gulf, is a $15 billion (so far) project. It will be a stunning residential estate made up of luxury villas and commercial amenities. The project was originally to cost $2.5 Million, but clearly, that budget was a tad off.

Qatar is the most open country in the Middle East

A colossal to-scale model of the not yet finished island takes up the first floor of a building, displaying a life-like representation of the what the man-made archipelago will look like upon completion.

The imitation even has people, boats, greenery, and lighting!

And it was so enormous that I could not even get a photo of the entire model in a single photo.

Moral of the story: Sorry for the disjointed photographs that do not portray the full enormity of this undertaking.

Yet another displaying of probably the most financially stable country I have ever travelled to. They successfully made the desert desirable.

Qatar is the most open country in the Middle East

MOSQUE (Unfortunately, I don’t recall the name)

We also crept into a mosque. Thankfully, I had smartly packed a shawl and light sweaters to cover my provocative shoulders. I was also clad in baggy, white linen pants (thanks, Athleta for selling breathable and comfortable pants perfect for the occasion).

Qatar is the most open country in the Middle East

Anywho… the lower floor, only suitable for men, was basically an open floor for praying. The upper balcony was where the women were relegated to. I was escorted outside to the separate entrance they were banished to. The much smaller space overlooked the men’s sanctuary below. After collecting our footwear, we returned to our Discover Qatar chariot.

MUSEUM OF ISLAMIC ART

Qatar is the most open country in the Middle East
Borrowed from the Museum’s website. My photos were nothing compared to this.
Qatar is the most open country in the Middle East

Our guide dumped us at the entrance to the Museum of Islamic Art. This free museum sports an unusual exterior facade. It is geometric and quite unique, looking vaguely similar to a stack of building blocks. Our chaperone challenged us to guess the significance. Stumped, he enlightened us that it is meant to resemble a woman in a hijab with only her eyes visible. If you decide to visit the museum, abide by the conservative dress code, otherwise, you may be refused entrance. Little update: My recent perusal of the museum’s website showed there is now a fee in order to gain entry to the museum. You now… because Qatar is a poor country…

Qatar is the most open country in the Middle East
Qatar is the most open country in the Middle East

The collection was fascinating, with pieces ranging from the 7th to 19th centuries, and included scrolls, textiles, ceramics, and metalwork, along with items of early mathematical importance. There is also a cafe, a gift shop, and an exterior park. Don’t forget both male and female private pray rooms. The glass windows at the rear of the building provide an uninterrupted view of the water beyond.

Qatar is the most open country in the Middle East
Qatar is the most open country in the Middle East

SOUQ WAQIF

Qatar is the most open country in the Middle East

We were given 45 minutes to peruse the sprawling Souq Waqif by our chauffeur. The Souq is a maze of vendors selling everything from spices to jewelry to daily goods to birds to furniture. We could have spent hours wandering the alleys, and made a mental note to return later with more time to spare.

Qatar is the most open country in the Middle East

Fast forward several hours, and we returned by cab to the Souq. Unlike when we were roving the passageways earlier, most of the merchants were open for business at the later afternoon hour. The bazaar is organized into areas by means of the goods the shopkeep was bartering. Spice hucksters were in one section, while rug peddlers were off in another. I must admit, the souqs have become one of my favorite places to visit common in many Middle Eastern countries. We walked out of there is color footwear, mugs, spices, tea (cinnamon was my poison, but should one have consumed a few too many beans that day, flatulence tea was also an option), kitchen wares, and a chess set. Bartering is welcomed!

Qatar is the most open country in the Middle East
Qatar is the most open country in the Middle East

We opted to walk the 5.5 km from the Souq back to our hotel. We strolled along the pathway ringing the water front. Due to the requirements of my gender covering up, it was quite the toasty saunter. Regardless of my clamminess, the walk provided quite the view of the very colorful skyline.

Qatar is the most open country in the Middle East
Qatar is the most open country in the Middle East
Qatar is the most open country in the Middle East

And a handstand of course. I made sure to wait until there were no other onlookers, so that I did not offend anyone when my shirt dropped to my shoulders, revealing my stomach. GASP! I’m such a heathen.

Qatar is the most open country in the Middle East

IPANEMA

During our exploration of the hotel, and the attached mall, we discovered several restaurants that were housed in the same building as the hotel. After perusing the options, Hubs decided we were going to splurge on our meal that evening. He settled upon Ipanema, a Brazilian-style steak house. Because… when in Rome??? I suppose we spent the previous couple weeks dining on Indian food, for the most part, we can branch out on our final night overseas.

Qatar is the most open country in the Middle East

The food did not disappoint. I could not tell you everything I ate that night since I felt like a whale upon departing. After getting a smallish sampling from the buffet (I had to save room for the immense amounts of meat to come), we purchased a bottle of wine, and awaited the first round of meats to be whisked by our table. For anyone unfamiliar with Brazilian steakhouses, you are given what amounts to a coaster – one side RED and the other GREEN. When you’re ready to gorge on whatever tasty hunk of meat the waiters are strolling by with, you flip your coaster over to the green side, prompting the servers to cut you a fresh slice off the slab they are toting.

Qatar is the most open country in the Middle East

I swore I was not going to give into every delicious smell that wafted passed me, but alas, I was defenseless against the succulent fare, acquiescing to my cravings. I felt like I gained 30 pounds when we waddled out of there. Totally worth it, and I slept like a baby. Another note… I discovered grilled pineapple. The delectable fruit was blanketed in cinnamon. I was incapable of dismissing the servers when they came by with it.

Meat, meat and more meat. Brought to your table on skewers and chopped off with large knives.
Grilled pineapple… dessert, appetizer or main course… that shit made me happy.
Qatar is the most open country in the Middle East
Quite the scrumptious wine. A+

Random side note… Arby’s in Arabic present in the busy food court in one of the many malls. Along with the longest, flattest escalator, I have ever ridden.

Yes, us lame Americans dined here for lunch one day.
Qatar is the most open country in the Middle East

Alas, it is time to depart the warmth of Qatar and return to the cold, snowy climate of Virginia in November.

وداعا … Apparently, that is “goodbye” in Arabic. Back to reality (and winter).

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.

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