Throughout the course of history, cities have been hubs of diversity, creativity and economic growth. Across the globe, people are moving to cities looking for jobs, education and a better life. Every two weeks, the world’s urban population grows by 3 million people – roughly the size of Chicago.
Constrained by legacy infrastructure and tight budgets, local governments are challenged to support their citizens’ basic needs such as housing, transportation, uninterrupted power, clean water and affordable financial services. Ensuring this access is critical so that more people can participate in inclusive growth and that small businesses can flourish.
For Mastercard, the concept of “smart cities” is not an end in itself, but a means towards making cities more economically resilient and inclusive. It is about harnessing digital technology and data insights to improve the quality of life for all segments of society, residents and visitors. It is about building bullet trains and basic toilets.
More specifically, our vision of a future-proof city has four core elements:
1. Cities are for Everyone
A future-proof city must benefit the many, not just the few. Despite advances being made, two billion adults around the world still don’t have a bank account. Too many people – including in so-called developed countries – are stuck in the less productive informal economy.
Advancing financial inclusion means lifting people out of poverty and up the economic ladder. We have set ourselves a goal to bring more than 500 million consumers and 40 million small businesses into the formal economy by 2020. To date we have reached over 300 million individuals.
Citizen ID programs are one of the most powerful ways to combine receiving and making payments for citizens with access to transit, education and other public services through the means of a single identity.
In the Russian Republic of Tatarstan, the Citizen’s card provides people the ability to access different payment and non-payment functions such as medical records, tax details and access to university campuses. In Nigeria, Mastercard has partnered with the government to develop a single ID for citizens – a secure multi-purpose card with biometric features.
2. Open Standards Drive Inclusion and Scale
Technology that works on open standards helps drive innovation at scale, allowing all interested participants to contribute to the eco-system. As an example, in a world where 65 percent of transit fares are still paid in cash, too many people have to rely on daily paper tickets. They spend time queueing in front of ticket offices – making it harder to get to work or school.
Cities such as Bogota or Kiev are allowing people to use the payment cards and phones they already carry with them to access public transport. In London, almost half of all pay-as-you-go journeys are done this way. This has reduced Transport for London’s cost of collecting fares from 14 to 9 percent – helping to deliver savings of over 100 million pound sterling.
Based on the learnings and the success of open-loop transit payments, there is a clear opportunity to apply similar concepts across areas such as Water, Waste Management, Energy or Healthcare.
3. Cities Need New Forms of Partnerships
We need to think beyond the current model of public-private-partnerships for cities. Our idea is that of a city that opens up more opportunities for more people, short City Possible. For us, this has three key components:
- A thought leadership platform to bring together leading academic and civic minds to provide original insights and build a blueprint for long-term urban development.
- Urban labs that combine innovation and human-centered design to deliver solutions that address the specific needs of cities.
- A commercial model that will allow these labs to scale solutions quickly and efficiently.
In Chicago for example, we are working with City Digital to bring together public transportation providers as well as technology companies such as Microsoft to find ways to better manage transit supply and demand across a city. This approach empowers cities to engage with citizens in real-time and keep them informed of potentially busy travel periods so that they can avoid crowds and get to their destinations on time.
4. Harnessing Data to Make Cities More Responsive
To realize the true potential of any smart city initiative, big data will play a critical role. Professor Richard Burdett from the London School of Economics (LSE) has described the “second electrification” that might transform cities due to the data generated by social interactions.
As an example, the Committee for Sydney is using anonymized and aggregated payment transaction data to get a better understanding of the city’s night time economy. This analysis will help the Committee develop a comprehensive plan to ensure that Sydney continues to have a vibrant and inclusive nightlife.
Putting People Front and Center
Meeting the challenges of modern-day urbanization is too big a task for anyone alone. Mastercard is taking a leading role in bringing together private and public partners to deliver on the promise of inclusive, livable cities. Today’s technologies are giving us the tools to drive real impact for millions of people – and it is those people that need to be at the center of any smart city conversation.
Image: Habitat 3
This article is culled from daily press coverage from around the world. It is posted on the Urban Gateway by way of keeping all users informed about matters of interest. The opinion expressed in this article is that of the author and in no way reflects the opinion of UN-Habitat.