Six ways to collaborate and build a truly smart city7 min read . Updated: 27 Dec 2018, 02:12 PM IST
An urban plan that evolves from the feedback of its citizenry and draws on the sharing economy is bound to make our cities smarter
The sharing economy is shrouded in several misconceptions: First, that it’s a playground for millennials, who will outgrow their fascination and eventually prefer buying. Second, it’s largely irrelevant for most industries, outside of taxi fleets and hospitality. Finally, that if the sharing economy ever does become relevant, it will be a threat to the industries in which it takes root.
For most global incumbents, however, these views are misplaced. The sharing economy is real, relevant, and a tangible opportunity rather than a temporary distraction, a passing fad, or a threat. It can create new revenue streams and market opportunities. And by understanding the economic and behavioral rationale for sharing, incumbents can shape developments to their benefit. The economic foundations of sharing are broad and such trends can in fact, define the future of our cities.
Consider this. Cities across the world are faced with the twin problems of rapid urbanization and resource scarcity. It is estimated that by 2030, more than 60% of the global population will live in cities, and one-sixth in just 41 large cities. Each of these cities will have more than 10 million people living, traveling, working and consuming. This concentration of population will likely lead to substantial resource constraints—35% of the world’s urban population faces either inadequate or unaffordable housing, while residents in the 25 largest cities of the world lose an estimated 66 hours per year sitting in traffic jams, and only 10% of the population lives in areas that currently meet World Health Organization Standards. Further, environmental challenges grow dramatically as cities expand in size, the effects of which are more pronounced in developing economies where the majority of megacities are located.
This global trend is mirrored in India as well. At present, New Delhi and Mumbai are among the top 5 populous cities of the world. The population of our National Capital Region alone is estimated to increase from the present 18.6 million to 43.3 million by 2035 . According to a recently published UN report, Delhi will overtake Tokyo as the world’s largest urban agglomeration by 2028. Dramatic urbanization in India is choking infrastructure in cities like Delhi, Bengaluru, Mumbai and Kolkata struggling with perpetual travel woes. It is estimated that Bengaluru loses a whopping $5.92billion every year in social cost of traffic congestion. Travel during peak hours is 1.6 times more than off peak hours.
Urbanization puts tremendous pressure on the city government in meeting the growing needs of its residents. City administrations are not only accountable for providing economic opportunities but are also responsible for providing safe, sustainable and livable cities. As cities grow bigger and the population becomes more concentrated, governments often struggle to meet the needs of larger populations.
Many cities are experimenting and investing in digital solutions to improve urban planning, foster equitable economic growth, deliver services more efficiently, and use resources in a more sustainable manner. Technology is a great enabler for change and can indeed help solve some of the large and growing challenges of urbanization. In the age of collaborative economy, city governments can take advantage of technology and open platforms to involve citizens more actively to shape a better future. Digital solutions can create an opportunity for citizens to actively participate in the perpetual cycle of city development—visioning; planning & execution; feedback and resolution. It is not hard to imagine a future where citizens, with the help of right technological tools and platforms, will play a big role in enabling the government in providing optimal solutions. Many use cases are likely to proliferate in the city of the future.
Citizens in the shoes of city planners: The first and foremost step a city government can take is to define a strategic development plan for the city by digitally engaging a large section of its citizens. Crowd-sourcing ideas, soliciting solutions and highlighting problems can go a long way in developing a robust and sustainable plan. A digital twin plan of the city can be shared with its residents through interactive e-platforms with an aim to get suggestions from them. This will enable the governments to gain rapid and mass feedback on a real time basis on proposed development plans.
Stockholm city, often considered the smartest city of the world, involved its citizens in each step while developing its City Strategic Plan-Vision 2040. The plan of the city was shared with its residents and a continuous citizen feedback loop was created. Such involvements not only empower the citizens but also help them in understanding the rationale behind some of the actions taken by the government.
Digitally enabled participative governance: Citizens can be actively involved in the execution and decision-making process of the city governments. Citizen participation can be at various levels—from minor involvement in the city councils to playing a project-based role or short-term secondment at the local government departments facilitated by a jobs marketplace. Citizen engagement can also be efficiently driven by digital platforms that allow for feedback on proposed projects. For example, the Iceland capital Reykjavik has developed a unique process to involve citizens in its city development process. Proposals from the citizens are submitted via the digital services of the city. The city administration then evaluates cost and feasibility of each project. Feasible projects are brought up for citizen voting, wherein they vote by allocating a virtual ‘budget’ to the projects. The most popular suggestions are then processed and implemented by the city.
Tech-enabled solutions for ‘tough’ problems: Even the private sector and startups are trying to leverage upon the benefits of a collaborative economy in this new era of connectivity and increased citizen participation. For example, several collaborative platforms have been launched where innovators are trying to find a comprehensive solution for waste management. One such platform—‘I got garbage’ a Bengaluru-based startup, connects waste pickers with households. This mobile and web platform enables households to get their recyclables picked up from their doorstep. This sustainable solution not only promotes recycling of waste but also supports cities in having fewer landfills. Currently, the platform supports around 10,000 waste pickers, and helps 330,000 waste generators to divert 212 million kg of garbage from landfills. As benefits of such solutions accrue and user adoption increases, more and more such platforms are likely to develop.
Peer to peer sharing of services: Apart from the platforms connecting service providers to ultimate users, we can also expect peer-to-peer sharing to gain momentum. For example, a startup in Oxford, Cycle.land enables peer-to-peer bicycle sharing. It has developed an online marketplace where the cycle owners can register their bikes along with a picture, short description, location and post an ask price on the website. Through this website, the renter can connect with the owners for the short term rental of these bikes. Several of the Cycle.land’s over 1,000 users are students who prefer cycling to class instead of taking a taxi or bus network. If solutions such as these can be scaled, it can have a huge impact on the city’s budget for public transportation.
Private space as public space: As the number of cars in the cities increase and the open spaces reduce, paucity of adequate parking space will continue to plague the residents and administrators alike. To tackle this issue, the concept of shared parking is gaining positive traction and adoption by city innovators. Private and public institutions and individuals can rent out the parking space available to them when they are not using it. For example, residents can let out their parking space at home while they are at work, and offices can let out their parking space at the time the employees are not present in the office. This will help in improved efficiency, less congestion and optimal utilization of the spaces available in the city. Again, to harness the benefits of shared parking, technology can provide easy solutions. Several startups, through their websites, are enabling users to rent their empty parking spaces—Rover in Canada, Pavemint in USA and Just Park in UK are some examples of the same. Just Park allows users to rent their driveways. At present, there are 2.5million drivers and 45,000 car space owners across the United States that use the site.
Real time feedback to city authorities: Several solutions have emerged over the past few years which have increasingly tried to involve residents in identifying and reporting issues with the help of digital platforms. With the increased adoption of smartphones and digital literacy, citizens can provide real time information to the authorities. To give an example, the Delhi government launched a Swachh Delhi App in 2015 where the public could upload photographs of waste sites, which would enable authorities to clean them. Within the first day of its launch, the app received 2,200 complaints from various neighborhoods of the city.
As evident, technology is creating massive opportunities to envision how the cities will function in the future. With increased focus on collaborative governance, the onus also lies with the citizens to be more actively engaged. This will enable the city governments in devising policies and prioritizing solutions as per the needs of its inhabitants. Rigid governance processes will be re-engineered as the inclusive decision making and technological solutions will help in bridging the gap between the city administrations and its citizens. The future of our cities is truly in hand of its citizens.
Suresh Subudhi and Shubhika Bilgrami are experts for Infrastructure Practice, Boston Consulting Group. With additional inputs from BCG- Henderson Institute.
This is the last in a six-part year-end series to rethink work and life around us.