How can technology support better and greener cities?

technology support better and greener cities

Cities are home to more than half of the world’s population, and they are expected to add another 2.5 billion new residents by 2050. They face increasing environmental, societal and financial pressures and crises (including recent COVID crises), and infrastructure needs — and growing demands from residents to deliver a better quality of life with affordable services. Yet, local authorities and municipalities often show a lack of prepared, high-quality, and financeable infrastructure projects. In emerging markets around the world (which represent the majority of GHG emissions), they often display poor infrastructure governance, economic regulation and policy, as well as limited fiscal autonomy and poor financial management. 

The resilience of cities and infrastructure services is also crucial in the economic recovery from the COVID pandemic, but also through past and present fiscal crises and recession. The fiscal headroom of many local governments is being reduced. These effects can limit economic opportunities in cities, as revenues have decreased sharply along with the fiscal value of property. In parallel, city expenditures are rising because of the slowdown in economic activity and the corresponding increases in unemployment and safety net related measures.  The decline in revenue and increase in expenditure is going to lead many cities to adopt fiscal prudence and severe adjustments in capital expenditures. Outside our European and UK cities, foreign investment to finance infrastructure in emerging markets has declined; operations underway have been put on hold and many projects have either been cancelled or delayed.

So, in this economy, how do we contribute to the growth of liveable, smart and green cities? At Wiia, we specialize in green city and infrastructure tenders; low-carbon and climate resilient growth combined with smart technologies can help cities meet these above challenges. There is a need for greening the recovery, enhancing the resilience of cities, and supporting the economic transformation. We believe that these three principles can help local authorities shape efficient tenders, projects and spending that support our low-carbon and climate resilient cities of tomorrow:

Romain Pison

Principle 1: Leverage data to create new business models

Cities, in all their complexity and scope, generate oceans of data. Finding the insights in all that data helps municipal governments respond to emergencies, allocate resources wisely, and create new business models. Furthermore, making real-time information public help individuals make better decisions and businesses create new revenue streams. As cities get smarter, they become more liveable and more responsive — and today we are seeing only a glimpse of what technology could eventually do in the urban environment, like live traffic data flows, drone use, and V2V connection. Wiser investments, supported by data, associated with the expenditure side, means strategically choosing to develop cost-effective projects that contribute to solving short-term difficulties while working to achieve long-term transport sustainability goals.

Principle 2: Integrate gender-based dimensions 

The gender imbalance emerging from current patterns and trends in mobility and transport reveals the existence of a disparity in many cities across the world, which essentially affects three different aspects: the lack of knowledge of gender issues and the scarcity of gender mobility data and statistics, the need to plan gender-tailored mobility services and the need to better exploit the synergies between urban and mobility planning. Lessons learned from experiences across Europe, reveal that, in addition to the large information gap to be filled by improving gender-based statistical data and research, the measures implemented at local level are usually pilot projects, presenting implementation and sustainability problems due to the lack use of technologies for potential scale-ups. 

Principle 3: Foster decarbonization through combined technologies

Decarbonization of all modes of transport by 2050 is possible – but action is needed now. Cost effective solutions for passenger and freight transport are available and have been tested at scale – to significant effect with electrified mobility solutions, shared and integrated with walking, cycling, and public transport. Our analysis shows that concerted national and urban policy together with business action is required to avoid unnecessary trips, shift to efficient modes, and improve vehicles and fuels. Aligning national policies behind compact, connected, clean cities, can make the difference, only if the transport decarbonization model is embedded within an energy transition model. Local authorities can support plans and opportunities for siting distributed renewables or improving energy efficiency in buildings, for instance. A circular and systemic approach is paramount if we want to create a living, human city where everything is used, reused, and interconnected. Isolating or putting in silos specific solutions – for instance with transport versus energy – will only have a limited and probably short-term impact.

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