The Future of Our Cities


Introduction

Thre is intensive discussion of the impact that information technology will have on the future of cities and this post summarises many of the areas that will be affected. this information is important for decisions that are being made today by governmental authorities as they consider their investment priorities and the development of their governance structures. They are important to businesses as they consider their future strategy and for citizens as they consider their careers and families.

It appears clear that future cities will be significantly different than they are to day and we have an improving understanding of the possibilities that exist in many areas. It is not yet clear, however, how all of this will fit together, how the many technological innovations will be integrated with each other – what their combined impact will be.

 

Cities Are Changing

In most major cities, in both developed and, to some extent, developing countries we are seeing dramatic changes which are creating challenges for citizens, businesses and governments. Increasing urbanisation is bringing more people to cities from rural areas, placing pressure on existing infrastructure and services, and raising accommodation prices for rent and sale. Many younger people and those on lower incomes face accommodation difficulties. Roads and transit systems are clogged. Businesses struggle to find employees who can afford to live near their workplaces. In many cities climate change threatens with rising water levels and more frequent extreme weather events that call for major action to avert disastrous consequences.

These challenges, and many more, are often influenced by information technology. Cities are growing as the pleasures of city life are more visible to all through the internet. Communications have become easier and transportation quicker and cheaper, supporting the global movement of people towards cities. Money has more easily moved between countries, often landing in hot real estate markets, raising house prices rapidly and beyond the reach of many of the local population. Rental services like Air BnB have accelerated this process.

Transport systems have been stressed as growth has occurred. Frequent smaller deliveries have increased the number of vehicles on streets and governments have appeared powerless to respond – the challenges that they face have stressed political systems that were created in slower moving times and which now have difficulty coping.

 

Technological Capabilities

The change that is occurring in peoples’ lives is enabled by information technology. That technology features the ability to communicate and process data more quickly and easily. Web 2.0 featured social media with its publishing and collaboration functionality and this has accelerated the trends that were described in the previous section. Today, new technological capabilities are emerging and these are appearing in new products and services which will have a significant impact on today’s cities. The changes that are discussed here are happening now.

Advances are occurring rapidly today in artificial intelligence, the internet of things and big data. As these advances are integrated with each other they have the potential to transform the lives of people living in cities. This transformation can improve or damage the quality of these lives, depending on how we decide to apply it. In the discussion that follows, the options for its application will be considered.

 

New Possibilities

The Meeting of the Minds website is a good starting point in understanding the impact that information technology will have on the cities of the future. The site provides an archive of contributions on a wide range of city related topics. These include:

Urban Poverty: What impact is technology having on poverty today? Rising accommodation prices are causing hardship for many. Gaps between the wealth of those with good educations and those without appear to be widening in the knowledge based economy. Can information technology help by increasing educational access?

Transportation: Polluted, traffic jam ridden inner cities are common today. What should the response to this be? Will self driving vehicles help? How will information technology impact public transit with driverless busses and new rapid transit systems being widely discussed? What will the impact of driverless delivery vehicles and delivery drones be?

Paying For It? What are the models that will fund the transformation of cities, taking advantage of the benefits of information technology. Public, Private Partnerships (P3s) are controversial – are they part of the solution or do other funding options need to be explored, such as municipal bonds or creative forms of taxation?

Sustainability: Protection and improvement of the environment for current and future generations also features in discussions on the future of cities. Information technology can be used to manage this more effectively, reducing power usage through smart management of heating and cooling systems and integrated power management in office buildings and homes. Use of renewable power sources, often including the use of solar power are considered.

Water is an important element of the discussion on sustainability. In many global cities access to water and its quality are serious issues with predictions of more restricted access to water in the future due to its increasing scarcity. Innovative uses of technology to manage water usage are often seen as part of solution to this problem.

Food supplies are also considered in the discussion on sustainability. Concern about the availability of food with the growing global population and about the impact on the environment of growing methids and chemicals and the carbon footprint of food transportation have caused local food solutions to be pursued in many localities. Urban agriculture is attracting significant interest as is the application of information technology to do this more effectively.

Digital Equity: While it is often assumed that increased use of information technology will benefit everyone equally, this is often not the case and the impact that it has, as well as how it should be addressed are being considered. Digital inequity can affect access to services, participation in local communities and the ability for individuals to contribute economically through work.

Governance: Engagement of citizens in cities is thought to encourage higher levels of participation in and commitment to more effective change and operation of cities in the future. Technology enables people to be more easily consulted and involved in the governance of cities. For example, we have already seen the incorporation of petitions in US and UK federal government processes. Online presentations, discussions and consultations are now common around major municipal decisions. Many forms of engagement are discussed today and the forms that will be used are evolving.

Economic Development: Startups will be important in local economic development and they are likely to be more important in the future. Rapid automation will lead to the decline of many job areas and entrepreneurs will play a major role in creating new companies, applying new technologies and creating new jobs. The creation of ecosystems that provide fertile environments for entrepreneurs will be essential.

Health: Healthcare and healthy living will be transformed with the use of information technology. Use of technology to create healthier environments through control of pollutants, use of big data to identify and manage health risks and provision of targeted health related information are likely to create healthier citizens in the future.

 

Integration

The discussion above has considered many aspects of the impact of information technology on cities. It has been stressed that choices exist over the ways in which technology will be applied – will it be used in ways that improve city life or will we see further negative impacts of trends that exist today. Will housing become more continually more expensive, will streets become more crowded and polluted, will lifespans of the poor continue to decline and will the distance between governments and citizens continue to increase?

This post has outlined possibilities for the application of information technology in ways that can improve people’s lives. They require us to choose to do it.

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