International Finance

Sewage-powered cars, smart cycle paths, safer buses: How Big Data is making cities better

Report by the World Economic Forum’s Global Future Council on Cities and Urbanization shines a light on groundbreaking ways in which data is reshaping urban life worldwide

The World Economic Forum’s Global Future Council on Cities and Urbanization today publishes Data-Driven Cities: 20 Stories of Innovation, a collection of 20 of the most creative ways cities worldwide are drawing on big data to improve services and quality of life.

The purpose of the report is to help city leaders make sense of the different data available to them and, more importantly, how to best use the data to design and deliver better services. The list, selected by a diverse panel of experts drawn from academia, industry and government, covers five key areas of city life: people, economy, governance, infrastructure and the environment.

Innovative approaches of data-driven city innovation highlighted in the report include:

Boston, USA: The city developed CityScore; an online dashboard showing how the city government is performing against 24 metrics. A single, composite, daily score summarizes how the administration is performing overall.

Copenhagen, Denmark: Dynamic signs and ‘intelligent’ street lights are helping cyclists beat the traffic.

DubaiUnited Arab Emirates: The Gulf city is driving an effort to implement blockchain in as many government services as possible by 2020.

Fukuoka, Japan: The city is using algorithms to migrate freight and public transport vehicles to hydrogen fuel cells powered by human sewage.

Kolkata, India: A social enterprise, Addressing the Unaddressed, is using geographic information systems (GIS) to map unplanned settlements, providing addresses – and vital services – for their inhabitants.

Quito, Ecuador: Bájale al Acoso, a mobile platform for women to report sexual harassment on the municipal public transport system, is already improving the way the city is policed.

Rio de Janeiro, Brazil: While many cities are using predictive policing to anticipate crime, Rio de Janeiro’s CrimeRadar is the first service in the world to make data on crime accessible to the public, helping people make informed decisions on how to minimize the risk.

Yinchuan, China: Seamless public transport has been made easy with the deployment of facial recognition technology to automate the payment process.

“The Forum seeks to empower cities as they prepare for the social, economic and technological transformations of the Fourth Industrial Revolution. The ability to collect data, correctly interpret it and apply the results will be key to driving these advances. We hope these stories serve to steer future conversations and catalyse innovative actions as they have already motivated our work on a new initiative, Cities and the Fourth Industrial Revolution, aimed at defining and measuring the readiness of global cities,” said Cheryl Martin, Head of Industries and Member of the Managing Board, World Economic Forum.

“It is now more important than ever to understand the consequences of data – how it can affect people’s lives. This is the goal of the data stories we have collected in this report. Big data is far more than just a matter of quantity: it is Big Promise for our cities as they face the challenges of the Fourth Industrial Revolution,” said Carlo Ratti, Director, SENSEable City Lab, MIT and Co-Chair of the Global Future Council on the Future of Cities and Urbanization.

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