Information from this article originally appeared in The Australian, ‘Few cities pass the pandemic stress test.’
Managing Director of Urban Solutions at Hatch, Bob Pell, says that just one fifth of cities across the world are prepared to deal with future shocks such as pandemics and recessions.
The insights are based on industry-leading benchmarking by ThoughtLab, with Hatch Urban Solutions, on the preparedness of 167 cities around the world to deal with future shocks, using the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals as a framework.
Bob says the COVID-19 pandemic served as a ‘stress test’ for cities and exposed weaknesses in healthcare, digital infrastructure, and resilience, as disruptions emerged unexpectedly, with far-reaching consequences.
“The last two years have accelerated reliance on technology, innovation, and e-commerce, while transforming the public’s behaviours and expectations, and redefining how people work and live.”
The pandemic has shifted the focus of governments to future-proofing cities, protecting economies, and protecting the health of residents. However, with city budgets under increased pressure, these focusses are also the biggest challenges for governments.
“Our aim was to provide an evidence-based roadmap to urban resilience and sustainability and to open a valuable dialogue on the future of cities among government, business, and academic leaders,” he further explained.
“To achieve ongoing success and be prepared for a potential future disruption, urban leaders need access to analyses showing the evidence-based technologies, solutions, and business models that are working best.”
Strategic investment in key areas have a transformative effect on how cities operate and how the lives of their citizens can improve exponentially in the process. Bob recommends future-proofing cities in eight key areas:
Living, health and inclusion/social value
Leading cities are highly adept at leveraging partnerships and data to cultivate the well-being, equality, and inclusiveness of their people. In these cities, these objectives became everyday imperatives during the pandemic, so there is great benefit to having this level of preparedness. Investment in technology is one of the key components in achieving this level of preparedness. Access to data proved crucial during the pandemic. Philadelphia, for example, manages more than 250 publicly available data sets for a wide variety of tasks, but with centralised data the city’s CIO and IT team were able to build analytics dashboards with visualisation features to give city workers easy access to data. This proved valuable during the crisis when data availability was critical.
- Attracting business, generating growth and industrial development
Cities that lead this category have taken an evidence-based approach to economic and industrial development, and leverage their ecosystem (companies, universities, community groups, for instance) to build the expertise they required.
- Government and education
Using metrics to track their progress towards achieving targets in government and education, as well as the provision of free digital upskilling to residents is a common thread among cities that lead in this area.
- Public safety and security
A combination of partnership, data, and good governance practices to improve public safety and security were traits shared by leaders in this metric, as was the ability to adopt the highest standard of disaster risk reduction and resilience programs.
- Mobility and transportation
Leading cities in this area are more adept at using each of the levers of change – partnerships, innovative funding, technology, data, and governance and policy – to help people and goods move faster, more safely and efficiently, without leaving a carbon footprint. They also lead in developing technology to facilitate greater use of public transport.
- Environment and sustainability
Sustainability metrics form the foundation of the local planning process among leading cities in this area, helping to ensure that the environment and the impact of climate change are top of mind in decision making processes. Collaboration is also important in addressing and helping to solve environmental issues, as is advanced monitoring of water and air quality.
- Energy, water, and other utilities
Leading cities are more adept at partnering with technology vendors to enhance services, encouraging use of renewable energy, and promoting efficient water usage. They also tend to adopt technologies, apps to allow citizens to track and manage their resource usage and smart meters for water and electricity.
- Digital infrastructure and networks
Closing the digital divide - a priority for cities and citizens entering a post-pandemic, digital-first world – is a common thread among leading cities here. They work with telecom providers to provide reliable and affordable network access. Those leaders are better at using data and analytics to understand where the divide exists, providing free Wi-Fi, collaborating with partners to provide free devices, and leveraging public-private partnerships to foster digital equity.
The next phase of this research work, called ‘Future Ready Cities,’ will expand the scope to two hundred cities, and will be launched soon and published later this year.
|Bob Pell is Managing Director of Urban Solutions at Hatch, an award-winning multidisciplinary leader in delivering development, engineering and operational projects in the infrastructure, metals, and energy industries. His expertise lies in demographics, urban planning, sustainable economics, climate change and technology change. Bob manages a team of 150 across five Australian cities as well as New York, Oakland, Toronto, London, and South Africa, with a focus on cities that are undergoing major change.|