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World class services: first hand perspectives from global cities

10 February 2014


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As international centres and hubs for attracting investment and talent; global cities are adopting SMART concepts of service delivery and adapting to the opportunities and challenges posed by the dynamics of the global economy. In this highly engaging session, mayors of major cities from around the world discussed their vision for their cities, the future of services and how they will impact the lives of citizens in their localities and beyond. The session also examined the definitive features of global cities and the relevance of government service provision to competitiveness, growth and development. HE Xavier Trias, Mayor of Barcelona (Spain) said he was impressed on how “Dubai has achieved its status now, how diversified is and how it is investing in technology and innovation.” As the economic capital of the South of Europe and as they hope to recover from the crisis in a speedy manner, he said adopting SMART concepts of service delivery is of paramount importance. He highlighted the fact that Barcelona has transformed its architecture into an open city and it’s now active in promoting itself as international tourist destination. As a result, Barcelona has now become a very touristic city with 7.5 million tourists every year. “We are interested in promoting new social economy as the third sector,” he said, stressing the need to empower social entrepreneurship. To do this, there should be a close collaboration and integration of cities, universities and research centres. The success of the future cities depends on the success of these 3 sectors working together.

“What we have to do now is to promote confidence and improve our solvency,” he said. “It is very important to us to attract new foreign investments and develop new economic activity in the city. We have a strongly diversified by boosting various sectors like retail, manufacturing, and tourism.” He added: “Barcelona wants to be known not only in sports. We want to be known as a city of culture. We want it to be a very important place for meetings and conferences too.”

HE Dr Gunso Kim, Deputy Mayor of Seoul, South Korea added that the word SMART was simple to use along with technology and city, but it isn’t easy to define what SMART actually is. “I would like to emphasise the use of technology. SMART – the use is simple, but not easy to define which is SMART city. Communication is the most important part of a SMART city,” HE Dr Gunso Kim said. “Communicating with citizens is important, but that was important even before the Internet,” he said.

HE Dr Gunso Kim gave the example of Seoul’s experience with late night buses, an initiative that was a result of citizen-government interaction. “How can Big Data solve the problem of a city?,” he asked. “A student tweeted to the Mayor – why not have a late night bus?”

While that was a simple suggestion, the problem Seoul faced was to identify areas where such service was required, and the frequency of this service, and the target audience of this service, which had to be very different from morning commuter. “That’s where we used telecom data to see which towers were active in the night, how many were active and which areas were the most populous?

In the end, HE Dr Gunso Kim said that there hasn’t been a single complaint so far even as 6,000 people use the night buses everyday based on the routes that were identified and the data collected from the telecom sector.

Sir Edward Lister, Chief of Staff and Deputy Mayor for Policy & Planning of London (UK) defined SMART city as one that “provides the services it needs to ensure the quality of life, economic gains needed to sustain itself, and making people want to live in it.”

He said that London “learnt from Barcelona for hosting Olympics. It changed the way we do things,” he noted. It changed security, brought in volunteers, etc.”, he said.

“Common sense and government don’t always go together,” Sir Edward acknowledged.

He said that London was growing at a huge pace, and it was a constant challenge to meet the ever growing needs of a city that was “adding [the size of] our second biggest city – Birmingham – to London, every decade.”

The panel discussed the prevalence of bicycles-on-hire across the cities that are taking a lead in terms of becoming SMART cities, including Seoul, London and Barcelona. The panel agreed that said that using bicycles (and e-powered bikes) along with car-sharing needs to be built in the planning of a city. Sir Edward Lister said that London was “constantly changing the way the city works – if we don’t do that, we won’t survive as a city.”

HE Xavier Trias of Barcelona said that the city was dealing with the issues of growth at a time of great challenge, recession, and unemployment. “The only way out was to proceed nevertheless – social expenditure isn’t only social, but leads to economic gains,” he said.

He said the decision-making was very clear. “My first decision was to have money to invest, and that’s the only way to encourage others to invest in Barcelona. Many people now want to do what Barcelona is doing, London is doing – that puts us in a good position,” he said.

The panel agreed that there remain privacy issues with using Big Data but that using it is imperative to make cities SMART.

HE Xavier Trias too said that governments need to be very cautious – and very clear about the usage of data. “Administration shouldn’t use data for personal benefit but for the benefit of everyone. Otherwise, it’ll be a failure,” he said. “If we use information for only certain people, then it won’t work.”

London’s Sir Edward Lister highlighted that ‘smart’ is not only in technology, but in decision-making as well. “Cities are changing – dramatically. Shopping is changing. Shops are now just showrooms. Sales happen on the Internet,” he said. “So, we need more warehouses while the number of shops needs to be reduced. All this is happening very fast. As a city, we need to react to it rapidly,” he said.