Urban agenda calls for new skills and technology

April 23rd, 2018, Published in Articles: PositionIT, Featured: PositionIT

In light of the 9th World Urban Forum, attention turns to implementation of the New Urban Agenda. After the frenzy of Habitat 3 (the UN Conference on Housing and Sustainable Urban Development), PwC highlighted that implementing the commitments made in Quito will require new skills and partnerships than the ones that created it.

This now feels urgent with the global urban population growing by 1,5-million people every week. A reformed framework for delivering sustainable urban development that connects international, national and city levels also holds important roles for new technologies that are disrupting urban development models. The private sector, for example, can bring talent, skills and finance while innovation in the finance community can give rise to new instruments for delivering much needed investment in urban development.

There is not nearly enough financing and project preparation support to promote the development of critical infrastructure needed in emerging cities. Every year over the next decade, $3,7-trillion in infrastructure spending is expected.

Investment in infrastructure is vital for cities to function and prosper. Emerging cities especially will create enormous need for new infrastructure. In contrast, existing local government revenue and credit-worthiness is weak, with many struggling to finance large infrastructure projects, while a huge proportion of their residents live in poverty. This requires focusing attention on unlocking new ways of financing for countries and cities at different levels of economic development.

Some pioneering cities are successfully experimenting with new ways of raising money, offering promising lessons for cities around the world.

One financing tool for urban infrastructure that has potential is land value capture – a complex but essential tool which also encourages dense and compact urban growth. It has the potential to finance urbanisation by capturing the increased value of land and property through public infrastructure investments. This instrument is unique in that it leverages one key asset of land that cities hold, though applying this in a real-life context successfully needs careful consideration.

Harnessing the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) is also critical for creating the next generation of sustainable emerging cities. Technology-enabled people, places and cities are creating more diverse forms of growth and prosperity. The 4IR technologies such as artificial intelligence, autonomous vehicles and drones, the Internet of Things, advanced materials, 3D printing and biotechnology are particularly relevant to sustainable emerging cities. Cities can harness these technologies, combined with each other and with new business models, to not only enhance urban economic productivity but to reduce environmental impact and increase wellbeing.

Cities can benefit from the use of technology to enhance productivity, inclusion and innovation. Many are already showing promise at reshaping urban sectors – including transport, energy, waste, water, and buildings – and change will only accelerate. The 4IR, however, also presents its own set of risks. Emerging cities need to invest in the enabling technological infrastructure and skills to ensure they do not get left behind, and to minimise unintended harmful impacts of the 4IR on people, communities and the Earth.

Cities planning for the future need to make informed and resilient choices about how technology will shape their city. Those that fail to adapt and recognise these changes will fall behind.

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