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Harnessing ‘big data’ for cities

By: - Reporter / @amyremoINQ
/ 05:25 AM November 18, 2017

In Boston, an online dashboard called CityScore shows how the city government is performing, from its sign placements to emergency call response, and from garbage collection to pothole repairs.

In Copenhagen, dynamic signs and “intelligent” street lights help cyclists beat the traffic, while in Fukuoka, Japan, algorithms are used to migrate freight and public transport vehicles to hydrogen fuel cells powered by human sewage.

A mobile platform, called Bájale al Acoso, is meanwhile used to report sexual harassment cases that occur on the municipal public transportation system in Ecuador.

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These are just a few examples of how cities worldwide use “big data” to implement creative measures to improve services and quality of life, according to recent report released by the World Economic Forum (WEF).

The report, entitled “Data-Driven Cities: 20 Stories of Innovation,” showcased 20 of the most creative ways cities are harnessing big data to further improve urban life.

Driving development

“With two-thirds of the world’s population expected to live in cities by 2050, the question of how to make cities work better for their inhabitants has never been more urgent. If harnessed, the data that permeate cities can answer this question in myriad ways, and serve to inspire solutions for navigating the technological, social and economic changes of the Fourth Industrial Revolution,” the WEF report had stated.

Cheryl Martin, head of industries and member of the managing board at WEF, noted that the ability to collect data, correctly interpret it and apply the results will be the key to driving such 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,” Martin explained.

“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,” added Carlo Ratti, co-chair of the Global Future Council on the Future of Cities and Urbanization.

Local example

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Among the examples included in WEF’s list of “20 Stories of Innovation” include the Open Traffic platform in Cebu City.

This, it explained, optimizes the timings of traffic signals in peak hours using GPS data from the smartphones of drivers for the taxi service Grab.

This was also similar to Boston’s data-sharing partnership with navigation app Waze, and HubCab, which tracks over 170 million taxi trips taken annually in New York City.

WEF further pointed out that these next generation of congestion management solutions will “enable traffic management agencies to make better, evidence-based decisions about traffic signal timings, public transport, road infrastructure, emergency traffic management and travel demand management, as well as helping to develop and optimize trip-sharing services.”

Disruptions

Indeed, the Fourth Industrial Revolution is set to erupt in cities throughout the world.

“The results will impact most aspects of our lives, raising questions of urgent concern. Which dimensions of cities will be most affected? What will be the impact on citizens? How should urban policy change? And, most importantly, how can cities prepare for looming disruptions and opportunities,” WEF pointed out.

The 20 examples listed by WEF illustrate how data can be used to further improve the experience of the built environment—whether by public entities, large corporations, startups, or private citizens.

“Using data, we can better understand the digital world in ways that enable us to transform physical space. We can develop solutions to tackle some of the most pressing issues—from energy to waste, from water to mobility, from urban design to citizen participation,” WEF said.

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