The world is rapidly urbanizing: more than two thirds of the global population are expected to live in urban areas by 2050. Most of the urban growth will take place in developing countries. Africa’s urban population alone is expected to increase from 40 percent in 2017 to 56 percent by 2050; in Asia the urban population will increase from 48 percent in 2017 to 64 percent by 20501. This rapid growth will place a huge strain on local economies to produce adequate jobs, infrastructure and public services for its citizens. What happens in cities and to its citizens matters locally, but matters more in general to the global development of our planet.
One positive side of this transition is that as much as this heavy concentration of people presents a challenge in terms of service delivery, it also offers a tremendous opportunity to advance the Agenda 2030 because of the large number of beneficiaries that each individual action can reach, limiting the complexity of delivering to remote and scarcely populated areas. Cities have a clear idea of the challenges ahead and are putting in place mechanisms to intensify collective learning. No matter the difference in size between Tokyo at 37 million and Rio at 6, the challenges ahead are basically the same: (i) how to offer economic opportunities and social cohesion to its citizens; (ii) how to deliver services in a cost effective way; and, (iii) how to achieve both objectives while protecting the environment. We are far away from having a set of best practices that can be easily adapted to different contexts, but with networking, sharing experiences, and relentless communication city administrators have now a much clearer idea of what works and what does not.
Public action is complex and makes it difficult to define “best practices.” Initiatives such as the World Benchmarking Alliance are using the SDGs as a framework to rank private companies on sustainability. Allowing them to see where they have fallen short, companies can compare themselves amongst others in the industry and see how they may be able to improve upon those shortcomings. These initiatives are setting a bar, providing standards to aim towards. Using that as a model, KPMG created a benchmarking report covering 35 cities worldwide, which if properly applied, will be helping city leaders create a successful and lasting change by learning from one another. With access to benchmarks, cities like Delhi could not only participate in the Smart Cities Challenge of Ministry of Urban Development for the Government of India, they can now align themselves with other cities by leveraging new ideas and innovations when they map out the indicators necessary to be a top 20 Smart City. The power of peer learning is yielding important results among political leaders, administrators, and representatives of citizen associations.
There is general consensus around the concept of smart cities, which refers to the development of technology-based urban systems for driving efficient city management and economic growth. KPMG has analyzed how this concept has been developed in 12 cities worldwide and identified solutions to some of the major challenges that have emerged. Among the challenges there are inadequate transport infrastructure and severe congestion; population housing and slums as a result of unplanned growth and mushrooming illegal settling with primitive facilities; environmental problems caused by air and water pollution, waste management and degradation of green areas; and lack of institutional capacity. But probably the most dangerous risk is that smart cities more than traditional rural environment create winners and losers and it is important for policy makers and administrators to fully understand how smart cities are affecting citizens’ rights, freedom of speech and participation in democratic policies. Smart cities should find ways to encourage more grassroots efforts to engage with marginal citizens.