Urban Informatics: Maximizing Benefits for Cities and Citizens

April 11, 2011 - 0 Comments

I recently reviewed a presentation by McKinsey around urban informatics and how it helps cities improve planning and management, as well as engage and empower citizens.  The premise of the work was to determine what progress is being made in the deployment and usage of urban informatics by cities around the world.  There were some very interesting findings. 

The Queensland University of Technology defines urban informatics as

…the study, design, and practice of urban experiences across different urban contexts that are created by new opportunities of real-time, ubiquitous technology and the augmentation that mediates the physical and digital layers of people networks and urban infrastructures.

The report cited four examples of cities that are seeing impact:

Istanbul – Mobile Electronic Systems Integration – Coordinated monitoring systems speed police response.

London – Adaptive signaling – Sensors coordinate traffic signals to speed travel and reduce congestion and pollution.

New York City – Department of Homeless Services’ Electronic Handset – Faster inspections get homeless families into public housing more quickly.

Delhi – Mission Convergence – Dynamic database of four million low income individuals and biometrics cards to enable benefits access.

In general, urban informatics impact four distinct groups in different ways:

Citizens – Direct economic benefits, direct social benefits, services tailored to local needs, potential for empowerment, potential for engagement.

Policymakers and Administrators – Better data for improved operational decision-making, new ways to address problems, better transparency, and more equitable growth.

Non-Profits – Greater efficiency and effectiveness individually, stronger collective sector, new roles to play in increasing digital literacy and access to technology.

Private Sector – Talent and infrastructure advantages, cities as important customers and business development opportunities for devices and applications.

However, there are some significant barriers to successful deployment of UI, including mindsets and attitudes, resource constraints, digital illiteracy and the increasing pace of technological change. 

These are very steep barriers in today’s environment.  Changing mindsets takes time, including generational change.  Resource constraints are a reality of life for governments at all levels around the world.  However, the pace of technological change has been a challenge for governments for a very long time.  Government systems generally are not designed to adapt rapidly.  Significant change sometimes requires legislative approval, administrative authority or voter referenda.  I’m wondering if there are any good best practices out there of municipal governments that are streamlining adaptive processes in order to be more responsive to evolving technology?

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