How data-driven infrastructure will make our cities safer, aid the needy and make everything more resilient and sustainable.
From Singapore to Seoul to Sydney, every city possesses a character of its own. But many of the infrastructure challenges of supporting a bustling urban population are universal.
Today, 4.2 billion people live in cities, driving more than 80% of the world’s GDP, according to the World Bank. While disparities within cities was evident before, the pandemic has shone an even brighter spotlight on those inequalities.
At the same time that the wealthiest have largely been able to maintain their standard of living, the lower-income residents have been struggling with a stressed healthcare system, bogged-down delivery of aid, and strained urban infrastructure and economic that are straining to keep pace with the new COVID reality.
As local governments tackle these challenges, they are increasingly turning to technology for help: long after the pandemic subsides, it will be digital transformations that reshape how governments operate and interact with their constituents. Insights gleaned from data will be the lifeblood that supports the rise of new city infrastructure.
Giving mobility a makeover
Even before the pandemic, touchless payment systems were growing in popularity to provide convenience in eliminating the need for cash or the hassle of dealing with physical tickets. With the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, demand for these systems has grown, driven by control measures to limit person-to-person contact.
In India, this took shape as the One Mumbai Metro Card, launched recently in partnership with Mastercard, to enable safe, cashless, contactless transit journeys across the city, an effort that assumed even greater significance as the latest COVID wave hit the country.
Many cities are also exploring solutions such as Mobility-as-a-Service, which integrate the traveler journey across public and shared transportation to limit payment touchpoints. A journey can be managed end-to-end through a single gateway or portal, incorporating multiple public and private transport providers.
And with more people around the world tentatively returning to offices, schools and outings, cities need to do even more to restore traveler confidence—by adding more services to reduce overcrowding and dynamically adjusting to new trends in commuter work habits and locations.
The same digital technologies that enable safer, low-contact transit in a public health crisis can offer numerous benefits for a digital future. These include lowering operating costs or reducing crowding and bottlenecks, making city transit more pleasant and visitor-friendly, and providing the next-level convenience that people are starting to demand.
To go far, go together
Cities determined to promote inclusivity and sustainability thrive when their governments collaborate with others. By co-creating with member cities, business leaders, academia and nonprofits, cities can more easily solve common urban challenges.
One partnership initiative that promotes this co-creation is City Possible, wherein cities share learning points from their successes and failures, often saving valuable time and resources in the process.
Another program by VU.CITY, in partnership with Mastercard, helps city officials use 3D visualization technology and data to map their cities in intricate detail, allowing them to manage their assets and visualize how future projects will change everything from city traffic to the look of a city skyline.
Similarly, an initiative called Recovery Insights helps cities to accelerate economic recovery by providing anonymized, aggregated, data-driven information to make informed decisions about allocating their resources to reach the areas and people most affected by the pandemic. In countries like Australia and Japan, Mastercard provides consumer and tourism-spend analytics and insights to aid the understanding of market trends and to support industry development programs. The analytical geolocation solutions can provide insights down to postcode or street grid levels of granularity for modeling economic, tourism or disbursement planning.
Looking over the data-driven horizon
Looking beyond the pandemic, city governments are starting to think big about how data can make their city more sustainable and inclusive.
Recently, Subic-Clark Alliance for Development (SCAD), the agency overseeing economic development in the Luzon area of the Philippines, joined the City Possible program, the third member from the ASEAN region after Thailand and Singapore. Similar public-private partnerships with governments in Egypt, Nigeria and Pakistan, as well as Australia and India, are expected to accelerate the development of digital government services by tapping into a range of digital solutions.
The move is part of an initiative to ensure that, as the local economy rapidly expands, the region can keep pace with demands that come with urbanization. For instance, the partnership is exploring ways to leverage technology and data to digitalize local government units and enhance the agricultural supply chain. In another example, Makati City officials are being helped to electronically disburse financial aid to over 90,000 citizens via a prepaid Makatizen card.
Also coming up on the horizon are improved e-services and payment infrastructures. These digital enablers can help governments to simplify the backend operations of their e-portals or services apps, become more efficient and consistent, while promoting omnichannel acceptance and tokenization.
Furthermore, data-driven technology can make government e-services even safer by adding cybersecurity solutions ranging from additional layers of fraud protection to ID verification to biometrics analysis to verify payment transactions.
With so many challenges and opportunities to tackle at once, the time for action is now. As devastating as the COVID-19 pandemic has been, in its wake we have the chance to rebuild smarter cities that serve their residents even better in future. Technology and partnerships will help get us there.