Sustainable cities – driven by data
To address the growing challenges of big cities, the public sector joins the private sector to develop new models and innovative solutions based on data and digital technologies. The results? Improved services, more efficiency, better business environment and more quality of life.December 2019 | February 2020
“When the burden of the presidency seems too heavy, I always think it could be worse. I could be a mayor.” The author of the sentence is Lyndon Jonhson, who took over the presidency of the United States in 1963 after the assassination of John Kennedy and had to deal with Herculean challenges such as the Vietnam War. Behind this phrase there is the idea that mayors of large cities must take care of very pressing issues in people’s lives, such as urban mobility, health and education, which impact citizens’ daily lives in a more direct (or at least noticeable) way than diplomatic or budgetary matters.
Today’s mayors’ advantage over Johnson’s contemporaries is the arsenal of new digital technologies that, if used well, can exponentially improve people’s quality of life. If technology is the transforming link that makes a space made up of buildings, streets and squares a pleasant and efficient place, the great driver of this movement is the adoption of new management models, which emerge through public-private partnerships.
This collaboration, in turn, often revolves around the millions of data generated by city residents – from medical appointments, commuting, requests for services from city governments, and a plethora of other actions and demonstrations. “The public sector and the private sector collect data that, if well used, provide crucial insights to improve services in large cities”, says Elias de Souza, Deloitte’s lead partner for the Government and Public Services industry.
However good their intentions are, public managers find obstacles to the good use of this information. Therefore, the trend of data analysis is growing, such data are being used by startups and technology companies in the development of solutions that aim to improve people’s lives. “We have a lot of data and we can’t work with all of it”, says Daniel Annenberg, São Paulo’s secretary of Innovation. “Partnerships with private enterprise are key to finding good alternatives.”
Real time data
One area that has proven itself promising in this symbiosis is urban mobility. One of the best examples of success in the country is the Mobility Innovation Laboratory (MobiLab) in São Paulo. Created by the City Government in the context of popular demonstrations that pushed for the quality of public services in 2013, MobiLab promotes research and partnerships with startups to respond, based on data and technology, to the challenges of traffic management in the fifth most populous city in the world. From its inception, various apps and services were created – such as “Cadê o Ônibus”, which allows the user to see in real time where the vehicles are, the arrival forecast and the itinerary, among other information.
“Studies indicate that it is more efficient for the public sector to open the data for free”, says Simon Dixon, Deloitte’s global leader for the Transportation industry. “In this scenario, the government orchestrates everything, with the support of the private initiative.”
Sometimes partnership occurs in the opposite way. Prior to the development of technologies such as cloud computing and big data and the popularization of transportation applications, knowing precisely how residents of large cities moved relied on interview and sampling research. “As good as they were, they could never mirror the reality of the daily journey of the user or citizen”, says Elias de Souza, from Deloitte. “Without accurate information, the manager could not adopt the best policies.”
Promoting economic development, creating a sustainable environment and improving citizens' quality of life should be the focus of smart cities Elias de Souza, Deloitte Brazil's lead partner for the Government and Public Services industry
Today, applications like Waze are able to suggest drivers the best routes in real time. In the process, they accumulate millions of pieces of information about people’s commuting patterns. This is gold for a traffic manager in a big city. “By understanding the behavior of drivers, it is possible to identify the best time for road repairs, as well as for changes in a city’s traffic structure, as the app establishes daily vehicle schedules and flows”, explains Thaís Blumenthal de Moraes, global leader of Waze’s Connected Citizens Program (CCP). CCP is a program that defines partnerships with city governments and other public institutions, allowing real-time interactions between the public administrator and the population. For example, a driver can use the app to report a burned out traffic light or a hole in the road; and the administrator has a channel to inform drivers about works and changes in traffic. Created in 2014, CCP has approximately 1,000 partnerships worldwide.
Other applications establish this dialog between government and population. One allows you to warn the city government about a hole in a certain street (the message is sent with photo and geolocation information), request for tree pruning, and 800 more janitorial services. “Process digitization enables service planning, optimizing the service across regions, which increases productivity and efficiency of the public service” says Annenberg.
Technology support is also visible in other areas, such as health. Users of the São Paulo municipal public network, for example, can now schedule appointments and medical exams via the application and thus avoid a useless commute. The app also helps to control demand and optimize service delivery – another situation in which data, when leveraged, improves system management.
The synergy between public and private can be advantageous for everyone, as shown by Solar Palm, a company focused on developing sustainable urban solutions. In exchange for the right to exploit advertising, the company devised a “high tech square” with various services for both the population and city governments. People get a living space that promises to be safe and with features such as internet access and smartphone charging hubs. The City Government now has access to information such as temperature and air quality, thanks to sensors that measure these and other indicators, as well as security cameras with facial recognition. The organization also promotes improvements in lighting and surrounding sidewalks.
The most interesting exchange, however, occurs through an app that encourages sustainable actions by local residents and local merchants. For example, anyone who hires an employee who lives in the region will earn points. This also applies to those who offer and take rides via the app and reduce water and electricity consumption. These points may be redeemed at the project’s partner merchants. “We want to make cities more enjoyable and, for that, we need to reclassify urban space and encourage the adoption of sustainable measures” says architect Patricia O’Reilly, a partner at Solar Palm.
Focus on people
In William Shakespeare’s tragedy “Coriolanus”, the character Sicínio Veluto, tribute of the people, says: “What is a city but its people?” The play was written in 1608, but, like almost everything in the English playwright’s work, it remains current. As experts point out, technology must be the means to something bigger, which is to improve people’s lives. “You can’t invest in technology if it doesn’t have a very clear purpose of increasing social inclusion”, says Dixon, from Deloitte . And in many situations, the disruption caused by people can be more impactful than that caused by technology.
Technology, if used in the right context, can play a fantastic role in improving life in cities Simon Dixon, Deloitte's global leader for the Transportation industry
As with organizations in all industries, the mere adoption of technological innovations is not enough. We need to make the necessary adaptations to seize the opportunities these tools provide and turn them into tangible benefits.