Just like sharks, the world’s cities need to keep moving forward – or they will surely lose their vitality and fall into decline.
In recognition of the need for leading-edge city planning and investments in infrastructure, on March 15, Armonk, New York-based computing luminary IBM (News - Alert) selected 33 cities worldwide – 9 in Asia, 8 in the United States, 5 in Europe, 4 in Africa, 4 in Latin and South American, 2 in Canada, and 1 in Australia – to receive IBM Smarter Cities Challenge (#smartercities) grants during 2012.
Launched in 2011, this three-year, 100-city, US$50 million program, which represents IBM's single-largest philanthropic initiative, funds in-person engagements staffed by teams of the company’s top experts, who study and then make detailed recommendations addressing locally important urban issues.
The need to use new approaches to address civic challenges has never been greater. In 2008, according to the United Nations, more than half the world's population began living in cities for the first time. These population centers are more economically powerful, politically influential, and technologically advanced than at any time in history. But they also struggle with budgetary, operational, health, education, transportation, and other challenges.
For the second challenge, in 2012, cities around the world once again competed vigorously to benefit from IBM's human talent and technology. The winning cities proposed intriguing projects and areas of focus for IBM experts. They included initiatives for:
- Economic and Workforce Development – Attracting a diverse variety of jobs and industries;
- Transportation – Integrating bus, rail, bicycle, car, and pedestrian modes of transportation;
- Sustainability – Precisely measuring vehicle miles traveled, to reduce lower pollution levels;
- Health – Using inhaler and air quality data to identify and reduce asthma outbreaks;
- Education – Applying data analytics to identify the investments that will produce the greatest improvements for an entire school system; and
- Urban Planning – Revitalizing and redeveloping older neighborhoods.
While the proposed projects were dissimilar, a common denominator was the willingness of each metropolitan area to exchange ideas and data freely between and among citizens, elected officials, non-profits, businesses, and city agencies, so that it could make more informed and collaborative decisions.
To that end, IBM will provide special assistance to each winning city on the use of City Forward, a free online website created by IBM with help from public policy experts. Citizens, elected officials and urban planners can use the site to explore trends and statistics in a visual and accessible way, which can be adapted for the examination of any number of urban issues – leading to better decision-making.
“The cities that have been selected are all different, but they have one clear similarity – the strong personal commitment by the city's leadership to put in place the changes needed to help the city make smarter decisions,” said Stanley S. Litow, IBM vice president of Corporate Citizenship & Corporate Affairs, and President of IBM's Foundation. “These cities demonstrated a desire to set an example for other municipalities, an eagerness to collaborate with multiple stakeholders, and a strong commitment to consider implementing recommendations the cities felt would be the most feasible and beneficial to their residents.”
Recommendations made by IBM to 24 year-one Smarter Cities Challenge grant recipients in 2011, and to seven pilot cities in 2010, already are making a real impact. For instance, as a direct result of IBM's work, the following cities have made public policy changes or launched important new initiatives that address long-standing issues. These include:
- Glasgow, Scotland (UK) is now subsidizing the heating bills of some of its senior citizens with the proceeds of clean-energy projects;
- Mecklenburg County, North Carolina (USA) has signed agreements with all of its municipalities to develop a consolidated capital budget planning process;
- St. Louis, Missouri (USA) is systematically coordinating efforts among agencies that touch public safety;
- Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (USA) has fine-tuned a lifetime-learning initiative that promotes ongoing workforce development for better jobs;
- Edmonton, Alberta (Canada) now analyzes traffic data more rigorously to improve road safety; and
- Chicago, Illinois (USA) is partnering with corporations to open five technology schools this autumn that blend high school and community college, to provide marketable skills
IBM's Smarter Cities Challenge is an outgrowth of IBM's Corporate Service Corps grants program, in which IBM deploys teams of top employees to areas in the developing world to work on projects that intersect business, technology, and society. Since the launch of the Corporate Service Corps in 2008, nearly 1,400 IBM employees based in 50 countries have been dispatched on more than 140 team assignments in 24 countries.
For a more in-depth discussion about the successful formulas employed by cities that want to become smarter, visit the website.
Edited by Jennifer Russell