Data for the city of tomorrow

Cities have more data than ever before. How can we make better use of this data to better organise our cities? The World Economic Forum’s report "Data for the City of Tomorrow" helps city authorities and decision-makers shape the city of the future. Former GDI researcher Jan Bieser was a co-author.
12 October, 2023 by
Data for the city of tomorrow
GDI Gottlieb Duttweiler Institute

As the WEF's Global Future Council on Cities of Tomorrow noted in its 2022 reports on climate resilience, digital technologies, urban finance and urban inclusion, a systems approach is essential if cities are to achieve their goals for people and the planet. A systems approach looks at the whole. It embraces the deep interdependencies in cities between the land, climate, transport, housing, energy, inequality, health, commerce and technology. Decisions in one area consider goals and impacts in others.

To think, track, coordinate and then act with a systems mindset relies on data. How do cities use data to come to grips with these interconnected issues? More data than ever exists to communicate what is happening in cities. The marketplace for city data is deepening. The speed, scale, diversity and potential of data grow and grow. And in a post pandemic context of high economic uncertainty, cities are hungry for data that yields more situational awareness and customised insights, informed and actionable choices, cost savings, effective and efficient use of assets, better relationships with citizens and sustainable outcomes.

While cities like Bogota, Helsinki and Singapore are actively harnessing the potential of data to improve services, few agree on how different types of cities should aggregate, analyse and apply data to their immediate issues and strategic challenges. Indeed, concern among rights activists and residents is growing about the way personal data is being gathered and used, including by urban authorities. This report offers a look at what data exists, and how cities can take the best next steps to make the most of it.

There is ample room for optimism and creativity. New technologies generate fresh and real-time insights into how people use cities and what they need from those who run, develop and finance them. The rapid AI-led acceleration of computing capabilities is improving the forecasting and predictive power of urban data. More city data is being produced by corporations, studied in universities and translated into enterprise. The ensemble of astute city data providers, customers and interpreters expands every year. With it, more cities are able to grasp their possibilities locally and their position in the wider world.

Yet cities, whether large or small, well-resourced or budget-constrained, need support to translate the promise of urban data into insights and services tailored to their unique conditions. And to reach a systems approach, the data gaps on critical issues are still too numerous – not least, place productivity, sustainability, climate readiness, fiscal and financial capability, inclusiveness and governance.

Download the WEF report "Data for the City of Tomorrow"

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