Four takeaways from the Global Cities Summit on data

1. Data is now a universal language

In her opening address at the World Council on City Data’s (WCCD) first Global Cities Summit, hosted by the Executive Council of Dubai, Patricia McCarney, President and CEO of WCCD, emphasised how data is becoming a universal language.

“City level data has until now not been standardised,” she said. “Globally standardised data means cities can answer key questions like, ‘How is my city doing compared to my peers?’”

McCarney added that since being recognised by the UN and other international organisations, data collected by the Council’s own standard, ISO 37120, can help cities monitor and achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

“We’ve started mapping cities collecting data linked to the SDGs. We can track their performance through ISO 37120,” she added. “All of this helps with the movement toward smart cities, resilient cities and low-carbon cities.”

McCarney warned however that a “data deficit” still exists in many developing cities, which needs to be addressed before cities become sustainable and smarter.

2. Data is driving the latest solutions

Andew Collinge, Assistant Director Intelligence and Analysis, at the Greater London Authority told the 220 gathered delegates how London is using data for innovation.

Transport for London is conducting a trial using Wi-Fi data from mobile phones as people move around the city’s transport network. It aims to establish if the most common routes people take are the most efficient, and if people would take a slightly longer route in distance if it meant a more efficient journey on less stressed sections of the network.

“Thanks to data, the mayor has also introduced a hopper fare on buses, allowing people to hop on and hop off different bus connections [a maximum of two bus trips within an hour] rather than being charged for each bus journey,” he said. “All to encourage further use of public transport.”

Collinge said that due to information identified by data the mayor will also introduce a £10 “toxicity charge” in October which will be placed on on all vehicles which do not meet Euro 4 emission standards–typically petrol and diesel cars registered before 2004–that drive into the city.

3. Managing data well will reduce costs

Dubai, which effectively only began its path towards becoming a smart city three years ago, has since then saved US$1.17 billion thanks to data.

Dr Aisha Bin Bishr, Director General, Smart Dubai Office, said that the key to achieving these savings was opening city data, “not to collect the most data, but to unlock the most value for data for everyone”.

She outlined how the city wants to become paperless in the near future and encourage further use of electronic payments of which the city has processed to date US$3 billion through its own Dubai Pay system.

Bin Bishr concluded that soon complete city datasets will be open for the very first time and that a new city dashboard and new services will be able to be designed through a unique payment interface.

4. The Dubai declaration: let’s focus on common standards

At the conclusion of the two-day conference, a declaration was adopted by delegates to “support globally standardised city data to enable city-to-city solutions to travel globally, and to build a shared global platform on open and standardised city data”–certified under ISO 37120.

“[Data] informs our changing climates, and informs the building of smart sustainable and resilient cities, moreover it is a powerful tool to help define a global future that is prosperous and inclusive,” said Art Eggelton, Chair, Global City Leaders Advisory Board.

He added that much of the work of WCCD has been to finalise ISO 37120 and encourage cities to adopt it and to certify.

“We need to focus on the use of those standards,” he said. “The investable index is one example of how to use data for cities. It might be the end of this conference but it is the beginning of a new chapter for the WCCD.”

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