It is thus not surprising that I have become so interested in smart cities initiatives, that is, how to leverage technology-based innovations to help us better understand and improve the way urban areas work.
A major reason why smart cities has become such a hot topic is the rapid urbanization of the planet. In 1900, about 13 percent of the world’s population lived in cities. That number is now around 50 percent. By 2050, over 70 percent of the world’s population will be in cities. This unprecedented global urbanization is one of the biggest challenges facing everyone responsible for managing city functions, from mayors and police chiefs, to economic planners and school administrators.
The challenges are enormous. Urban ecosystems are extremely complex because they are composed of many different kinds of functions and intricate organizations. A city is essentially a system of systems, and it is the interactions and interdependencies of its many parts that makes it so dynamic and unpredictable. Their complexity will increase significantly given the expected urban growth over the next decades. This is why we are now looking at the use of digital technologies, information-based intelligence and sophisticated modeling and simulation to help us better manage the complex challenges involved in the daily life of a city, - e.g, education, health, safety, commerce, transportation and entertainment.
Cities are also particularly interesting complex systems to study and model. What makes cities so fascinating is, - to state the obvious, - the presence of people. Excellent public infrastructures and services are essential for a good city, but they are not sufficient. A truly great city needs to be an appealing place to live. It needs to attract and retain a large pool of local, national and international talent. Liveability or quality of life is therefore the lifeblood of a good, let alone a great city.
Liveability is a very subtle subject. A number of magazines, such as The Economist, publish most liveable city rankings. The Economist bases its rankings on five criteria: stability (25%), healthcare (20%), culture & environment (25%), education (10%) and infrastructure (20%).By these measures, mid-size cities in Canada, Australia and Europe dominate the rankings, with Vancouver being at the top, followed by Melbourne, Vienna, Perth and Toronto. Another magazine, Monocle, ranks Zurich as the most liveable city, followed by Copenhagen, Tokyo, Munich and Helsinki. Honolulu is the only US city in the top 25 in the Monocle rankings. The consulting company Mercer publishes its own rankings, with Vienna, Zurich, Geneva, Vancouver and Auckland as the top five most liveable cities.
Great world cities like New York, London and Paris are nowhere near the top in these liveability rankings. The top cities in these rankings are all quite prosperous, with large middle class populations. But something seems to be missing. They don’t include the qualities that make cities so special as major centers of talent, diversity and innovation. Perhaps the liveability index as defined by The Economist, Monocle and Mercer is a bit too narrow to capture these additional qualities that make cities not just liveable but truly great.
I recently learned about an index that seems to capture what I am looking for, - The Global Power City Index (GPCI) developed by the Mori Memorial Foundation in Japan. The GPCI “explores the comprehensive power of cities to attract creative people and excellent companies from around the world, and produces rankings for the world’s major cities such as Tokyo, New York, and London.”
“This ranking is truly unique in applying new visions compared to the conventional rankings announced internationally, and it is the first ranking of world cities to be created in Japan. The objective of the GPCI rankings is to show people the features of cities and encourage them to reconsider the attractiveness of cities. GPCI is intended to be a useful tool for establishing urban strategies for Tokyo and other cities covered by this research.”
The GPCI evaluates the strength of thirty five of the world’s major cities from two different angles, - functions and actors. The function-specific rankings look at sixty nine different indicators grouped into six main urban functions: economy, research and development, cultural interactions, liveability, ecology and natural environment, and accessibility. The actor-specific rankings measure the attractiveness of the cities to five main kinds of people. One is residents or local actors. The other four are global actors: managers, researchers, artists and visitors.
New York, London, Paris and Tokyo are the top four cities in the overall function rankings, followed by Singapore, Berlin, Vienna, Amsterdam, Zurich and Hong Kong. New York and London rank very high in all functions except liveability and environment. New York is weak in environment and London is weak in liveability, but their strengths in the other areas compensate for these weaknesses. Paris and Tokyo score above average in all functions.
These four top cities also score high in all people rankings. New York was ranked highest in attracting researchers, artists and visitors, and second highest to London in attracting managers. Most important, New York was also the top ranked city by its residents, followed by Paris, Berlin, Tokyo and London.
The Global Power City Index further clusters the 35 cities into five major groups based on their scores in all the different indicators. Group A includes the four top cities. New York and London, with the highest overall scores, are classified as super cities; Paris and Tokyo follow as great all around cities.
Group B includes those cities that score high in liveability and environment, primarily European, Canadian and Asian cities in advanced countries. Singapore, Berlin, Vienna, Amsterdam, Zurich, Toronto and Vancouver are part of this group, which is consistent with the liveability rankings of The Economist, Monocle and Mercer.
Group D cities have average scores in general, but were particularly strong in economy and R&D. They include Boston, San Francisco, Los Angeles and Chicago in the US; and Beijing, Shanghai, Hong Kong, Taipei and Seoul in Asia. Group C cities were generally weaker, especially in economy and R&D, and include Sao Paulo, Milan, Bangkok, Mumbai and Kuala Lumpur. The Group E cities, Moscow and Cairo, are referred to as Achilles heel cities. They are weak in all functions, but especially in liveability and environment.
While not measured explicitly in the GPCI, I find it interesting that their highest ranked cities, New York and London, are viewed by most people as the world’s top global melting pots of both people and ideas. Not only do you encounter people from just about all corners of the world in their streets, parks and offices, but they are also known for their openness to different kinds of social, political and cultural ideas. I strongly suspect that these qualities of diversity and openness are among the key strengths of New York, London and other cities that are adapting well to our increasingly global environment.
The Global Power City Index addresses my concerns with the more limited liveabity indices. Its more comprehensive indicators nicely capture the qualities that make a city an attractive place to work and live, as well as a major center of creativity attracting talented people from all over the world. Given our planet’s rapid urbanization, this is truly one of the most exciting and important areas of study in the decades ahead.