More than half of the world’s population now live in urban areas. Whether this is a consequence of natural causes like high birth rates vs. low death rates, push factors as lack of resources that pressure people to leave rural areas or false perception of a better living standard in a city, this phenomenon comes with a price.
As urban population grows, housing becomes a huge problem. Firstly, the demand is greater than the supply due to more people moving to cities and young people moving out of their family homes. It is obvious that they all need a place to eat, sleep and shower. The problem these people face is a lack of choice when it comes to a place to stay because there is a shortage of new homes being built. Secondly, building new apartments is expensive and governments don’t always have the budget to invest, so this is left to private builders and market forces – which do not always provide the solutions that citizens require. Thirdly, use of land is strictly regulated and new constructions often come up against opposition from those currently living there. These factors add up and make housing more and more unaffordable.
More people living in a certain area means more cars and an increase in the use of public transport, but most cities are not prepared for large increases. Poor road infrastructure can lead to traffic congestion – decreasing the productivity of the city whilst increasing the pollution of the air. Overcrowded public transport is not a pleasant alternative for commuters either.
Poor waste management is still the problem of the modern times we live, in the sense that it can be time and fuel consuming, for example, because waste levels may not always be full by the time is being collected. It can sometimes become such a big issue that it can transform the town itself into a waste landfill, as happened in Naples, Italy a couple of years ago.
Nowadays, urbanization is most visible in developing countries; this gives them the advantage of being able to skip the mistakes that other cities have made and adapt much more quickly to the needs of the people by adopting well-targeted solutions to their problems.
Smart city solutions are an instrument to achieve the livability goals of the future. The change needs to come from within the system and policies are the real driver for innovation. To get to the core of the problem, we need to reflect on some aspects and ask a few questions.
For starters, we need to establish who delivers the policies? Of course, politicians. Then, what are politicians? Well, they a bunch of individuals representing the larger population on local, state and national levels. But, how do they get to serve the people? Because the citizens choose them, they are there to defend their interests, so it’s only logical that the elected have the means, legislative power and use of public money, to transform cities.
The emerging trends in governing put the great accent on citizens and their engagement in the decision-making process. For every city, there is at least one solution to get people involved in urban development, see here and here. An advantage to developing smart and sustainable solutions is the diversity in thinking that is granted by urbanisation. A basic example could be a student moving from a small provincial town to a university town whom will have an innovative idea, the opportunity to develop and put it into practice and give back to the whole community. Who knows, maybe the idea is so brilliant and the solution gets adopted in other parts of the world as well.
We can say that there are countless ways to improve livability standards for everybody if the community is mature enough to know what is best for them, not only in the short term, but also in the long term. Engaging citizens now will lead to a better future for everyone.