WEF Annual Meeting: Fostering Innovation in Cities

  • January 2016: Mr. Ajit Gulabchand, Chairman and Managing Director, HCC, participated in the 46th Annual Meeting of the World Economic Forum held on 20th - 23rd January 2016 in Davos-Klosters, Switzerland. Mr. Gulabchand was the discussion leader for a session on 'Fostering Innovation in Cities'. The views expressed by certain participants are summarized below: Cities occupy 2% of the planet's surface but have 50% of the world's population and the urban population is still growing fast.

So the pressure on cities is growing too, but technologies and strategies are ready to make cities smarter.

With cities responsible for 75% of energy consumption and 80% of carbon emissions, smart cities just might save the world. 

Ten Ways Cities Can Get Smarter

  1. Use district energy technology that can increase any power supply's efficiency by 80%-90%. If every city used this technology in its energy system, the world would be well on its way to meeting the Paris climate conference's emission goals.
  2. Improve the energy efficiency of waste water treatment plants and integrate them into the electricity network. The technology is available to turn waste water treatment plants into energy producers, but most treatment plants currently are still giant energy consumers.
  3. Make buildings energy-efficient. Engineers know how to make buildings that consume 20%-40% less energy than traditional constructions. The renovation of the Empire State Building and the construction of the Shanghai Tower are examples of this new energy efficiency.
  4. Use big data to reveal problems and provide incentives for businesses to solve them. Big data can show gaps and opportunities in everything from public transport systems to the fight against homelessness.
  5. Use little data to match individuals with the platforms best suited to help them. Personalized data enables business innovation, more resilient social systems, and collaboration among different government agencies, businesses and civil society organizations.
  6. Look at resiliency, not just efficiency, when building infrastructure. A centralized system is often the most efficient, but a decentralized system has more redundancy. That makes it more resilient in the face of natural disasters or social changes, including rapid population growth.
  7. Use Public-Private Partnerships (PPP) to meet the challenge of migration and don't forget that slum dwellers have needs and can add to a country's development. Governments on their own can't manage the massive country-to-city migration currently under way, but the correct PPP model can address migrants' needs. In developing countries, half of rural migrants will inevitably end up in slums. They need services and must be integrated into the economy.
  8. Work with institutional investors to find innovative ways to finance infrastructure. In many parts of the world, interest rates are low, capital is plentiful, but governments are short on cash. The right financing can deliver infrastructure without burdening taxpayers excessively.
  9. Change social incentives to relieve the pressure on transport networks. Building new infrastructure can take years, but government programmes to encourage alternative working hours, telecommuting, and decentralized job opportunities can reduce congestion fast. Ride-sharing programmes can help take commuters the last mile home - after they get off trains or buses.
  10. Keep older people in the economy. Many cities have ageing populations who leave the workforce and suffer from isolation. Technology can reintegrate them, if they are trained and if the technology becomes simpler to use. Cities can also tailor public transport to meet the needs of elderly residents and keep them active and productive.

These 10 ideas are just a start, and innovation is continuing, but there's no shortage of programmes that city governments can implement now to get ready for the future.