"Smart Cities," the Future of Cities, and Sustainable Development

WIEGO’s Senior Advisor, Marty Chen, participated in “The Future of Cities: Leveraging Frontier Technologies for Sustainable Development”, a side event at the at the Sustainable Development High Level Political Forum meetings in July 2018. 

Held on July 9 and hosted by UNDP, the World Resources Institute (WRI) and the Singapore Government, the side event was developed to:

  • Explore approaches being applied in various cities and the impact they have on inclusive urban development and the implementation of the SDGs.
  • Feture perspectives and experiences from across regions, as well as insights from the private sector, civil society, academia and development partners within and beyond the UN system.
  • Showcase models that could be instructive to rapidly urbanizing global South, and offer an opportunity for knowledge exchange between cities that have blazed trails and cities developing plans. 
  • Understand the key barriers faced by cities in promoting ‘smart city’ approaches that advance inclusion, resilience and sustainability.
  • Identify the impact of frontier development issues (e.g. Artificial intelligence, 4th Industrial Revolution, data revolution) on the overall achievement of SDGs and at the city level.

        Read more about the "Future of Cities" side event.

         Synopsis of Marty Chen’s Remarks 

        I want to introduce another definition of a “smart city”: namely, a smart city is a city that includes the urban informal economy in its plans, policies and practices – thereby increasing productivity, equality and sustainability. 

        In May this year, the ILO released the first-ever global estimates of the informal economy. These estimates show that 61% of all workers globally – and 44 of all urban workers globally are informally employed – as much as 76% in sub-Saharan Africa and 78% in South Asia. In other words, urban informal workers and their livelihood activities comprise the broad base of the urban workforce and economy.

        To be truly smart, cities need to include that section of their workforce and economy that they typically exclude: the urban informal workforce and their livelihood activities. 

        To effectively include the urban informal workforce…

        # 1 – Cities should provide public services + public space + public procurement – to the urban informal workforce.

        # 2 – Cities should support the development of online platforms that would help informal workers negotiate markets: to secure contracts for their goods and services, to determine when/where the supplies they need are available, and to find out the prevailing price for these supplies and their goods and services.

        # 3 - when they design energy supply, transport services and waste management systems, cities should recognize the specific needs of informal workers and integrate them into these services and systems.

        Examples of Inclusion

        Including the urban informal workforce in urban services, space, procurement is not only smart but also feasible. Here are a few promising examples:

        Public Services – an organization of home-based workers in Bangkok, Thailand who were relocated from the center of the city to its periphery have successfully negotiated transport services – regular bus services between where they now live and the center of the city and a pedestrian bridge over the major highway that separates where they now live from local markets.

        Public Space – India has a new law that mandates that every small town and city district set up a tripartite vending committee to manage street vending in designated vending zones in centrally-located public spaces.

        Public Procurement – 11 cities in Colombia, several cities in Brazil and at least one city in India have integrated waste pickers in their solid waste management systems – and are paying them for their waste collection, recycling services.

        On-Line Platforms – A waste picker organization in Bangalore, India has developed an app to link waste pickers with homes, offices, and industries that have garbage which needs to be collected.

        All of these promising examples are the result of negotiations between organizations of urban informal workers and city governments. Thus, the key dimension of inclusive cities should be the inclusion of organizations of informal workers in urban planning and policymaking. 

        For more examples and details, see the publication that the WRI and the WIEGO Network launched in May 2018: Including the Excluded: Supporting Informal Workers for More Equal and Productive Cities in the Global South.