Image: Author's Illustration
Freakonomics Radio recently aired a podcast entitled “If Mayors Ruled the World”, based on Benjamin Barber’s new book of the same title, which contends that cities are a good template for governments to rule by, largely due to their mayors who are often uniquely positioned and focused on solving actual city problems. So much so, that he argues for the formation of a “Global Parliament of Mayors” to solve the world’s problems.
Even so, being a mayor of a South Asian city is no easy task. The challenges of city management in South Asia are compounded by its burgeoning urban population. In fact, according to the UN, roughly 315 million people are expected to be added to urban areas in the region by 2030. That number weighs in close to the entire population of the US today. It is no surprise that the theme of managing the challenges of urban transformation was at the top of the agenda at the recent South Asia Regional Workshop and Mayors’ Forum, hosted in Kandy, Sri Lanka.
The Mayors’ Forum, attended by a number of mayors and city leaders from South Asian countries and around, provided insights to what some successful mayors have done for their cities. By being visionary, and at the same time pragmatic problem solvers, mayors have seized opportunities to transform their cities, and quite often out of necessity and within highly constrained environments. Mayors took the opportunity to show how, despite significant institutional and financial limitations, they were able to take proactive initiatives to transform their cities. These were what they had to say:
These are some of the views and reports relevant to our readers that caught our attention this week.
The Internet of Things Will Thrive by 2025
This current report is an analysis of opinions about the likely expansion of the Internet of Things (sometimes called the Cloud of Things), a catchall phrase for the array of devices, appliances, vehicles, wearable material, and sensor-laden parts of the environment that connect to each other and feed data back and forth. It covers the over 1,600 responses that were offered specifically about our question about where the Internet of Things would stand by the year 2025. The report is the next in a series of eight Pew Research and Elon University analyses to be issued this year in which experts will share their expectations about the future of such things as privacy, cybersecurity, and net neutrality. It includes some of the best and most provocative of the predictions survey respondents made when specifically asked to share their views about the evolution of embedded and wearable computing and the Internet of Things.
Thinking in a Foreign Language Could Sway Your Moral Judgments
Would you kill one person to save five? This cruel dilemma pits the principle of thou-shalt-not-kill against simple math: Five is greater than one. But presumably it’s a dilemma each person solves the same way each time, unaffected by superficial things like the language in which it’s presented. After all, we like to think we abide by a consistent moral code. Yet psychologists say that’s not always the case. In a series of experiments, they found that people confronted with this one-for-five dilemma were far more likely to make a utilitarian choice when contemplating it in a foreign language. “We tend to think about our ethical decisions as reflecting something fundamental about who we are,” said psychologist Boaz Keysar of the University of Chicago, co-author of the new study, published April 23 in Public Library of Science ONE. “You wouldn’t think they would depend on such a seemingly irrelevant thing as whether you’re using your native language. But it can matter.”
Urbanization deserves urgent attention from policy makers, academics, entrepreneurs, and social reformers of all stripes. Nothing else will create as many opportunities for social and economic progress. The urbanization project began roughly 1,000 years after the transition from the Pleistocene to the milder and more stable Holocene interglacial. In 2010, the urban population in developing countries stood at 2.5 billion. The most important citywide projects -- successes like New York and Shenzhen -- show even more clearly how influential human intention can be. The developing world can accommodate the urban population growth and declining urban density in many ways. One is to have a threefold increase in the average population of its existing cities and a six fold increase in their average built-out area. Another, which will leave the built-out area of existing cities unchanged, will be to develop 625 new cities of 10 million people -- 500 new cities to accommodate the net increase in the urban population and another 125 to accommodate the 1.25 billion people who will have to leave existing cities as average density falls by half.
Every day, the world’s population generates enough waste to fill about 14 large soccer stadiums from top to bottom, more than 3.5 million tonnes. That's a lot of trash, from plastic bottles that aren't going anywhere to food scraps and other perishable items decaying and building up greenhouse gases in landfills and trash dumps.
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“It takes over 40 minutes just to get out of the parking lot. There has to be another way!" Listening to Manuel, an executive from Sao Paulo, was the tipping point that convinced us to convert our theoretical analysis on the potential of “corporate mobility” programs into real-life pilot programs in both Sao Paulo and Mexico.
Corporate Mobility Programs are employer-led efforts to reduce the commuting footprint of their employees. Such programs are usually voluntary. The underlying rationale behind them is that improved public transport systems or better walking and cycling facilities are necessary but not sufficient to address urban mobility challenges and move away from car-centric development. Moreover, theory suggests that corporate mobility initiatives may have the potential for a rare “triple bottom line”: they reduce employers’ parking-related costs, improve employees’ morale and reduce congestion, emissions and automobility. In other words, corporate mobility programs are good for profits, good for people and good for the planet.
Most Of What We Need For Smart Cities Already Exists
The compelling thing about the emerging Internet of Things, says technologist Tom Armitage, is that you don’t need to reinvent the wheel — or the water and sewage systems, or the electrical and transportation grids. To a large degree, you can create massive connectivity by simple (well, relatively simple) augmentation. “By overlaying existing infrastructure with intelligent software and sensors, you can turn it into something else and connect it to a larger system,” says Armitage.
Mideast Media Study: Facebook Rules; Censoring Entertainment OK
PBS Media Shift
A new study by Northwestern University in Qatar and the Doha Film Institute reveals that Middle Eastern citizens are quite active online, with many spending time on the web daily to watch news and entertainment video, access social media and stream music, film and TV. “Entertainment Media Use In the Middle East” is a six-nation survey detailing the media habits of those in Qatar, Egypt, Lebanon, Tunisia, United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Saudi Arabia. The results of the survey, which involved 6,000 in-person interviews, are, in part, a reflection of how the Internet has transformed Arab nations since the Arab Spring. More than ever, consumers in the Middle East/North Africa (MERA) region are using technology to pass along vital information, incite social and political change, become citizen journalists and be entertained.
At first my eyes could not believe it. Was this for real? A cable car system designed to connect two cities? I was well aware of cable cars at ski resorts, and other major touristic attractions like the Sugarloaf in Rio de Janeiro. But cable cars as a commuting mode between two cities seemed to me a different story.
If you have been to La Paz, the highest capital in the world at some 3,650 meters above sea level (13,000 feet), you know it lies in a canyon right below El Alto, another city built on the altiplano, a higher plateau. The population of both cities is around 2 million people connected by a single highway.
With narrow and winding streets, particularly in La Paz, traffic congestion can be awful for thousands of daily peak-time commuters. Because of the challenging geography, other transport infrastructure –such as additional highways or metro systems- were at some point considered, but were either unrealistic to execute because of the capricious topography, or simply too expensive or not commercially viable.
In 2011, Thailand suffered the worst floods in half a century. The flood crisis impacted more than 13 million people. About 97,000 houses were damaged and entire villages and cities were under water for months.
House in Ayutthaya affected by the 2011 floods
Three years later, Thailand has been able to deal with the worst of the impacts but some of the poorest households are still struggling to recover. We visited 10 affected communities in Ayutthaya and Nakhon Sawan as part of the supervision of the Community-based Livelihood Support for Urban Poor Project (SUP). We could still see the water marks on their walls, damaged ceilings, and wobbly structures. The unrepaired houses stuck out but just as striking was the strong sense of community in the area. We were reminded that villagers came together to overcome the worst natural disaster most of them ever witnessed in their lives.
The flooding led to better disaster risk management in the neighborhoods that are most at risk. Local governments have taken the lead. But the disaster has also, just as importantly, mobilized ordinary citizens in some of the most deprived communities. Here are some of their stories: