Safe City – A global benchmark

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The global urbanisation conundrum

We, human beings, are a curious case. For decades we have been flocking to urban centres in search of livelihood while we long for the peace and tranquillity of the country. As ambiguous as it may sound, urban centres despite all their shortcomings of limited resources, space and pollution, are in fact instrumental in determining the success of a nation. Cities (urban centres) are where businesses are born and thrive. They contribute significantly to the economic output of a country.

In 2015, urban areas contributed a total of 85% of the world’s GDP. – Source: New Climate Initiative 

It is believed that the success or failure of cities will determine the quality of human life in the times to come. The United Nations Population Division predicts that the 56% of the world’s population living in cities today will rise to nearly 70% by 2050. The speed of growth of urban population is unprecedented and is most pronounced in cities of the developing world.

The disorderly, accelerating growth of developing world cities raises concerns that, unless met, could result in substantial destruction of value to both human life and economy. In light of this, the most fundamental element of urban management turns out to be its ability to provide safety.

SOURCE: United Nations2014

Could a Safe City concept really drive resilience in the face of rampant urbanisation?

Urbanisation has already shaped the developed world and is redefining developing countries. But does urbanisation guarantee safety?

Imagine life in a city where:

  • A woman can walk alone at night
  • In the presence of sufficient infrastructure in the form of parks, demarcated walkways and lighting
  • She is part of an always connected, secure ecosystem where banking, healthcare, education, and commerce are at her fingertips and her data is infallible to threats.
  • The quality of the environment is also conducive in terms of overall air quality, hygienic conditions on ground and proper drainage

Having established the multi-faceted nature of a Safe City, an oft forgotten aspect is ‘resilience’; one that enables a city to absorb shock and bounce back. Building such capabilities rests on reimagining urban development as a connected ecosystem where authorities, communities and individuals come together to develop and manage critical aspects of health, housing, food, and education, to withstand disasters, natural or otherwise.

Four lessons we can learn from the safest cities of the world

  1. Six APAC cities make it to the top ten in the world. How have they managed it? Certainly not geography. A closer look reveals a strong correlation between realising urban safety & resilience and strengthening the society on matters of digital, infrastructure, health and personal security.
  2. All the leading safe cities have one thing in common – they got their basics right. Be it access to comprehensive digital connectivity, high-quality healthcare, cyber security, sustenance planning, and uninterrupted education.

As Leo Tolstoy once said “All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”  Those of us, who intend to emulate the examples of Tokyo, Singapore, Seoul, or Sydney, must first work towards defining the basic imperatives correctly and then proceed towards conditional imperatives.

  • Thirdly, it is our collective duty to acknowledge that in spite of the multi-faceted nature of safety, there exists a very strong correlation between digital, infrastructure, health and personal security. According to a recent interview of a highly placed Tokyo city authority, their success has purely been the result of a wide range of collective reforms covering infrastructure development, smart transportation solutions, technology enabled water management among many others. Another thread emerging from the Tokyo success story is the idea of “self-help, mutual-help and public assistance” which endeavours to enable individuals with information and means to help themselves in times of need, to be able to connect with their community to help them when such needs arise, and finally, be able to reach the concerned agency over a connected platform to see help from them as and when required.
  • Transparency and accountability are essential in every aspect of urban security, from building infrastructure to developing a resilient, digitally-enabled network of applications and services. Having the right agencies/authorities/individuals work jointly towards enabling capable disaster-resilience, efficient resource usage, and social connectedness among citizens is essential to city-wide harmony and performance in times of crisis.

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