Tech makes a city great: the McKinsey report

By Carmel DeAmicis , written on September 10, 2013

From The News Desk

According to the UN, 5 billion people will live in cities by 2030, as opposed to the 3.6 billion currently doing so. The rise of urbanization raises a key question: What should metropolitan leaders do to make their cities great?

McKinsey has just released a report seeking to answer that question. Researchers spent a year interviewing 30 mayors across four continents whose cities performed well based on quality of life, environmental, and economic factors. The report covered a variety of ways leaders are effecting change in their cities. A sizable chunk examined how entrepreneurial sectors drive growth and how governments can use new technology to implement change and communicate with residents.

McKinsey cited New York's 2011 Sustainability Plan, “Today’s mobility of people and capital has created fierce competition among cities. We’re competing for the best ideas and the most capable workforce. To thrive economically, we must create a setting where talented entrepreneurs—and the businesses they grow—want to be.”

In terms of smart growth, McKinsey looked at a couple cities that were encouraging tech and entrepreneurship to expand employment.

The city of Bogotá, Columbia wanted to attract IT investors, but research found that a lack of English speakers was stopping the growth of that sector. “In 2008 we developed a program called Talk to the World to certify English-speaking people. Right now, 10,000 people are certified as English speakers, helping investors to find talent," Adrianna Suarez, director of the city's Invest in Bogotá agency, told McKinsey. The city also introduced free investment support, ranging from providing help for permit applications to running programs to train local workers. As a result, foreign investment rose 27 percent in the span of a year.

Similarly, the British government grew London's Tech City from 11 companies to 300 by passing laws to make it easier for entrepreneurs. It relaxed visa issuing standards for founders and changed its intellectual property right laws.

Aside from encouraging entrepreneurship, the McKinsey report also studied how leaders were using technology to make cities more energy-efficient, improve services for residents, and cut back on costs. Researchers came across examples that ranged from smart street lamps that adjust radiance based on how much light there is outside, to using predictive technology to make informed guesses about where crime will happen.

According to McKinsey, these cities are on the path to greatness because they're using technology to do more with less. For example, New York matches data about clogged catch basins with which restaurants nearby use licensed waste haulers. In doing so, the city can make informed predictions about which businesses might be illegally dumping. Parents in Singapore use the geospatial OneMap site to find schools for their kids close to home. Boston residents use an app to post problems they come across that need to be fixed, ranging from potholes to dirty streets. Bucheon, a city in South Korea, pushes travel information it collects from cameras and speed radars to drivers so they can avoid traffic.

Looks like the tech industry is infiltrating local governments around the world. Muhaha.

[Image courtesy: Nihat Karakum]