The milestone of half of the world’s population living in urban areas was reached more than ten years ago, and it is predicted to increase to more than two-thirds by 2050. While the planet’s human habitation became predominantly urban, our society has already shifted to an informational and post-industrial era. We now face a digitalised world permeating our daily lives with more than electronic gadgets, but a sprawling network of connectedness involving our work, leisure, social and private lives in intricate arrangements. Such reality has increasingly transformed our everyday communication into telecommunication, and it is not an ordinary fact. The way the digital paradigm shapes our societies affects how we express ourselves to our neighbours and understand the reality around us.
Many positive outcomes can be identified from this shift if we look at it from a global and historical perspective, such as more efficient public services, increased knowledge-based employment and better working conditions. However, this transition engendered a series of new challenges linked to population management in urban agglomerations, particularly on increasing social and economic inequalities.
Globally, there are still almost four billion people deprived of internet access, when we look at accessing information under this new connected and networked paradigm. While these new technologies enable many governments, companies, researchers, and citizen groups worldwide to experience unprecedented possibilities for informing and transforming societies and their environment, many others are left behind due to a lack of resources, knowledge, capacity, or opportunity. Enduring inequalities in access to digital technologies and to the skills necessary to use them – whether across gender, race, disability, age, income or geography – mean that significant numbers of people aren’t even able to access such tools, much less use them for socially benign ends.
Information and communication technologies (ICTs) have been and will continue to be a fundamental driver of the data revolution. To harness its benefits, extensive and continuing investments in innovation are demanded at all levels, with particular attention to those institutions and communities currently falling behind. A compelling effort is needed to increase their access to such information technologies by, among other things, improving access to adequate infrastructure and increasing literacy.
If we want to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), it is urgent to catalyse the data revolution for all people worldwide to track progress, hold governments accountable and promote sustainable development. Information that is diverse, timely, trustworthy and, above all, accessible can lead to better decision-making and real-time citizen feedback. This enables individuals, communities, institutions, and companies to make positive and impactful choices for themselves and for the world they live in.
For more information on people-centred smart cities initiatives from UN-Habitat, please visit: https://unhabitat.org/programme/people-centered-smart-cities
Data expert and local strategic advisor for Brazil at UN-Habitat's team of the Global Future Cities Programme