Meeting of the Minds took a few moments to talk with Herrie Schalekamp about new working relationships between researchers and paratransit operators in South Africa and beyond. Herrie is the ACET Research Officer at the University of Cape Town’s Centre for Transport Studies. In addition to his research, teaching and consulting in the fields of paratransit and public transport reform he is involved in specialised educational programmes for paratransit operators and government officials. Herrie’s activities form part of a broader endeavour to investigate and contribute to improved public transport operations and regulation in Sub-Saharan African cities under ACET – the African Centre of Excellence for Studies in Public and Non-motorised Transport.
Accelerating Economic Opportunity With Open Urban Data
Opening up economic opportunities to those who’ve been left out could be accelerated by the emergence of open urban data platforms. This is my own hope, and it’s one that I share with many others. Enabling access to public sector information presents us with a chance to expand transparency, and perhaps even to widen public participation and engagement across various levels in our cities. However, the direction this takes us is, largely, still to be discovered.
Connected urban information systems are already having some impacts: lowering costs, improving government performance, enhancing the social utility of service-provisioning. Some important steps are now being taken by leading-edge cities to link up information generated by urban services, infrastructure, public transport, and other utilities.
There are some real and difficult challenges facing cities as they move towards greater degrees of open data. Here are some of the questions which I’m asking, and to which I’m hoping to find (or create) answers:
- How best to engage government officials, private sector organizations, international development agencies, academics and non-government organizations? Is it time for collaborative process — rooted in critical thinking — about how best to design and develop 21st century data-driven sustainable cities?
- How can urban data be sourced beyond public institutions? What policy decisions are required, and what mechanisms exist to enable heterogeneous data flows?
- What platforms are emerging which can enable better decision-making by both government executives and non-government leaders?
- Where can lower-income cities get involved, and is this a luxury for established institutional frameworks only to grapple with? Is this a luxury item?
- The drive toward open data is emerging within both small and large urban communities. Are they seeing the concrete benefits which have been promised?
- What are the key obstacles to success? What practical next steps would allow users of open data?
Early indicators tell us that connected urban information systems are yielding some real benefits. Technically, it’s now possible to join up information that flows from a wide variety of on urban systems. And we can now allow each of these systems to talk to each other in order to improve efficiency and optimize performance.
Now that we have these amazing technical capabilities, what concrete steps are needed to achieve our objectives for a greater opening on economic opportunity? What steps would cities need to take to make those tools more widely available to citizens at all levels of the socio-economic spectrum? What programs are shown to be most cost-effective for lower-income urban residents? What makes sense at each of the different stages of economic development?
These questions need to be explored from different angles by leading thinkers on urban systems, by city executives, by international institutions like the World Bank, by tech companies. Furthermore, these questions could and should be explored from multiple perspectives — and that’s exactly the plan during Meeting of the Minds 2014 when it convenes in Detroit from Sept 30-October 2 of this year.
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Spotlighting innovations in urban sustainability and connected technology
Brownfields are sites that are vacant or underutilized due to environmental contamination, real or imagined. There are brownfields of some kind in virtually every city and town in the U.S., usually related to a gas station, dry cleaner, auto repair shop, car dealership or some other ubiquitous local business that once benefited the community it now burdens with environmental hazards or old buildings.
In addressing this issue, technology has not been effectively deployed to promote redevelopment of these sites and catalyze community revitalization. We find that the question around the use of technology and data in advancing the redevelopment of brownfields is twofold:
How can current and future technology advancements be applied to upgrade existing brownfield modeling tools? And then, how can those modeling tools be used to accelerate transformative, sustainable, and smart redevelopment and community revitalization?
Across the country, urban parks are enjoying a renaissance. Dozens of new parks are being built or restored and cities are being creative about how and where they are located. Space under highways, on old rail infrastructure, reclaimed industrial waterfronts or even landfills are all in play as development pressure on urban land grows along with outdoor recreation needs.
These innovative parks are helping cities face common challenges, from demographic shifts, to global competitiveness to changing climate conditions. Mayors and other city officials are taking a fresh look at parks to improve overall community health and sense of place, strengthen local economies by attracting new investments and creating jobs, help manage storm water run-off, improve air quality, and much more. When we think of city parks holistically, accounting for their full role in communities, they become some of the smartest investments we can make.