Two days ago, in partnership with the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), the League of Cities of the Philippines and a host of other partners, we held the “Sustainable Cities Summit: Building Liveable Cities” and launched the Liveable Cities Dashboard and Challenge. As the world continues to rapidly urbanize, there is increasing pressure on mayors to better plan their cities to take advantage of the gains of urbanization while at the same time addressing or avoiding the pitfalls and challenges of “big city” problems.
Of the country’s 1,634 LGUs, 145 of them are cities (the rest are classified as municipalities). These 145 cities account for 40 percent of the national population and well over half of the contribution to GDP. Both those numbers are likely to grow in the coming decades, as they will for the rest of the world.
In that sense, cities are the economic engines of countries. They are hubs for employment, businesses, creativity, productivity, and economic growth. But they are also faced with multiple challenges from traffic and congestion to environmental and sanitation issues, pollution, crime, and poverty. Well-planned and managed cities will resolve these challenges.
Experience tells us that cities which are well-managed and governed better usually perform well in terms of their ability to attract investments and create jobs. USAID has worked with eight cities to improve their operations and at conferences designed to show off their progress, investment pledges have poured into their cities. The Institute for Solidarity in Asia has worked with 52 cities and municipalities to set up “balanced scorecards”. LGUs which have successfully completed the four steps of the ladderized system have recorded dramatic increases in gross sales of businesses and a rise in new business registration in their city.
The Liveable Cities project reinforces that trend to improve cities by concentrating initially on better plans and projects across four fronts: Mobility, Resilience, GovTech, and Basic Services. These four aspects and challenges are common to virtually all cities in the country.
Part of our strategy in this project is to get cities to be as data-driven as possible. Data and analysis are essential ingredients of both policy-making and planning at the city and national level. As one of our speakers at the Summit, Chris Monterola, a data scientist and professor at the Asian Institute of Management, says, “So much of policy-discussion is all about opinion-versus-opinion. We should move this to data-versus-opinion and eventually to data-versus-data where the smarter, more accurate data wins.” Many of the companies which presented at the Summit used data and analytics to deliver better services to the public. We were happy to see cities such as Cagayan de Oro, Makati, Iloilo, Cauayan (Isabela), and Quezon City embrace data and technology into their frontline and public services. In the case of Cauayan and Makati, both have designed a mobile app to interact with city hall and issued digitized ID cards for their residents which doubled up as debit cards which could receive and dispense payments.
At Liveable Cities, we’ve created a Dashboard covering all 145 cities to display some basic information about each city. At the outset, we’ve collected data such as population, land area, population density, workforce, education, health services, voting population, utility services (power, water, connectivity), law enforcement and emergency responder services, and other information which people might find useful. Over time we plan to add more information such as transport routes, property prices, real property tax rates and assessments, and other useful information about each city. We are hoping that a data-driven public will push city officials and planners to become more data-driven themselves.
Finally, we want to put all this knowledge into use through a design competition known as the Challenge. Cities will be invited to pick one area (Mobility, Resilience, GovTech, Basic Services) and design a solution around a specific “pain point”. The project will provide mentors and coaches as well as technical assistance “labs” and workshops to help cities design solutions. In the future, we will coach cities how to seek financing for these solutions so, at the end of the day, we see actual implementation.