Smart Cities, Vulnerability and Technology
Over the weekend, I spent most of my day cooped up with endless articles by Prof Elinor Ostrom on Vulnerabilities, Climate Change, Institutions and Informal Settlements in cities. This seems like an attempt to fit together a mishmash of concepts…even to me! However, after some few readings, some beauty sleep and thinking over the ideas espoused by Prof Ostrom…it all seems to be coming together…slowly…
The reality of the social, environmental and economic consequences of the population upsurge in cities across the world has been fodder for endless research papers, conferences and brown-bag discussions. This has also motivated many innovations (ask IBM, CISCo, Lenovo, H&M and MacDonalds) on how to leverage on the demographic and social changes occurring in developing countries to make profit.
Much more than making a profit is the fact of large underserved populations who need new technologies, infrastructure and products to make sense and survive in these urban agglomerations. What do smart cities have to do with climate change, informal settlements (slums) and institutions? In cities, vulnerability in any of its dimensions is determined by access and quality of infrastructure and public services available to different cadres in the population. The use of cadre is intentional. Repeated studies on spatiality of public service provisions have shown differences between access by income communities. This can also be referenced for different tax environments.
In coastal cities like Lagos, slum communities such as Makoko, Iwaya, Ilaja, Ijora, Ilasan are very vulnerable to climate change impacts. This is not just in respect to flooding and rising sea levels; it is also about the government land reclamation efforts to meet the needs of its teeming population. The consequences for these slum communities are dire. This is the challenge for smart cities’ proponents. How best can public services be delivered to this population through the agency of technology? Even with low literacy levels in some of these areas, mobile telephone use is extremely high. In terms of institutions, what are the internal structures within these communities to respond to climate vulnerabilities? Some studies on Ijora Badia in the Lagos Metropolis shows a high patronage of dirt, to sandbag canals….the opportunity cost between Adaptation and Health.
The jury is still out on how these concepts interact. I will conclude with an opinion by Prof Ostrom;’ the vulnerability of the socio-biophysical system to external shocks (e.g climate change, financial recession, rapid population increases) is not only an important policy question in an increasingly democratic and globally linked era. It can also act as a stimulus for the development of better urban areas. The challenge then lies in …How to create, motivate, incentivize or design formal and informal institutions to respond to the challenge of a better future for the urban poor living in slums. Smart cities are not just about technology, they are about creativity, effectiveness and equity.