A bright future for cities? Thoughts from the “Future of Cities” forum

With more than 50% of the world’s population already living in cities, and projections that this number will surpass 70% by 2050, the accelerating trend of urbanization raises many challenges and demands for governments.

At the Ljubljana Forum 2012 – Future of Cities (Sept 2012), city leaders, policymakers, financiers and technology providers came together to discuss the challenges and opportunities facing fast-growing cities in southeast Europe and beyond.

As the centre of economic value and innovation, cities have a role in attracting the necessary talent to drive growth. According to Jan Muehlfeit, Microsoft Chairman for Europe, three key factors influence this process:

1.Technology – access to services, delivery of environment;

2.Tolerance – rule of law, public safety, taxation, social welfare;

3.Talent – education and skills, incentives for start-ups.

Other topics that were tackled include mega-trends driving the future of cities, energy efficiency and sustainability, as well as the broader ecosystem of the always-on and fully-connected city. With many mayors in attendance, the role of leadership, organizational models and governance was also discussed. However, it was interesting to note the common role that IT played as an underpinning and enabler of many of the potential solutions.

Microsoft is largely dedicated to creating a real impact for better cities as we truly believe that ICT is an enabler of efficiency, sustainability and competitiveness. Today, most cities have built their citizen services in silos, and consequently, the supporting IT has followed in those silos. Our approach is to provide a platform and an ecosystem that offers a route to delivering high quality, low-cost and sustainable citizen services in cities, with examples from Madrid, to Paris, to London, to Cape Town and others. In particular, I was able to briefly demonstrate the “Mayors / City Leaders Dashboard” featuring the touch-tile interface on Windows 8 devices to give city leaders an intuitive front-end to the key performance indicators they need to drive the city strategy. This demo was built in association with our partner, Extended Results.

The current financial situation facing cities in southeast Europe shows that simply delivering the same with less, or trying to do more with less is not a sustainable long-term strategy.  Rather, doing things differently with less makes it possible to meet the demands of the future.

There is no doubt that urbanization is inevitable, and will shape how the vast majority of the world’s populations will live in the next 35 years. What is not clear, however, is whether this shift will improve the quality of life for citizens. Avoiding a dystopian future will take courageous leadership and commitment from city mayors, coupled with a modern IT infrastructure, and a vibrant ecosystem of integrated solutions that deliver essential services in a cost-effective and sustainable way.

With the right leadership and smart IT investments, the future of cities is sure to be bright.

This article was originally published on the Microsoft On Government blog.

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