Now a fundamental economic resilience issue
Digital technologies have been changing how people work for years. The pandemic accelerated this trend, as a large share of the population relied on internet connectivity to work from home.
To be competitive and survive similar shocks in future, cities need to enable an easy transition between digital and face-to-face communication. Availability of high-speed broadband is now as essential as electricity or clean water.
It’s important that cities conduct digital infrastructure audits to ensure capacity exists to support remote workers. Training may also need to be offered to businesses, and equipment provided to disadvantaged populations to close the digital divide.
For example, New York has a US$2.1 billion plan to create fibre optic broadband junctions at every intersection, providing free internet access for up to 30,000 residents, as well as computer training and special internet-connected devices for their elderly.
In coming years, cities must unlock more spaces and places to digital technology, supporting businesses as they begin the journey to adopt transformative capabilities such as artificial intelligence and virtual reality. Metropolitan centres must have meeting places, destinations and workplaces that are inspirational in person and smart.
Cities that don’t have the digital infrastructure to support them risk being left behind. The Internet of Things, which involves placing sensors on physical city assets, offers the potential for intelligent management of everything from public street lighting to security cameras and city buildings.
Digital technology is already revolutionising how cities plan their CBDs. During the pandemic, mobility data sourced from phones and public transport interfaces was frequently used to assess public compliance with health orders and judge the effect of lockdowns.
As cities reopen, this information can also be used to monitor foot traffic, building and precinct occupancy and explore how activity has changed.
Addressing privacy concerns and shifting to open data policies is essential to build community trust and encourage citizen innovation, as well as a mechanism for public feedback.