31 October is the United Nations’ World Cities Day, which promotes the international community’s interest in global urbanisation: encouraging cooperation among countries to meet the opportunities and address its challenges, and contribute to sustainable urban development globally. The general theme of World Cities Day is ‘Better City, Better Life’. This year’s sub-theme is ‘Changing the world: innovations and better life for future generations.’ I see this as the United Nations General Assembly throwing down the gauntlet to challenge private and public organisations to raise the bar in how we contribute to and shape urbanisation. BAI and, I believe, the organisations with which we work are certainly willing to take it up.
This year, the World Cities Day goals are to:
- Increase awareness of how digital innovations can be used for urban service delivery to enhance the quality of life and improve the urban environment
- Show new frontier technologies that can create more inclusive cities
- Present opportunities for renewable energy generation in cities
- Explore how frontier technologies can promote social inclusion in cities.
An international perspective on urbanisation
According to the United Nations, more than half the world’s population now live in cities. Expected to increase to 68 percent by 2050, urbanisation is one of the world’s most transformative and challenging trends.
We help enable economic growth and fast-track development of world-leading connected communities. We do this by designing, building and operating the connectivity and communications infrastructure on which they depend.
BAI’s particular perspective is that digital enablement, through connectivity, is changing our idea of what a city can offer its citizens. In fact, we argue that innovative transport systems are a defining feature of ‘smart’, world-class cities and citizens require continuous connectivity to realise the benefits of living in such cities.
Therefore, continuous connectivity helps transform cities, helping citizens to be more productive and happier, and organisations to be more innovative and prosperous. A decent contribution to urbanisation and sustainable development.
A better life through digital enablement
A smart transport network contributes to the economy by enabling commuters to get to work and, importantly, spend their travel time productively, whether that’s working, studying, or keeping in touch with each other. Games, videos, podcasts and books, among other apps, are the relaxation and entertainment option. It also unlocks potential housing options in (usually) more affordable areas away from city centres.
According to the Moovit Public Transit Index, the average weekday commute exceeds 80 minutes in New York, Sydney, and London. So, it’s no surprise that commuters want to make the most of this otherwise idle time. Other than getting more done and being contactable, work-related benefits of connected travel provide an opportunity to change working hours and job location, in support of career improvement.
Being digitally enabled on public transport means that we can achieve more, while leaving work earlier to get home before its late and use that extra time at home to do something for ourselves. Something as simple as being able to work and study or pay bills and watch videos on the train can lead to a more enriched life. At worst, commuters arrive at their destination relaxed and happy in seemingly less time.
In short, a connected and evolved transport network digitally enables commuters, and this improves productivity and contributes to well-being.
Technology risk and sustainable urbanisation
In a world where it is increasingly cities, rather than nations, competing for trade, investment and reputation, a city’s smart transport infrastructure contributes significantly to its ‘world-class’ status. Communications infrastructure is a key consideration for urbanisation with sustained and inclusive economic growth. Thus, city planners are incorporating wireless infrastructure and related innovation into their plans at the outset, as they understand how integral this technology is for a world-class city.
Additionally, with technology advancing at such a rapid pace, city planners, developers, and utility providers, as well as transport authorities, must "future proof" all design and development to reduce the risk of it becoming outdated.
Accommodating the technology of the future is no easy task. It is also important to account for its ‘requirements’ and factor in space for equipment (such as poles, wires or fibre) that will likely be needed for system upgrades, as well as access to installation sites that will need to be revisited.
This becomes more difficult with extensive projects due to the positive relationship between this risk and the project duration.
Contributing to the evolution of our digitally dependant world
The transport industry is in a period of change that is delivering important benefits for commuters and society and transforming our cities. Therefore, there is much more to this change than simply technology’s contribution to convenience. Public transport innovation is becoming increasingly important, with users expecting connected, sustainable networks.
BAI’s international expertise is in designing, building and operating state-of-the-art communications technology—cellular, Wi-Fi, broadcast, radio and IP networks. Moreover, we are known for being able to do this in confined, complex and challenging environments; BAI Communications connects people, enriches communities and advances economies through its innovative communications infrastructure and technology. Thus, we contribute to the evolution of our digitally dependant world.
As such, we are a catalyst for unlocking new services and revenue streams for our customers. We deliver the connectivity and technology that enables them to provide better experiences for commuters and communities, every day.
We digitally enable more than 4 billion rail passengers annually, across transit systems in New York, Hong Kong and Toronto. In Australia, we own and operate one of the most extensive transmission networks in the world, delivering 59 million broadcasting hours to 99% of the population.
The cellular and Wi-Fi connectivity we deliver includes dedicated public safety bands and connected public safety systems. In times of crisis, broadcasters rely on us to maintain their connection with citizens and emergency services teams rely on us to keep them informed.
Sustainable urbanisation considers future generations
Sustainability is a key issue for many aspects of government; featuring in functions such as city planning, procurement, and waste and utility management. A party’s stance on sustainability is under increasing scrutiny on both sides of government. This is also a key election issue in many developed countries. Simultaneously, the private sector is increasingly much more considerate of sustainable practice in its business operations and strategy formulation.
It's also clear to me that private and public sector collaboration is essential to advancing smart cities in the future. Furthermore, government and the private sector must collaborate on a range of considerations and mechanisms, in addition to the financials. This is the way to successfully deliver infrastructure projects that withstand time and measure up to anticipated needs of future generations.
One of World Cities Day’s goals this year is to explore how frontier technologies can promote social inclusion in cities. Inclusion – digital, demographic, disability, as well as social – is a notable example of an important consideration for future generations. Collaborating on inclusion will contribute to project outcomes that reflect – and serve – our diverse communities and their diverse needs.
A brave new world?
We are in an era of technology development and convergence that constructed smart devices, systems, homes, workplaces, and smart cities. Industry players are now innovating with advanced technology and making ‘smart’ even smarter.
Accordingly, as we become more reliant on technology and connectivity, we are changing and – dare I say – improving the way we live and work in cities around the world, thus changing the world through innovation and sustainable development.
Stephen Matthews is the Group Chief Financial Officer at BAI Communications. His opinions are informed by BAI Communications’ recent study of commuters in Hong Kong, London, New York, Sydney and Toronto, which tested the hypothesis that continuous connectivity enriches citizens and cities and sought to understand how a digitally connected public transport system can impact citizens’ lives.
Read the report in detail to learn more about perceptions of what makes a city world-class and how transport in your city could be improving your life in the not-so-distant future, and read more about transit and infrastructure in the context of urbanisation and World Cities Day, with insights from BAI's New York and Toronto offices:
- Smart infrastructure, incubators, and urbanisation – New York's perspective
How does your work contribute to the UN’s intent to promote the successes of urbanisation and address its challenges?
- Smart transit for a smart city – Toronto's point of view
The general theme of World Cities Day is ‘Better City, Better Life’. What progress or action have you seen contributing to this in Toronto?