Where do we want to live? It’s a simple question for an individual, but a growing challenge for a global population. That’s because for many people, the answer to that question is increasingly leading them to urban environments. This was a core theme at the recent ASEAN Leaders Programme (ALP), an annual Common Purpose leadership programme that brings together senior leaders from throughout ASEAN to explore some of the region’s most pressing challenges.
On a global scale, the numbers are breath-taking. The world’s urban population stood at just 751 million people in 1950. Now, that figure sits at 4.2 billion. The United Nations (UN) estimates that by 2050, an additional 2.5 billion global citizens will reside in urban environments. Tackling those challenges will require smart solutions that meet the needs of growing urban populations, and that’s certainly true here in ASEAN.
ASEAN’s urbanisation challenges
ASEAN’s urban population growth is accelerating, with a population of 300 million in 2015 expected to reach 507 million by 2050. At the sharp end of this urban challenge are the large cities which so many of us call home. ASEAN’s population living in cities of over 1 million people is expected to grow by 40%, reaching 122 million by 2025. This growing urbanisation brings with it significant challenges, from sanitation and public services to the simple act of finding space for people to live.
Building sustainable urban infrastructure that meets the needs of tomorrow’s urban population will require strategic planning and innovative problem solving. So let’s explore some of the emerging challenges, alongside some solutions suggested by teams at this year’s ASEAN Leaders Programme.
Smart solutions for urban challenges
Managing food waste: Smart waste management will be crucial in densely populated urban environments of the future. Equally important will be making the most of the resources we have, that’s especially true when it comes to pressures on food, which today sees up to a third of food produced for human consumption spoiled or wasted.
One solution is using smart technologies to provide better oversight of the food supply chain, linking consumers, producers and retailers. ‘Second Byte’ is an innovative tech solution suggested by participants of ALP, using a mobile app to link the food supply chain, reducing food waste by matching excess food supplies with unmet demand.
Shared solutions: Key to enabling successful urban environments will be providing the platforms for all stakeholders to engage and interact. With people living and working within a shared urban ecosystem, shared understanding and decision making will be crucial.
The ‘Centre for Talent’ is an idea which emerged from ALP. It puts forward the creation of a physical space which hosts public, private and not-for-profit organisations all under one roof. This provides a mutual platform where participants can share resources and talent, interact to create inclusive innovative solutions to urban challenges, and work to foster understanding and cooperation in communities.
Shared justice: So often when considering innovative solutions and smart cities of tomorrow we focus on the digital side of infrastructure. GE is itself engaging innovative solutions such as smart street lighting to build more informed urban environments. But digital opportunities also provide ways to enhance vital elements of our societies. Equally important in ensuring social cohesion in urban environments will be a shared sense of justice.
The ‘Digi Law’ app was an idea suggested by one team at ALP, using mobile connectivity to link citizens to legal experts. This opportunity opens up a more affordable and accessible access to legal advice that many citizens would previously be without, providing a shared, accessible vision of justice for future populations.
Inclusivity: Digital technology will play a key part in emerging smart cities and urban solutions, from traffic optimization to energy savings. But delivering technology-driven solutions also needs to be inclusive, without leaving some citizens behind.
This concept was explored in two ideas at this year’s ALP. The ‘Me to We’ solution is an idea designed to help gamify uptake of digital banking with senior citizens, converting a simple and accessible love of simple gaming into a transitioned understanding of cashless payment and societies. It’s not just the elderly that need to be supported in adopting future digital solutions however. The ‘Family Pack’ was another idea suggested to empower digital societies, providing a family-wide digital solution, supported by a partner organisation. This encourages younger and elderly citizens to embrace smart city opportunities, enabling adults to focus on their daily routines.
The future requires sustainable leadership
With ASEAN’s growing urbanisation pressures, creating and delivering inclusive solutions will require the support of informed and innovative leadership. Helping to promote that leadership is what the ASEAN Leaders Programme aims to achieve.
Urbanisation is a global challenge, but it’s one that provides a unique opportunity in ASEAN. The region’s urban population in 2014 was just 47%, predicted to reach 64% by 2050. As ASEAN transitions to a majority urban status, we have a window of potential to ensure we deliver sustainable infrastructure that adapts to the needs of growing urban populations.
Strategic planning and smart innovation offer us the tools to make the most of this opportunity. Great leadership could steer us along the path. Now it’s up to us to ensure that the journey we’re on, leads to a place that we’re all happy to call home.