Algorithmic Transparency

“Algorithmic governance is made possible by vast increases in computing power and networking, which enable the collection, storage, and analysis of large amounts of data. Cities seek to harness that data to rationalise and automate the operation of public services and infrastructure, such as health services, public safety, criminal justice, education, transportation, and energy. The limitations of local government make private contractors central to this process, giving rise to accountability problems characteristic of policy outsourcing.” (2018, Brauneis, Goodman) Algorithmic governance will be increasingly important in the way decisions are made in cities. This has led to a debate on the transparency of the algorithms and the potential biases built into it. As discussed in the Right Way to Regulate Algorithms: “The purpose of data-driven algorithms like this one is to make policing more objective and less subject to individual bias. But many worry that the biases are simply baked into the algorithms themselves.” New York will be the first city that will scrutinise the potential biases in algorithms and that will develop policies on how to regulate access to underlying assumptions. According to the New Yorker: “Once signed into law by Mayor Bill de Blasio (dec 2017 red.), the legislation will establish a task force to examine the city’s “automated decision systems”—the computerised algorithms that guide the allocation of everything from police officers and firehouses to public housing and food stamps—with an eye toward making them fairer and more open to scrutiny.”

Sources:
Algorithmic Transparency for the Smart City, Robert Brauneis & Ellen P. Goodman
The Right Way to Regulate Algorithms, by Chris Bousquet, Stephen Goldsmith
The New Yorker: New York City’s Bold, Flawed Attempt to Make Algorithms Accountable
Picture: Kolitha de Silva CC BY 2.0

Matchmaking database

Blackburn village is an informal settlement in Durban. To support match making between growing job opportunities and the inhabitants of the settlement iTHUBA centre has been established. Through gathering data such as income and education levels and gathering data on foreseen job opportunities in the area matchmaking can take place. Many inhabitants do not have the right skills for jobs in retail, hospitality, security and construction, hence a tailored skills development programme is developed to bridge that gap and to prepare job seekers for the interviews with employers. A large urban development in the vicinity that includes housing, offices and retail will drive the regional job market. The unique approach of the iTHUBA is that it links job demand and supply within a specific geographic area.This contributes to reduction of transportation needs which in poor households in South African cities easily add up to 40% of the monthly family expenditure. The programme also offers a nursery for mothers with little kids so they are able to attend trainings and anticipate upcoming job opportunities.
Source: iTHUBA
Picture: Tongaat Hulatt

Blockchain for Land Registries

Blockchain, the technology developed for cryptocurrency finds its way into the field of governance. Opportunities to apply this decentralised, secure technology, are promising in e-voting, municipal finance, real estate transfers and land registries. This technology for land registries is piloted in Sweden, the Netherlands and India and discussed in Ghana and Kenya among others. Blockchain technology offers access to up to date encrypted data by many stakeholders, without being vulnerable to hacking. Instead of having a central server, blockchain disperses the encrypted data or the ledger of a process in a chain of blocks at different interconnected locations. In developing and emerging economies blockchain can offer a more transparent technology to avoid painstaking land registry processes and fake deeds that are common in places without a cadaster. According to the World Bank only 30% of the land is being registered. The market for this upcoming technology for land registry is big, but so is the challenge. Firstly there is the complexity of legal frameworks related to land and real estate that will not allow transfers to happen in digitial space with digital signatures only. Secondly the technology requires a blockchain protocol, smart tokens for land parcels, capacities of the parties involved – the agent, the banks, the seller and the buyer. Developing smart tokens for a city where no or limited has been been registered yet is already an immense task in itself. Blockchain technology offers many opportunities within the urban governance fields, but as always it is not a silver bullet, it requires a combination of new technology, data collection, policymaking, capacity building and stakeholder involvement to succeed.

Sources and links:
https://www.economist.com/news/business/21722869-anti-establishment-technology-faces-ironic-turn-fortune-governments-may-be-big-backers
http://www.worldbank.org/en/topic/land
https://www.ft.com/content/60f838ea-e514-11e7-8b99-0191e45377ec
Picture: Stockholm, Magnus Johansson, Creative Commons

Decentralised Renewables

Decentralised Renewables offer an alternative for connections to the grid. In Africa 110 million of the 600 million urban dwellers still have no access to electricity (the Conversation). “Pay-as-you-go solar systems and appliances, for example, can provide a much lower barrier to entry (as opposed to fixing the last mile to the grid, red.) Compared to the high upfront connection costs in Kenya, a 15-watt solar home system costs on average USD $9 per month for 36 months after which point the household owns its system. (the Conversation). The solution to the challenge of financing the scale-up of Pay-As-You-Go (PAYG) energy access lies not so much in the development of new initiatives but in the use and redirection of existing approaches for PAYG, particularly the use of credit guarantees, lines of credit, technical assistance, and investment in a “fund of funds.” (WRI).
As SmartCityStudio has discussed earlier in the posts of the platform is that cities will not become smart with technology only. The policy and finance environment is crucial to succeed in using data and technology for better analytics, for new systems and for decentralised solutions as mentioned above. National governments have a responsibility in the ambition to let smart cities thrive. According to the Innovation and Technology Foundation: “While national governments should always be involved in supporting innovation, their main goal with smart cities is to enact policies that set in motion significant shifts in how cities operate that will allow this evolution to be self-sustaining.” Additionally the international community and the private sector can acellerate implementation of decentralised renewables. End of 2016 the “Green Climate Fund agreed to become the anchor investor in a $3.5 billion debt fund for decentralised renewables proposed by Deutsche Bank AG” “Which will initially focus on Nigeria, Benin, Namibia, Tanzania and Kenya”. (Thomson Reuters Foundation News)
Picture: Kibera, Kenya, Rogier van den Berg

City Permits for Sharing Services

Three startups in San Francisco raised more the $200 million for their electric scooter sharing product. This new San Francisco trend, that allows you, with your phone, to scan a bike, take a ride and leave it for the next to use wherever you want. The latter has not only sparked complaints by citizens annoyed by scooters left on the pavement, it has come to the city attorney issuing a cease-and-desist order to the startups. The scooter and bike sharing programmes without docks and dedicated parking spaces have led globally to discussions on the regulations related to sharing of private sector products in public spaces. Although the intentions and impacts of bikes and electric scooters for short rides in cities should be encouraged, regulations and permits for operators in cities should be respected. Scootergate in San Francisco is exemplary for many challenges that cities face when going Smart. Implementation of Smart City technology even frivolous ones like electric scooters requires Smart regulations and well thought-through partnerships. Per region globally the way public space is being used and managed is very different and as such requires tailored approaches to regulations and public-private partnerships.

Sources and links:
https://www.sfchronicle.com/opinion/openforum/article/San-Francisco-has-no-interest-in-banning-electric-12849134.php
http://www.businessinsider.com/electric-scooter-startup-war-in-san-francisco-2018-4
https://techcrunch.com/2018/04/16/electric-scooters-are-getting-closer-to-regulation-in-sf
Picture: San Francisco, GPS, Creative Commons