Helping cities extend the benefits of technology to vulnerable citizens
All over the world, smart technologies are transforming cities. Reducing congestion. Cutting crime. Slashing emissions. Boosting resilience. Modernizing our infrastructure. Giving citizens web and smartphone access to city services.
Yet far too often, these benefits do not extend to those most in need. The poor. The disabled. The homeless. Those without Internet access.
The same digital technology that improves infrastructure can also improve the human condition. City leaders simply need to know how so they can put it to work for their most vulnerable citizens.
Providing that "know how" is the mission of the Council's new Compassionate Cities effort, a coalition of public, private and philanthropic organizations focused on helping cities help the disadvantaged in four areas:
Rethinking existing technologies
“Our primary objective with this initiative is to reduce suffering in cities through the use of technologies already being applied to solve other city challenges," said Council Executive Director Philip Bane, who is spearheading the Compassionate Cities effort. "This is not about a slew of new technologies cities have to budget for; it's about applying existing smart technologies – from data analytics to social media – to improve living standards for all citizens."
Bane gave the example of a pilot in New York City designed to help families before they become homeless. It used existing data -- court records, shelter history, demographic information and the alike – and an analytics tool developed by SumAll to identify families at risk of becoming homeless. The information helped social workers decide where to focus their efforts. As a result, 50% more families were connected with eviction prevention services compared to neighborhoods not using the tool.
"That's just one example," Bane said. "There are many, many others and under the Compassionate Cities umbrella we will bring them to the attention of city leaders and other stakeholders who we know are desperately looking for solutions."
"When Philip called and asked me to work on this project," said Compassionate Cities Editor Liz Enbysk, "it was my birthday, which he didn't know. But I told him he'd just given me the best gift ever -- and I meant it. I can't think of a purpose more fulfilling than helping spread the word about how technology is turning lives around."
United in compassion
Today there is growing momentum to promote compassion in urban centers as populations swell and meeting basic needs becomes even more challenging. Charter for Compassion International, for example, encourages cities to commit to the principles of its charter that call for making the well-being of all citizens a priority.
The Council's tech-centric approach adds another important dimension to the conversation.
"City leaders know what they want to do," Bane said. "They want to solve homelessness and hunger. They want to ensure access to clean water and health services. They want all of their citizens to have a route out of poverty."
The question is how to do it. The answer oftentimes is technology.
Click for examples of how technology is helping improve lives: