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Social Innovation


What makes
a Happy City?

A city is more than just a collection of pipes, roadways and skyscrapers. Beyond the vehicles on the streets, the subway trains underneath and the infrastructure overhead and all around, what gives life to a city are its people.

With the help of smart, cutting-edge technologies, many cities have carved out their visions of a human-centric city toward sustainable future for everyone. Here are six things that transform the city you live in to a place you are happy to call home.

urban design

A liveable city is one that is welcoming to everybody. From outdoor spaces and residential estates to office buildings, it is important to always take accessibility into consideration. This is especially the case in countries with significant elderly demographics. Age-friendly transport, housing, built environment, and access to health and residential care will become increasingly important components in citizen-centric cities.

Fortunately, headways have been made in areas such as public transportation. Aside from building ramps, elevators and tactile pavements at stations to improve accessibility for all members of the community, operators are now embracing the power of digital technology.

Hitachi is one of the players who are working with various partners around the world to realize a People-Centric City where people can consistently lead safe and comfortable lives.

Seamless Travel

A recent survey among office workers revealed that, between the bad traffic and crowded public transport, commuting to work is oftentimes more stressful than the work itself. To improve the daily commute, cities like Melbourne have invested in shaded walkways and cycling paths. However, with smart technologies, perhaps more can be done.

For example, technologies like people-flow analytics can be used to generate live congestion data, which allows commuters at train stations or shopping malls to avoid the crowds. Biometric-based ticketing, too, will facilitate flows of people within public transport systems, thus potentially reducing overall waiting times.

In the near future, Mobility-as-a-Service (MaaS) will eventually integrate public, private and shared transport modes to provide multimodal, digital mobility solutions for people and goods based on their travel needs. So, instead of locating, booking and paying for each mode of transportation separately, MaaS will allow users to travel from door-to-door using a single app. Read this article to learn more about what will be possible with MaaS.

Public safety

While most of the world’s cities are getting safer, public safety remains a key consideration. According to data from the US Office of Justice Programs, violent and property crime rates in America are, on average, two times higher in cities than in rural areas. Urban crime and violence are particularly prevalent problems in Latin America and the Caribbean—the world’s most violent regions. According to a 2018 report by Mexico’s Citizens’ Council for Public Security, 42 of the world's 50 most violent cities were in Latin America.

Tackling crime requires bringing together multiple agencies, including the criminal justice system, health, education, social work and the private sector. Now, some cities are also integrating technological solutions into their urban planning and design—with impressive results.

In the city of Austin, Texas, the Austin Police Department (APD) utilizes the Hitachi Visualization Platform (HVP)—a city-wide system of camera devices that collects, shares and analyses information. Armed with real-time intelligence and data-driven insights, APD officers can now respond to crimes faster and create a safer, more secure environment for all citizens.

greener spaces

Climate change is real. If nothing is done to curb carbon emissions, experts believe that the annual average global temperature, relative to pre-industrial times, could increase by 5°C within this century. Reducing energy consumption is a key factor in countering rising temperatures—and technology can help with that.

The Kashiwa-no-ha Smart City Project in Kashiwa City (Chiba Prefecture, Japan) is an example of an urban model for future cities. The project is a collaborative effort between governmental agencies, universities, and other research institutions. The Kashiwa-no-ha Area Energy Management System (AEMS) achieves the efficient use, monitoring, and control of local energy in various ways. The system shares electricity across district boundaries, reducing CO2 emissions and making energy information visible. In the event of an emergency, it distributes electricity with priority given to elevators, evacuation centers, and other lifeline functions.

Public participation

According to the United Nations, 68% of the world’s population will be city dwellers by 2050. However, with rapid urbanization comes a new set of challenges, from housing and transportation to healthcare and energy. It is critical, then, for cities of the future to be designed for the people and by the people. Adopting a ‘people-centric’ approach to city planning goes beyond just keeping its citizens in mind. Instead, it is about empowering people, allowing them to take control and participate in the designing and building of the future they want to inhabit.

For example, in Japan’s Matsuyama City, researchers from The University of Tokyo conducted city planning based on data analysis. Using people-flow technology with three-dimensional (3D) sensing, the team studied the way people moved and behaved across the city. This included foot traffic on sidewalks, visits to public parks, how public transportation was used, and even people’s purchasing behaviours. This information allowed city planners to know what infrastructure and amenities to be built, and where residents needed them the most.

Technology can even encourage individuals and business owners to make positive changes within their local communities. ‘Cycle of Change’ is one possible concept for future cities, which allows consumers to ‘round up’ the cost of purchases at participating merchants and local businesses. The additional balance is then used to improve and revitalise the community. By sharing such scheme throughout the entire community, both residents and small businesses can easily contribute to the local community as a part of daily life, while nurturing trust and a sense of mutual assistance among each community member.

public services

A debate is currently waging around whether free internet access should be considered as a basic human right. Proponents believe that free access to the web is fundamental to expression and a healthy democracy. While the jury is still out on that front, there is no denying that digitization has far-reaching benefits for the realm of public service.

Take e-governance, for example. Speedier, more cost-effective services aside, e-governance initiatives empower citizens and provides access to public services. From paying for taxes and bills to renewing passports, governments from all over the world have embraced digital transformation and transferred basic public services online. For emerging economies like Africa with high internet penetration, but poor public service infrastructure, e-governance is proving to be a huge boon.

Education is another area that will benefit from digitisation. According to the UNESCO Institute for Statistics, one in five children, adolescents and youth is out of school. This is partially due to the lack of access to proper or adequate education and/or facilities. Online learning gives these children access to a variety of programmes and courses, customised learning and on-demand tutors at an affordable cost. All these students need is access to the internet.

In many developing countries, large swathes of the population are unbanked. In Southeast Asia, for example, only 27% of the population has a bank account. Digitised financial and banking services can potentially provide formal financial services and support for businesses and individuals in some of the world’s poorest and most remote regions. In India, where The World Bank reports there were only 21 ATMs per 100,000 adults in 2018, Hitachi is rolling out its Money Spot ATMs to make cash more accessible to rural populations and drive social progress. Future innovations, such as blockchain and finger vein authentication technology, may also further secure people’s private information.