U of T leading on city data globally to drive smart city development

By Professor Patricia McCarney, Department of Political Science and Director, Global Cities Institute, UofT

The idea of a “smart city” has been percolating for well over a decade with global experts split on its exact definition and characteristics. The Global Cities Institute (GCI) in the John H. Daniels Faculty of Architecture Landscape and Design at the University of Toronto has contributed significantly to this debate, and internationally now advocates for the following: for a city to be smart, it must be data-driven. Moreover, the first step to becoming a smart city, begins with cities being equipped with high-calibre data to identify challenges effectively and to target solutions efficiently. High-calibre city data is at the core of city sustainability and of building smart solutions in the world’s cities. It is data that ensures that a smart city agenda is not just about Information and Communications Technologies (ICT) but about improving the lives of citizens by ever improving city services and quality of life.

The GCI stands at the global forefront of the development of standardized city data to create the smart, sustainable, resilient, prosperous and inclusive cities of the future. In 2014 – after eight years of development work – and building a global network of over 250 cities in 80 countries all committed to building city level data – the GCI led the publication of ISO 37120, the first international standard on city data. Once cities have standardized data, comparative learning becomes possible, solutions travel, thereby propelling smart cities for the future.

GCI continues to lead the effort inside the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) in Geneva, and next year, the first international standard for smart city indicators – ISO 37122 – will be published. The key, globally standardized elements of a smart city include six themes: smart connected infrastructure, smart environment, smart economy, smart government, smart living and smart mobility.

While globally operationalised by the World Council on City Data (the GCI’s sister organization), the development and evolution of these game-changing standards are occurring right here at the University of Toronto. This important work is driving a ‘culture of data’ in cities globally and engendering a ‘culture of innovation’– an essential aspect of a smart city. ISO37120 is being implemented across a global network of cities committed to high calibre data. In India, Tata Trusts is supporting a pilot of three cities to build the WCCD ISO37120 data in support of Prime Minister Modi’s Smart Cities Initiative.

As the growing global debate continues around what exactly constitutes a smart city, the GCI and WCCD advocate that building a culture of data and having globally comparable, standardised city data that enables cities to learn from each other, is at its core. Although perhaps a lofty goal, tools like ISO 37120, ISO 37122 and the global reach of the GCI – alongside the culture of city data that it entrenches – will make the goal of city sustainability and smartness much more globally realistic and eventually achievable.

For more information about the GCI, WCCD, and the development of ISO standards for cities, please view the following articles:

For a city to become smart, it must adopt a culture of data

How ISO standards for city data are starting to make an impact

City Data Matters: Lessons For India, Canada, And The World