Bloomberg Technology Conference explores big data, urbanization

By Kim Anderson

Tech journalists, city strategists, policymakers and business leaders met in London on June 18 at the Bloomberg Technology Conference to discuss how our cities are becoming more connected.

The rapidly growing United Kingdom metropolis was a fitting location for the annual event. Earlier this year, the city hit an all-time population high since 1939 and is projected to grow from 8.3 million in 2013 to 10 million in 2036.

London is far from the only city experiencing mass urbanization.

“For the first time in history, more people now live and work in cities than rural areas,” said Nate Lanxon, senior editor of Bloomberg EMEA, as he kicked off the conference, part of London Technology Week 2015.

Tackling infrastructure challenges

It’s estimated that two-thirds of all humanity — a staggering 6.5 billion people — will call cities home by 2050.

This will create major infrastructure challenges for places like New York, Beijing, Lagos, Nigeria, London and Buenos Aires, Argentina, where leaders will need to find smarter solutions and resources to serve more people, using groundbreaking technologies and data to transform expanding urban environments.

Big ideas will be crucial to fostering cities of the future that won’t cripple under exploding populations, a shifting global economy or aging systems but thrive with new ways of working.

“It’s an exciting and historic growth opportunity,” former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, the founder of Bloomberg LP and U.N. special envoy for Cities and Climate Change, said in a video message to the crowd.

Using data requires private-public collaboration

Leveraging data to make better, more informed decisions isn’t a new concept in business, but the possibilities for big data in cities are just beginning to be explored.

For Andrew Collinge, assistant director of Intelligence and Analysis for Greater London Authority, that starts with city planning, which is built on the “most laborious and long-winded processes that need data and tech stitched into them to be more effective.”

Data mining can be as simplistic as predicting how many classroom chairs will be needed in central London schools in 2020 based on population data, or as complicated as breaking down complex energy data to drive better deals with consumers so they can afford to make better household decisions that impact the environment.

Policymakers and leaders need to adapt and develop technologies faster to both mine and understand this type of data or “everyone loses,” Collinge said.

Ultimately, keeping cities running and ready for the future isn’t only a job for the government. Collaboration between private and public sectors must fuse ideas together to grow into real economic value.

Ger Baron, chief technology officer for the City of Amsterdam, is concentrated on developing more public-private partnerships that “share data with a needed level of transparency.”

For example, grocery retailers can provide important statistics — from the average basket size per household to the availability of natural foods — to governing bodies to better determine how “healthy” a city may be. Then, cities can adequately address local needs by allocating health awareness programs or instituting food policies or regulations.

No matter the industry, cities have to open up to collaboration and technology to make better decisions, products and services for our ever-evolving urban environments.

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