‘Smart cities understand the importance of data’

The power of cities is growing, says Nico Tillie, the Dutch vice-president of the World Council of City Data (WCCD). The need for clean and clear data to compare cities worldwide is also growing.

Can you shortly introduce the World Council of City Data?

The Worldbank in 2007 gave the assignment to the University of Toronto to make a benchmark of cities. The bank was giving money to several projects around the world, but with no idea about the effects or outcome. The university asked seven cities about their indicators. It turned out that of the 1.100 indicators only six were the same, others were around the same themes like unemployment, but not exactly similar, so they couldn’t be compared.
This led to the Global City Indicators Facility (GCIF), based at the University of Toronto, and together with 255 member cities in 82 countries they created a standardized dataset for cities, which led to the first international ISO standard on city data (ISO37120). In 2014 the World Council of City Data was founded, because it was great to have the ISO standard, but like GCIF before, we needed a platform to connect the cities. That was the beginning.

What are some nice examples of the work of WCCD?

A nice example comes from Los Angeles, this city has – compared with other Northern American cities – a high percentage of waste recycling. If you know that waste in cities is often related to the highest cost, it makes the way of working in Los Angeles very interesting for other cities.
Another example to show the importance of third party verified international data. The city of Groningen really would like to persuade Tesla to build a factory in their region. But Tilburg, in het South of Holland, where Tesla already has a factory, wants the same of course. Tesla is going to ask an international benchmark of how these regions are performing, what is their quality of life? A member of WCCD can provide these figures immediately and have them linked to local data, without having to wait or do expensive benchmarking researches.
Cities are getting more important. By 2050, 6.3 billion people will be living in cities: 67 percent of the total world population. Do you feel that the awareness of cities – about having this comparable data – is growing?
It really depends. Every city and country is different. In Holland or Britain, we see growth, but in Germany for example not. So far they want their own system. In Holland it helped a lot that CBS (Statistics Netherlands) joined and is working with us. They are also explaining the need for good standardized data to their foreign partners. In Europe we see an overkill in European projects, a lot of cities are co-operating to projects which run for 2 or 3 years, whereas ISO keeps going and improving. Often great projects and we don’t want to compete, I think we should cooperate more.
The bottom line is that no matter how many projects there are in the end you need data and standardized data! But for example in the US, China we do not have this problem at all. Often it also depends on the person at the City Hall. You have to speak to the right person. Many smart cities understand the importance of smart data. It is the mentality change, which is needed. It is quite simple to benchmark your city inter(nationally) and work with your own city data and do projects at neighborhoodlevel.

You are one of the speakers of the Beyond Data Event, what can we expect?

I will talk about our work, and the importance of data and how to use it to improve your city! It is also good to know, that the indicator sets will have two extra modules. At the moment we are working with ISO on a set of new ‘smart’ and resilient’ indicators, important for the number of fast growing smart cities. It will make it possible to measure, compare and manage the quality of life.’ After all no matter how high tech or sensor filled your city will get, in the end it is about improving quality of life for people. That is why basic indicators as in the ISO37120 even – Beyond data – will always be valuable .

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