Next to basic urban preconditions and soft location factors, connectivity is an important aspect for urban livabilty, says Ericsson’s ConsumerLab. Some notes an thoughts on this research.
The 13 cities in the research. ©Ericsson
Through its ConsumerLab research program, Ericsson looked at city dwellers’ satisfaction with urban life, based on results from surveys in 13 large cities worldwide. The results were presented at the New Cities Summit in Paris.
The full report can be read here. It’s a nice looking, digestible document. The academic in me immediately starts asking questions about details, the setup of the research and the interpretation of the results. But we shouldn’t always approach everything in an academic way. One thing that can be concluded from the methodological explanations, is that the results come from people that live on a Western standard (in cities from developing countries, only ‘more affluent’ people were interviewed).
The things urbanites are most and least happy with. ©Ericsson
The report shows that much of the findings are in line with urban amenities-theories, saying that the aspects of the city that are promote a certain ‘bohemian’ atmosphere are very much wanted, such as estaurants, entertainment facilities, markets, and cafés. The things that urbanites are least happy with are things like unclean public space, parking problems, non-transparent governments and bad air quality. Basically, it says that people like vibrant, clean, efficient and democratic cities. One interesting addition found in the report, is that mobile network coverage, preferrably data-ready, is among the top 5 things that make people satisfied with their urban environment.
The thing that is relatively new to a study on livability, is mentioning the availability of mobile networks as a key factor. Okay, it is not surprising to read this in a research carried out for a company that facilitates 40 percent of the world’s traffic. But you can’t deny the conclusion. Mobile networks and mobile internet can give people access to the good things a city has to offer and to information that can improve their everyday lives. Think about real-time public transport information and weather forecasts, information about the opening times of institutions and how to get there, etcetera. I eagerly make use of many of the possibilities it has to offer.
As good and promising this technology is, I think the real challenge is not only in the evolvement of this internet of things, or connected society, but also (and maybe more so) in overcoming the digital divide. In line with the kinds of people interviewed for this research, the individuals that currently benefit most from these technological developments are the young, skilled and/or affluent. For these people, I would argue, the benefits are only marginal, compared to the potential improvement of individual lives and societies as a whole, if marginalized people (because of their income, status, age, location, etc) were to be able to bear the fruits of this development. How do we deploy technology in such a way that we give the marginalized the possibility to improve their lives? I think that is the most imporant question right now.
Comparative means of transport. ©Ericsson
Commuting and 24/7 livability
One of the findings is that the average commute time in the 13 cities (which include Mumbai, Paris, Stockholm, New York, Los Angeles, London, Seoul, Johannesburg, Cairo, Sao Paulo, Moscow and Beijing) is two hours and twenty minutes, which I think is extremely high. As someone from Amsterdam, where people in the ‘metropolitan region’ (most of them by bike) commute for no more 60 minutes (most of them less than 30 minutes), travelling to the New Cities Summit at La Défense in the morning makes me feel like the city of Paris is cracking and the infrastructure is bursting at the seams because of the many people and vehicles it has to process. I think it has to do with the degree of functional division in the city. For example in Paris, the suburbs and banlieues practically only have a residential part to play, while other places, such as La Défense (employing 170.000 people) are only designated for business (and retail) purposes. The functional and spatial division means that people need to commute. Of course - and especially for business - there is the importance of clustering, but on the other hand, diversity is also important to the vitality and livability of a city. Take La Défense again. I walked through the district at night, after 11pm, and it was completely desolate. This (post modern) post apocalyptic atmosphere was in stark contrast with the lunchtime vibes in the sun, with thousands and thousands of people flocking the public space, having their lunch breaks on the grass, shopping, playing pétanque and rushing from their offices to restaurants and back. What I am saying is that there is something to say for 24/7 livability, instead of just 8am-8pm livability.
There are more interesting things to read and think about in the report, such as the use of social networks, what people do in their commuting time, and that different demographics produce different desires. Read it here.
This post is part of a series, reporting from the New Cities Summit in Paris, organized by the New Cities Foundation.