UN-HABITAT’s latest research, presented at the 7th annual Asoa-Pacific ‘City Informatization’ in Shanghai, China, shows that information and communication technology is a key driver for city growth. The international meeting was attended by over 400 delegates from all sectors including the private sector, academia, city authorities, and the United Nations.
According to UN-HABITAT’s research, communications services and trade account for almost 16% of city growth. This is because Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) enable cities to extend their powers, markets and outreach geographically. They facilitate creation of new types of new services and improve the performance of existing industries and this in turn accelerates the growth of cities. ICTs also make easier businesses to separate their functions geographically and locate them in the most appropriate cities and countries to minimize labour costs or access the latest research and marketing opportunities.
The agency’s research also shows that, equally, the growth of ICTs is also driven by cities. This is because demand for information technology is highest in cities where disposable incomes are higher, where there is a culture of modernization, and where internationally oriented firms rely heavily on the technology.
UN-HABITAT stressed the need for global development efforts to focus on promoting balanced ICT development for all, including for the poor and vulnerable. Currently, most investment in ICT in developing countries tends to favour rich business districts and high income residential areas while ICT usage is highest among an elite group of high income, educated and younger people. Globally, it is the poor nations that are lagging behind, mainly due to lack of ICT infrastructure, ICT skills and shortage of local applications and content.
To achieve balanced development, countries must move away from a sectoral approach where different ministries develop applications separately to viewing ICT as a cross-cutting enabling technology. It is also vital to create an environment that allows effective use of the technology by incorporating ICT training in national education programmes, encouraging creation of local applications and content, and establishing polices that encourage investment in ICT infrastructure, not only in cities but in rural areas also to bridge the urban-rural divide.
Mr. Sha Zukan, Under-Secretary-General in charge of the UN Department for Economic and Social Affairs (UNDESA), highlighted the impact of ICT in increasing cities’ competitiveness, attracting international investment and lowering the costs of entry into international markets by Asian cities.
The conference covered a wide range of interesting topics including using ICT to improve governance by increasing transparency, using the technology for the delivery of government services and transforming public service culture, smart traffic management systems for cities, ICT-driven social development.