The COVID-19 pandemic has challenged governments worldwide on a scale not seen in recent history. As parts of the world begin to emerge from the crisis and our lives resume some kind of normality, government leaders everywhere now have the opportunity to consider the lessons learned.
Globally, our cities have been on the frontline of the pandemic and the resulting response efforts. The World Bank considers that cities have seen the most severe impacts of COVID, but they are also where interventions have had the greatest results. Understandably, cities that are more sustainable and resilient have been able to handle the pandemic better, however many long-standing inequities in our urban areas, such as poverty, access to jobs and housing, have been deepened by the pandemic. As the World Bank states, city recovery plans must strive to address these vulnerabilities and persistent inequalities.
With many competing priorities and with budgets and economic output constrained, it may be difficult for city leaders to know where to focus. McKinsey have identified ten priorities for government that can shape more resilient societies, build more resilient governments, and revitalise the core capabilities of the public sector post-COVID. These measures include improving virus control and reimagining healthcare: developing resilient trade and supply chains; enabling contactless channels; and driving better and faster decision-making using data and analytics.
On this last recommendation, through the pandemic we saw many governments make use of dashboards and analytics to track infection cases and share this information with the public in real-time. These dashboards enabled valuable location intelligence to be gained by both government and citizens.
As McKinsey identify, there is now the opportunity to apply data and analytics more broadly in the context of building resilience.
Many cities are already using smart maps and spatial analysis to address environmental, economic and social resilience. Government planners in Prague are using a geographic information system (GIS) to enhance the city’s long-term resilience and reduce vulnerability to climate change. With more built-up areas, paved spaces and industrial infrastructure that many other European cities, Prague has recently experienced a number a of summer heatwaves. GIS enables planners to visualise data from sensors measuring temperature, solar radiation and humidity, and overlay this on demographic and other layers to help inform mitigation strategies. Prague plans to add more data sources over time as part of efforts to become a carbon neutral city by 2050.
↑ Analysing surface temperature and vegetation density side-by-side to determine where shade is needed in Prague
In England, an estimated 8.4 million people are currently living in unaffordable, insecure or unsuitable homes. The challenges of the UK housing crisis are especially acute in London and other cities, with inadequate housing a cause of significant health impacts and stresses on mental and and physical wellbeing. GIS technology plays a key role supporting government in planning and building new housing by considering multiple data inputs such as environmental impact, transportation and access to services and amenities. Smart maps and AI-powered analytics enable new locations that meet the necessary criteria for building to be identified. This rapid data aggregation and decision making process is significantly faster than prior methods and is helping government to tackle the housing crisis in a timely way.
↑ Mapping housing data and identifying potential new building locations
Location intelligence is equally being used to drive economic development. From cities reinventing themselves to become more attractive to businesses and workers, to smarter land use planning and urban redevelopment for economic opportunity, GIS approaches and a broad understanding of the concept of ‘location’ are essential to any city’s prosperity.
Another fundamental aspect of resilience for government is the ability for city agencies and authorities to collaborate effectively with one another, especially when tackling crises and unplanned events such as a global pandemic. While GIS is typically known for mapping and analytics, it also provides a robust and effective method of collaboration across a city that provides situational awareness, data sharing and community engagement. These capabilities enable city leaders to understand scenarios, evaluate options, take decisions and communicate actions clearly and effectively.
↑ Enabling city agencies to collaborate and make decisions
As McKinsey state in their report, the pandemic forced a number of positive shifts in government in a very short period of time. Now it’s up to government leaders to ensure those changes turn into enduring reforms that result in better citizen services and more resilient societies long after the crisis is over. As we’ve seen from these examples and more, data and analytics coupled with location technology have a fundamental role to play in enabling and achieving resiliency in cities everywhere.
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