The Economist published a ranking of the safest cities in the world in 2015. Asia dominates the top 3 with Tokyo, Singapore and Osaka. Then come Stockholm and Amsterdam. In the first 15 cities, no French city!
The frequency of terrorism and natural disasters has changed the nature of urban safety: power, communications and transport systems must be robust and able to withstand new external shocks. Meanwhile, new risks emerge. Cyber risk has accompanied the advent of the digital age.
Urban safety is therefore a critical issue that is set to become even more important over time. Securing public safety means addressing a wide—and evolving—range of risks. The Safe Cities Index aims to capture this complexity. The Index tracks the relative safety of a city across four categories: digital security, health security, infrastructure safety and personal safety. The Index’s key findings include the following.
• Tokyo tops the overall ranking. The world’s most populous city is also the safest. The Japanese capital performs most strongly in the digital security category, three points ahead of Singapore in second place. Meanwhile, Jakarta is at the bottom of the list of 50 cities. The Indonesian capital only rises out of the bottom five places in the health security category (44).
• Safety is closely linked to wealth and economic development. Rich Asian cities (Tokyo, Singapore and Osaka) occupy the top three positions, while poorer neighbours (Ho Chi Minh City and Jakarta) fill two of the bottom three positions.
• However, wealth and ample resources are no guarantee of urban safety. Four of the five Middle Eastern cities are considered high-income, but only one makes it into the top half: at 25 Abu Dhabi is 21 places above Riyadh at number 46. Similar divides between cities of comparable economic status exist elsewhere. Seoul is 23 positions below Tokyo in the overall ranking (and 46 places separate the two on digital security).
• US cities perform most strongly in the digital security category, while Europe struggles. New York is the only US city to make it into the top ten. However, it is third for digital security, with three of the four other US cities (Los Angeles, San Francisco and Chicago) joining it in the top ten. Meanwhile, European cities perform relatively poorly. London, at 16, is the highest-ranking European entry in the digital security index; Rome is the lowest, at 35.
Smart City Technologies Are Thriving in New York City
Smart city and safe city technology beta projects and pilot programs are gaining ground in New York City, from free public Wi-Fi to smart park benches and even sophisticated listening devices that can detect gunshots to allow a quick police response.
According to computerworld.com, one of the most ambitious tech projects underway in New York, LinkNYC is intended to replace the city’s 7,500 pay phones on city sidewalks with permanent Link kiosks, to be installed in all five city boroughs over eight years, provide fast, free Wi-Fi, device charging and a tablet computer for accessing city services, maps and directions. Free public internet calls are also possible from the units, and there’s also a red 911 button that can be pushed to call emergency services.
A consortium of companies won a 12-year franchise from the city to build the kiosks on the footprint of thousands of former phone booths. The organization is investing more than $200 million to install fiber optic cable for the kiosks, which are funded by revenue from advertising — large, full-color displays on the sides of the kiosks.
One of the more charming uses of smart tech in New York is being tested with several park benches installed in High Bridge Park at 175th and Amsterdam in Manhattan. The solar-powered benches, designed by Soofa, a startup with connections to the MIT Media Lab, allow park visitors to charge a smartphone or other device while resting, socializing or sunbathing.
But there is more to it. The smart benches also allow park officials to count Wi-Fi-enabled devices as they pass by, which allows them to estimate foot traffic and in turn determine if more security or trash removal might be needed in an area of a park.
Assuaging citizen concerns, the Soofa pilot incorporates a set of Internet of Things guidelines created by the city which govern privacy and security concerns for new devices.
Another tech project is designed to help fight crime. ShotSpotter relies on sophisticated rooftop listening sensors and software to identify the acoustic fingerprint of gunfire. Three sensors are used to triangulate a gunshot sound and report the location of the gunshot, within 27 yards, to the nearest police precinct in about one minute.
New York City has many other smart initiatives in the test phase — including technologies to more efficiently use water, dispose of trash, protect the air and make it easier to find and use city services.
• Leaders in digital security must not overlook real-world risks. Los Angeles falls from 6th place in digital security to 23rd for personal safety. San Francisco suffers a similar drop, falling from 8th to 21st. For these cities—both home to high-tech industries—a focus on technology and cyber security does not seem to be matched by success in combating physical crime. Urban safety initiatives need to straddle the digital and physical realms as the divide between them blurs.
• Technology is now on the frontline of urban safety, alongside people. Data are being used to tackle crime, monitor infrastructure and limit the spread of disease. As some cities pursue smarter methods of preventing—rather than simply reacting to—these diverse security threats, a lack of data in emerging markets could exacerbate the urban safety divide between rich and poor. Nonetheless, investment in traditional safety methods, such as bolstering police visibility, continues to deliver positive results from Spain to South Africa.
• Collaboration on safety is critical in a complex urban environment. Now that a growing number of essential systems are interconnected, city experts stress the need to bring together representatives from government, business and the community before threats to safety and security strike. Some cities have appointed an official to co-ordinate this citywide resilience. With the evolution of online threats transcending geographical boundaries, such co-ordination will increasingly be called for between cities.
• Being statistically safe is not the same as feeling safe. Out of the 50 cities, only Zurich and Mexico City get the same rank in the overall index as they do in the indicator that measures the perception of safety among their citizens. Urban citizens in the US, for instance, tend to feel less safe than they should. The challenge for city leaders is to translate progress on safety into changing public perceptions. But cities also aspire to be attractive places to live in. So smart solutions, such as intelligent lighting, should be pursued over ubiquitous cameras or gated communities.
Building greater resilience into urban infrastructure has therefore become increasingly urgent. But cities are also facing entirely new safety challenges. The concept of the “smart city” is revolutionising the way in which everything—from transport systems to water and energy—is managed and delivered. At the same time, a growing dependence on digital technology to deliver everyday services brings with it new vulnerabilities.
Malicious programmers can bring about large-scale disruption of computer networks on which a city depends. Ordinary citizens, meanwhile, face new urban threats in the form of Internet fraud and identity theft.