Investing in Smart Cities to improve the lives of low income residents

Can free access to the Internet, greater transit mobility, and smart cities technologies enhance access to opportunity and social mobility? Can technology solve income inequalities and make prosperity within reach of everyone?

Today,  75% of the world’s cities have higher levels of income inequality than two decades ago. By the early 2030s, 2 billion people will be living below the poverty line in cities and 1 billion new homes will be needed by 2025.

A look at the figure below shows how inequality has risen all over the world amongst the developed and the developing countries in the past few decades.

gini line chart

For people to succeed in life they need safe and healthy environments, access to jobs, goods and services, supportive beneficial institutions like good schools, community centres, efficacious and supportive social networks with knowledge and willingness to help out.

How do Smart City experts weigh in on assisting the vulnerable section of the society towards upwards mobility and opportunity?  Can they move out of the silos of energy, trash management, transportation to thinking how well can their efforts improve the welfare of the citizens in addition to making the city more efficient and organised? How city leaders and other stakeholders can leverage smart technologies to end suffering in their communities and give all citizens a route out of poverty? Here lies a big opportunity for smart city experts, public officials, low income advocates, technology designers to think about what smart city investments can do help create a more humane city.

Technology presents one of the best tools for city leaders to help low-income citizens become more visible, empowered, and prosperous. By facilitating improved delivery of government services and increased access to opportunity, technology can offer tangible hope for the most disadvantaged.  Below are some examples:

Blockchain technology comes to the benefit of the poor

Clever Codes Disrupt Inequality


People living without adequate records are often locked into poverty and exclusion. As many as 2 billion people worldwide are without a bank account. They tend to use only physical currency, making them vulnerable to theft. Furthermore, they cannot borrow money via a formal loan, nor can they access most insurance. Blockchain can correct this systemic failure that excludes too many from the economy by enabling people to get a digital identity. Simply put, blockchain is an open source digital ledger that acts like an accounting book and tracks all transactions. Everyone owns it but no one individual can make changes, making it tamper-proof. Blockchain allows people to prove their identity, enabling them to record transactions – and, hence, enter the global economy.

How technology came to the rescue of a city besieged by crime

New Jersey, U.S.A has the nation’s seventh  highest income gap between richest and poorest residents. Wages have barely budged for middle- and lower-income workers. Camden, New Jersey with highest income inequality was also besieged by violent crimes. Labelled as the most dangerous city in the U.S.  and now hailed as an example of a city where intrusive tools like  surveillance cameras, microphones, a fleet of police cars with scanners  and other community policing tactics resulted towards reducing crime and repairing relationship between the police community and residents of Camden. It was later also highlighted in the media for its world.

Bridgespan Group – bridging the gap for low income individuals

Low income individuals and families have lack of access to good quality education, health services and job opportunities.

The Bridgespan Group, a nonprofit working to advance philanthropic effectiveness, undertook an in-depth research effort framed around how a philanthropic investment of $1 billion could dramatically increase upward social mobility for low-income individuals and families.

They ultimately did a deep dive detailing the ROI on six promising billion-dollar investments their research identified:

  1. Improve early childhood development
  2. Establish clear and viable pathways to careers
  3. Decrease rates of conviction and incarceration
  4. Reduce unintended pregnancies
  5. Reduce the effect of concentrated poverty on the lives of people living in distressed neighborhoods
  6. Improve the performance of public systems that administer and oversee social services

This is a very good example of how technology can help solve income inequality and make prosperity within everyone’s reach.

Technology- Giving data and statistics a human face

With a goal to end extreme poverty by 2030, it’s important to have accurate data on what’s working and where progress is being made – and not being made. World Bank and countries it works with are transitioning from the days of using paper and pens to collect household data about poverty levels to using technologies that produce more and better data about poverty.

Listening to Africa (L2A) initiative collects information on living conditions on the continent. L2A has piloted the use of mobile phones to monitor well-being, starting with face-to-face interviews and then regularly following up with interviews by phone. It hands out mobile phones and solar chargers to participants.

Some more ways to modernising the collection of data on poverty.

  • Putting a human face on poverty: In the World Bank’s Pulse of South Sudan initiative (video link), tablets are used not only to collect data, but also to record short, personalized testimonials from the people interviewed – giving the data and statistics a human face.
  • Smart Survey boxes: In energy-challenged Tajikistan in Central Asia, teams are installing technology to monitor energy usage. By automatically sending information on outages in real time, the smart boxes can help identify patterns.
  • Satellite imagery: In Mexico the World Bank and partners are using satellite images along with survey data to get a better estimate of the number of people living below the poverty line down to the municipal level.

Connecting the dots between smarter cities and smarter schools

Research indicates that children who grow up in low-income households hear approximately 30 million fewer words than children from middle-income and affluent families by the time they reach their fourth birthday

In early 2014, “Providence Talks,” a new intervention program was designed to boost early childhood literacy development and raise the percentage of students who enter kindergarten ready for academic success.

The School of One (So1),  DigiLit Leicester, eClass, Kodu are examples of how technology help improve the low income community get better education in the classroom and beyond.

Technology has the power to improve broken systems and change lives for the low income section of any society.

This entry was posted in Citizen Centric, Education, Inequality, Smart Cities, Smart Citizens, Smart City Technologies and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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