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Promises and realities of digital technologies in developing cities

Issue Briefs N°06/2017. Iddri, 2017. 4 p.

This Issue Brief views digital devices not merely as a technology, but also as tools that are spawning new uses. Setting aside the ideal of the smart city, it approaches ICTs as operational tools that disrupt traditional urban functions (basic services management, economic development…) and the modalities of public action (planning, administration…). In In Asia, Africa, Latin America, new actors are positioning themselves on niches where public action is either absent or failing, and new unexpected uses are emerging, albeit with a direct link to on-the-ground urban dynamics. The challenge is thus becoming less one of technical efficiency and more one of urban governance and local government’s capacity to channel ICTs into making the digital transition a driver of sustainable urban development.

KEY MESSAGES :

  • The digital revolution contributes to the potential of smart cities in varying degrees depending on the field of application. The use of digital tools for sustainable urban development for all must, in turn, be led by public authorities in order to protect the interests of the public.
     
  • Data generation in developing cities is still fragmentary, politically-sensitive and requires human and financial resources for data analysis, management and maintenance which are currently inadequate. This limits it ability to inform decision-making.
     
  • However, Information and Communications Technology (ICT) is introducing new players and helping connect the different stakeholders in the city at low costs. It does so by creating demand-based services that bypass intermediaries and contribute to social inclusiveness while being exempt from regulation.
     
  • The private sector, civil society and national bodies use ICT; local authorities are still struggling to adopt the digital revolution for sustainable urban development and as such, run the risk of being left behind..