How to Measure and Set Standards for Urban Wellbeing

This post is part of our Thriving Cities discussion series, following the sixth edition of the NewCities Summit in Incheon Songdo, South Korea in June 2017.

Just as buildings, cars, and national governments have enforceable and measurable standards, so should cities. With the increasing standard of urban life as the ultimate goal, cities must be judged on the activities and investments that promote wellbeing.

When assessing criteria involved in wellbeing standards, Jonathan Ballon, Vice President & General Manager, Internet of Things at Intel commented that measurement and data are key and that “we cannot change what we do not measure.” For Ballon, wellbeing criteria also vary from one city to another – they can differ based on a city’s particular environment or what data city officials decide to measure.

On the other hand, Josué Tanaka, Managing Director, Energy Efficiency and Climate Change at the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) explained the EBRD cooperates with cities to raise their wellbeing standards by helping them go green – from tackling local air quality concerns, traffic congestion to pressure on water resources. The EBRD is creating its own set of environmental indicators and uses 35 indicators to gather data.

Though notions of wellbeing go far beyond environment and climate measures, Tanaka reinforced that environmental indicators are an important focus when it comes to assessing urban wellbeing standards as climate change is challenging cities both to mitigate their impacts and adapt to changing conditions.

Session moderator Manisha Natarajan, Urban Development Editor on CNBC in New Dehli inquired about techniques to get citizens more involved when creating standards. Howard Bamsey, Executive Director, Green Climate Fund noted that “benchmarking is an important tool for measuring and improving citizen engagement.” As a city’s political will grows, Bamsey also discovered that a sense of positive competition often emerges, which helps further develop citizen voices.

For Vatsal Bhatt, Director of Cities and Neighborhood Developments at the U.S. Green Building Council, civic engagement is key and finding new ways to involve local citizens is crucial when developing new initiatives.