The Digital City- Promise or Peril

March 4, 2017


We are standing on the precipice of one of the most profound revolutions taking place in human history. In 2007 we passed a tipping point, for the first time people living in urban areas overtook those living in rural areas. The flourishing of human creativity, the very basis of our rapid innovation is owed to the city. Many people living in one place has fuelled technological innovation, new ways of thinking, new forms of social and political movements are taking root in cities.


70% of the world’s population will be urban by 2050. Tokyo the largest city in the world has 37,7 million people. Africa is the fastest growing continent. Urbanising faster than anywhere on the planet. Lagos adds 42 people to its population every hour, Kinshasa 50, Luanda 29 and Johannesburg 5 people.


The growth of cities has spurred the convergence of many technologies. All aspects of human and digital life are now increasingly inter-connected. Digital networked technologies are set to surpass all previous human achievement. Africa surpasses, Europe in the number of mobile phones. A new class of African consumers is expected to spend 1,5 trillion US dollars in 2015.


Cities also collapse. With billions of people living in cities, we are building highly consumptive machines. Cities demand for electricity is increasing exponentially and will grow to over 30,000 terawatt hours. The demand for coal and gas in increasing rapidly.


In Africa, the prevailing challenge is infrastructure. Africa needs 1.1 trillion US dollars by 2030 to modernise obsolete infrastructure systems and build new infrastructure for its burgeoning cities. Our cities are resource hungry.


A planet of cities all networked and connected to each other provides so much possibility for innovation but may turn out to be a poisoned chalice- unless we begin to radically alter our means of production and create more equal and less resource hungry cities.  


Call them smart cities, digital cities, networked cities the language of what is happening to us takes on many forms and nuances. But as we try to articulate the change happening in front of us, there is one common theme...


In the words of Don Tapscott, in this age of digital globalisation “It is not simply the networking of technology, or objects but the networking of humans through technology. It is not an age of smart machines only, but of humans who through networks can combine their intelligence, knowledge and creativity for breakthroughs in the creation of wealth and social development.”

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