The Fourth Industrial Revolution is set to erupt in cities throughout the world. Bits are meeting bricks as the internet
enters the spaces we live in, becoming the Internet of Things. The results will impact most aspects of our lives,
raising questions of urgent concern. Which dimensions of cities will be most affected? What will be the impact on
citizens? How should urban policy change? And, most importantly, how can cities prepare for looming disruptions
This report by the World Economic Forum’s Global Future Council on Cities and Urbanization looks at these questions through a very specific lens: data. The convergence of the digital and physical worlds is producing an immense amount of information, as much information was created in 2016 as in all of previous human history.
Citizens leave their digital trace just about everywhere they go, both voluntarily and involuntarily. Each phone call, text message, email, social media post, online search and credit card purchase is recorded and stored in the cloud. When cross-referenced with each user’s geographical location, data harnessed at this scale offers a means of describing, and responding to, the dynamics of the city in real time.
Not all data is created equal, and its variety is also part of this report:
– “Opportunistic data” is collected for one purpose and then used for another: think about data owned by
cellphone companies to run their operations, and used by transportation companies to better understand urban
– “Purposely-sensed data” shows the power of cheap and ubiquitous sensors that can be deployed ad hoc
– in private buildings or in public spaces – to better understand some aspect of urban life.
– “User-generated data” comes from engaging people, such as through social media platforms or
crowdsourcing. Every tweet, Facebook post, or Flickr upload can provide valuable information to better
understand today’s cities and society.
The following pages present stories from cities all over the
world, selected by a diverse panel – from academia to
industry to government. These are stories of innovation that
is occurring in the developed and the emerging world, from
the top down and the bottom up, design-led efforts and
new policy initiatives. The common thread that connects
them: the challenges cities face as they approach the Fourth
The stories illustrate how data can be used to improve the
experience of the built environment – whether by public
entities, large corporations, startups, or private citizens.
Using data, we can better understand the digital world in
ways that enable us to transform physical space. We can
develop solutions to tackle some of the most pressing
issues – from energy to waste, from water to mobility, from
urban design to citizen participation.
The stories presented in this report are classified into five
themes: people, governance, infrastructure, economy
and environment. They provide a glimpse of the impact
of the Fourth Industrial Revolution on cities through the
unprecedented lens of data – arguably, our newest urban