Copenhagen, the capital city of Denmark, is first overall and Toronto (Canada), is second in the Safe Cities Index 2021, covering 60 major urban areas.
The index was released by Economist Intelligence Unit, sponsored by NEC. In its fourth edition, the index consists of 76 sub indicators grouped under five domains covering digital, health, infrastructure, personal and environmental security.
Findings from the index were supplemented with wide-ranging research and in-depth interviews with experts in the field.
In each of the last three iterations, Tokyo, Singapore and Osaka – always in that order – have been the index leaders. This year Copenhagen comes first, with 82.4 points out of 100, and
Toronto follows close behind with 82.2.
This change reflects not a tectonic shift but more a reordering among cities that have always
come close to the top.
Singapore (3), Sydney (4), Tokyo (5), Amsterdam (6), Wellington (7), Hong Kong (8), Melbourne (8) and Stockholm (10) take the other top 10 places. New York comes at 11 and London 15.
In all four editions of the index, six cities – Amsterdam, Melbourne, Tokyo, Toronto, Singapore and Sydney – have all figured among the leading ten, with only a few points separating them. Copenhagen likely would be in this group as well, but has been included since only 2019, when it tied for 8th place.
Income and transparency remain strongly correlated with higher index scores
As discussed in detail in our 2019 report, cities with higher scores in the Human Development Index (HDI) also do better in our Safe Cities results. The statistical correlation is very high. The study experts warn that cause and effect are not straightforward. Income can help fund safety-increasing investments, but economic growth in turn depends on an environment benefiting from every kind of security. The likely relationship here is a virtuous circle.
More straightforward is the likely link between transparency and security: the World Bank’s
Control of Corruption scores and the study also correlate tightly independent of HDI results. Clean government is a fundamental requirement for a city to be safe, it said.
The results suggest that different global regions may have distinct strengths. Among high income cities, overall scores differ little by broad geographic region. Looking at specific pillars, though, variations appear.
In particular, well-off Asia-Pacific cities do better on average when it comes to health security, European ones on personal security and North American ones on digital security.
The sample size is too small to generalise about reasons. Nevertheless, these differences suggest that the priority given to various kinds of security may be affected by distinct historical experiences at the regional, national or city level.
The experience of Covid-19 shows the need for a more holistic approach to health security and its closer integration into urban resilience planning. It is still too early to draw detailed conclusions on the implications of Covid-19 for health security. The pandemic continues at the time of writing. Even were it over, robust, internationally comparable data on what has happened are still rare, it said.
Nonetheless, the need to rethink health system preparedness is already clear. This must have several elements. The first is to look at different kinds of diseases and the wider determinants of disease as an interrelated whole rather than considering them in silos. The second is to think of populations as a whole, which will especially involve providing effective care for currently marginalised groups. The third is to integrate health emergency planning more fully into urban resilience measures that, often, have focused more on dealing with natural disasters and environmental concerns, said the report.
Digital security at the city level is too often insufficient for current needs and insecurity will multiply as urban areas increasingly pursue smart city ambitions. The index data show that internet connectivity is becoming ubiquitous, even in our lower-middle-income cities, and could be effectively universal within a decade.
Meanwhile, 59 of our 60 cities have started the process of becoming a smart city or expressed the ambition. This makes current levels of digital security worrying. To cite two examples from the study figures, only around a quarter of urban governments have public-private digital security partnerships and a similarly small number look at network security in
detail in their smart city plans. Such data are representative, not exceptional.
Gregory Falco, Assistant Professor of Civil and Systems Engineering at Johns Hopkins University, notes that “the digital security of cities is generally pretty terrible.” Improvement
requires rethinking digital security on several levels: cities must see it as an investment,
or at least an essential insurance policy, rather than an unproductive cost; they must
understand that the nature of the technology requires a city-wide approach rather than one
fragmented by departmental silos; and, finally, digital security – and especially protection
of smart city networks – needs to involve providing the level of safety that citizens expect and demand. Indeed, smart cities need to be built around what urban residents want, or they will fail, it said.
Although the index data shows little change in various infrastructure security metrics, experts report that Covid-19 has brought this field to a fundamental inflection point. Change in infrastructure can be slow, with decisions sometimes having repercussions for centuries. Accordingly, certain indicator results, such as those covering power and rail networks, show
little change. This stability does not reflect the current state of this field. Covid-19 has brought a level of uncertainty around the likely demands on urban infrastructure – and therefore how to keep it secure. It is unclear the extent to which lockdown-associated developments will diminish, or accelerate, when the pandemic ends.
Greater levels of working from home, increased digitalisation of commerce, and growing resident demands for more sustainable urban communities with services within walking or cycling reach all have extensive infrastructure implications.
Personal security is a matter of social capital and co-creation. The index figures show, as elsewhere, that personal security pillar scores correlate closely with HDI figures for cities. A closer look yields a less predictable result.
A number of cities, in particular Singapore, seem to combine low levels of inputs with excellent results in this field, in particular when it comes to judicial system capacity and crime levels. While most of the examples of this combination are in Asia, they exist elsewhere too, as in Toronto and Stockholm. One way that these various cities can accomplish apparently doing more with less, say our experts, is higher levels of social capital and cohesion. The resultant sense of connectedness, shared values, and community also allows greater co-creation of security with citizens.
Most cities have strong environmental policies, but now must deliver results. Unlike other pillars, low- and middle-income cities often do well on environmental security. Bogota, for example, comes 4th overall. One explanation is that good environmental policies are widespread.
The increased interest in reaching carbon neutrality that has accompanied the pandemic will only strengthen the impetus for still better plans. The challenge, though, remains implementation. Here, even higher income cities are lagging noticeably behind their ambitions. As in other areas, the key to success will be to take an overarching approach to environmental issues rather than a fractured one, and for cities to work with residents rather than seeking to direct them.
The index was devised and constructed by Divya Sharma Nag, Shubhangi Pandey and Pratima Singh. The report was written by Paul Kielstra and edited by Naka Kondo. - TradeArabia News Service