Media Releases

Ep. 2 The Power of Numbers with Patricia McCarney

April 21, 2015

Patri­cia McCar­ney (World Coun­cil on City Data, U of T’s Glob­al Cities Insti­tute) explains how mak­ing a first-ever inter­na­tion­al stan­dard for cities is help­ing urban cen­tres to grow, improve and take on a trans­for­ma­tive role for cit­i­zens.

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The Cities Pod­cast – Ep. 2 The Pow­er of Num­bers with Patri­cia McCar­ney



This is The Cities Pod­cast, I’m Bri­an­na Gold­berg.


One of the things I’ve real­ized as I lug my record­ing equip­ment around, inter­view­ing all sorts of urban-focused peo­ple, is that cities can be a bit of an inkblot test. Every­one sees some­thing dif­fer­ent; and what they see tells you what’s impor­tant to them.


Last episode we heard from Shawn Micallef. He writes about urban explo­rations and, through his books and tweets and columns and teach­ing, he reveals the hid­den adven­tures and his­to­ries that sur­round us as we walk through the city.


Graf­fi­ti artists see the city as a can­vas. Ecol­o­gists see it as an urban for­est. Trav­el­ers see it as an amuse­ment park.


And then there are the peo­ple who look at a city and see… num­bers.


Patri­cia McCar­ney leads the World Coun­cil on City Data.


In the fall, I spoke with her as part of our pod­cast minis­eries lead­ing-up to the munic­i­pal elec­tion – you can find that inter­view in our back episodes.


McCarney’s work is mak­ing it pos­si­ble for cities to mea­sure against each oth­er – for the first time ever – when it comes to data on health, waste man­age­ment, safe­ty, finance and more.


Her team gath­ers stats from urban cen­tres across the globe. And those num­bers dri­ve a first-of-its-kind sys­tem for com­par­ing city data that result­ed in the world’s first inter­na­tion­al stan­dard for cities: ISO37120 for you inter­na­tion­al stan­dards enthu­si­asts.


For those of you who aren’t so into that kind of thing, I’ll explain why this mat­ters: cities can use this now inter­na­tion­al­ly stan­dard­ized data to make the best informed deci­sions, to bench­mark and tar­get improve­ments, to seek fund­ing, and more.


It’s the glob­al cities equiv­a­lent of a high school bas­ket­ball play­er tap­ing a poster of LeBron James on the wall. You look at the best pos­si­ble out­come and say – how can I get myself there?


McCar­ney had so many great insights on the poten­tial for this kind of work that I wasn’t able to fit it all into that one pod­cast last Octo­ber.


So today we’re going to dip back into the inter­view as she explains how cities around the world are using this now stan­dard­ized data to dri­ve glob­al change.


Heads up, I spoke with McCar­ney in her office at the very busy cor­ner of Bloor and Avenue… some sirens make a bit of an appear­ance. I con­sid­ered edit­ing that sec­tion out but, hon­est­ly, that’s just what hap­pens in cities… and I think it fits quite well with her mes­sage. I hope you’ll agree.


This is Patri­cia McCar­ney.


M:          The abil­i­ty to lever­age is real­ly impor­tant for cities, whether it’s in North Amer­i­ca and Europe or whether it’s in glob­al south. The cities need this evi­dence to one, request sup­port, but then also to mea­sure their invest­ments so they can bench­mark. They can have a base­line now where they say if we put 350 mil­lion into water and san­i­ta­tion in Dar es Salaam or if we build tran­sit the way we’re pro­claim­ing this will help our city to grow. We can actu­al­ly start to bench­mark and mea­sure those invest­ments, which is an incred­i­ble assis­tance we well for bet­ter man­age­ment of cities, bet­ter effi­cien­cy in how we invest and how those invest­ments are pay­ing off. I think, you know, at this point in time, we were talk­ing about the role of cities in all of the glob­al con­text, giv­en the pop­u­la­tion and demo­graph­ic tran­si­tion going on world­wide on cities, this whole 53% of the world is urban­ized, 70% by 2050 will be liv­ing in cities. Already we’re at 83% in Cana­da. Cities, you know, are it. And they need met­rics. They need good data to pro­mote that devel­op­ment. But when you pair, this is an urban here where we live, we have a lot of fire engines going by, if you pair the demo­graph­ic tran­si­tion with the incred­i­ble demand right now for infra­struc­ture invest­ment, the scale of invest­ment need­ed in infra­struc­ture, whether it’s Toron­to or Johan­nes­burg, the scale and the deficit in infra­struc­ture invest­ment world­wide is so huge when you pair that with the knowl­edge we have on the growth of cities and where we’re mov­ing with these cities that are going to be larg­er than coun­tries, they already are some of them, that demo­graph­ic tran­si­tion togeth­er with the increas­ing demand for infra­struc­ture invest­ment, the scale of invest­ment has nev­er been greater. The demand has nev­er been greater. So we have to have good data to sup­port those deci­sions.


Q:           So imag­in­ing that these cities take every­thing that you’re putting togeth­er and are able to make change so that they can become bet­ter ver­sions of them­selves, how do you see cities maybe 20 years from now, and what are you most excit­ed to watch for as we get from here to there in terms of the role of the city and the devel­op­ment, the rise of the city?


M:          If we think ahead 20 years, I think one of the things to watch for is how we tran­si­tion in terms of ener­gy effi­cien­cy. I think that’s one of the biggest chal­lenges right now that I do believe we’re going to be able to crack that. The tech­nol­o­gy and the sup­port from City Man­agers and City Plan­ners to May­ors to Cis­co to Google to Microsoft, I mean the tech­nol­o­gy around bet­ter cities.. I can’t pre­dict where it’s going to be in 20 years, but I know that it’s dri­ving bet­ter effi­cien­cy around ener­gy which is an incred­i­ble leap for­ward for us. I think the oth­er big thing though is that I do, and maybe it’s my opti­mistic side speak­ing, but I believe cities are going to be incred­i­bly more liv­able in 20 years, and it’s because of tech­nol­o­gy and sup­port from a mul­ti­dis­ci­pli­nary group of play­ers that are hav­ing a stake in city devel­op­ment. We will have a more inclu­sive pros­per­i­ty track in shape. I think that’s grow­ing now. It’s not just pros­per­i­ty but it’s inclu­sive pros­per­i­ty. For the first time, you know, glob­al­ly when you think of the glob­al map for all of this, with­in the Unit­ed Nation sys­tem, there’s a post 2015 devel­op­ment agen­da that’s grow­ing right now, that a col­league and I here, Richard Strenn and I are writ­ing a lead paper for the U.N. Habi­tat Three which is com­ing up, look­ing back at the last 20 years and for­ward at the next 20 years. Cities are piv­otal. We’re replac­ing the MDGs, the Mil­len­ni­um Devel­op­ment Goals with the SDGs — Sus­tain­able Devel­op­ment Goals. MDGs are some­what retir­ing and what’s next? It’s Sus­tain­able devel­op­ment Goals. And in the MDGs we had no men­tion of a city goal. And guess what? In the SDGs we’re start­ing to think about an SDG ded­i­cat­ed to cities. But most of the SDGs in fact reflect on cities because if you’re going to talk about pover­ty or you’re going to talk about envi­ron­ment, of course you have to talk about cities with the plan­et shift­ing to this dom­i­nant way of liv­ing. But the SDGs now have a draft goal, Num­ber 11, on cities, which did­n’t hap­pen dur­ing the MDG era. And many of us were frus­trat­ed who worked on cities, me in the case 30 years, work­ing on cities since my under­grad­u­ate days here at U of T, in fact is when I start­ed work­ing on cities. It was very frus­trat­ing because of course the Mil­len­ni­um Devel­op­ment Goal should have been pay­ing atten­tion to cities. But now we have a pos­si­bil­i­ty, in the draft at least, we hope it stays there, there will be an SDG ded­i­cat­ed to cities and it’s around sus­tain­abil­i­ty and inclu­sive pros­per­i­ty for cities and qual­i­ty of liv­ing. So that’s a big goal which can, I believe, ISO 37 120 and 121, will sup­port not only set­ting the goals, because in the past there was no data to set goals for cities, and that’s one of the com­plaints. That how can we have a goal for cities if we can’t even mea­sure what’s going on in them? Well now we can. We’re posi­tion­ing here at the Glob­al Cities Insti­tute at the World Coun­cil on City Data, we’re posi­tion­ing our­selves to make argu­ments around the SDG includ­ing the city goal, that we can help with the met­rics to sup­port it. We can help to frame it, we can help to set the tar­get for it, and then we can help to bench­mark achieve­ment of the tar­get, to help cities report on that new SDG. And that will, that’s a game-chang­er. It has­n’t hap­pened before. there was no data to sup­port these goals before.




Patri­cia McCar­ney is Pres­i­dent of the World Coun­cil on City Data. She also heads up the Glob­al Cities Insti­tute at U of T… and she’s a pro­fes­sor polit­i­cal sci­ence.


Thanks so much join­ing us on the Cities pod­cast. I can’t wait to tell you about all the great stuff we have lined up for future episodes. And if you don’t want to miss a thing, then please sub­scribe on iTunes or fol­low us on Sound­Cloud. It’s free and it means you’ll get updates as soon as we add any­thing new. Of course you can also keep an eye out on U of T News.


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Spe­cial thanks to our guest Patri­cia McCar­ney. You can hear more from her in the archived episode from last fall.


Thanks also to Jay Fer­gu­son for com­pos­ing the music you heard in this episode, which he made just for us and I think is so cool.


The Cities pod­cast is pro­duced by me, Bri­an­na Gold­berg, with help from U of T News edi­tor Jen­nifer Lan­thi­er.


Thanks for lis­ten­ing.