Lacking detailed knowledge and information on the demographic, economic, cultural, physical and environmental dynamics in their cities, many planners and decision-makers are operating in an environment of uncertainty, allocating resources to immediate and pressing issues rather than investing in progressive change over the long term. Reliable, up-to-date information on a meaningful set of indicators measurable attributes of local conditions, such as proportions of the population with access to basic services or the cost of housing in different parts of the city and the means to turn collected information into good urban policies and plans are the antidote to the information crisis.
The United Nations Human Settlements Programme(UN-HABITAT) is the pioneer organization in the collection of urban indicators. In 2005, the UN-HABITAT initiative Monitoring Urban Inequities Programme (MUIP) produced the Global Urban Indicators Database (III). In addition to addressing the Habitat Agenda, the database provided information on the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), particularly Target 7D: Improvement in the lives of slum dwellers. Data was sourced from national censuses, Demographic and Health Surveys (DHS), Multiple Indicators Cluster Surveys (MICS), various national household surveys, and other statistical sources.
In response to demands from data users for a searchable, user-friendly version of the same database, the Global Urban Observatory (GUO) of UN-HABITAT opted to use the DevInfo database platform to release the Global Urban Indicators Database in 2006 as UrbanInfo.
This first version of UrbanInfo organized data according to various topics such as housing, demography, communication, energy, economy, education, health, nutrition, and gender. A second version was released by UN-HABITAT in 2010 with updated information on these topics as well as new ones, such as disaster, crime, migration, income inequalities, and transport. A new updated version of UrbanInfo, scheduled for release by the end of 2012, will be in four UN languages, French, Arabic, Spanish and English.
According to Dr. Gora Mboup, Chief, Global Urban Observatory Section, UN-HABITAT, UrbanInfo is different from other databases because while most databases feature data at the regional, national, or sub-national level, UrbanInfo contains data at the city level. “It allows users to generate their own maps and graphs using data at the city level.” Under Dr. Mboup’s leadership, UrbanInfo is being rolled out in cities across the globe as part of the establishment of local urban observatories. “I just came back from Cape Verde, where national authorities had requested that I guide them in setting up a national urban observatory to help monitor urban development progress in all the cities of Cape Verde,” he says. “They will be using a customized version of UrbanInfo called CapeVerde Info, containing both core UN-HABITAT indicators as well as city-specific indicators.”
The government of Chad has recently requested support from GUO to establish a National Urban Observatory using the UrbanInfo platform. Other municipalities in Saudi Arabia are also using UrbanInfo as a platform to store data on urban indicators, analyze information according to chosen attributes, and produce tables, graphs, and maps for use in customized presentations and analytical reports. Urban observatories that adopt this tool can benefit from the global statistical information that is provided with the software, collected by GUO.
Easy access to city data through UrbanInfo has bridged research to actions. In addition to the use of the city for the main flagships reports of UN-HABITAT (Global Report of Human Settlements and the State of the World’s Cities Report), the 2012 State of the Worlds Children’s Report, the 2010 WHO/UN-Habitat report “Hidden Cities” and the 2007 World’s Population Report used data from the Global Urban Indicators.
Future plans, according to Dr. Mboup, involve establishing urban observatories in many cities in India and China, among other nations.
Data making a difference.
For more information, please contact Dr. Gora Mboup, Chief Global Urban Observatory, UN-HABITAT, at Gora.Mboup@unhabitat.org.
1 World Urbanization Prospects 2011 Revision. UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs Population Division. Mar. 2012 <http://esa.un.org/unpd/wup/pdf/WUP2011_Highlights.pdf>