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Tackling urban development challenges in the bay area: Panel

By Morag Hobbs (People's Daily Online)    16:50, March 30, 2019

The Global Bay Areas Cooperation and Development Forum (GBAF) kicked off in San Francisco on March 29, attracting representatives from the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area, as well as other bay areas in New York, San Francisco, London, Tokyo and Sydney. As part of the forum, a panel was held to discuss urban development challenges with companies currently based in San Francisco Bay Area.

“If we were actually a country, this region called the San Francisco Bay Area of about 8.5 million people would be the 18th largest economy in the world,” said Jim Wunderman, President and CEO of the Bay Area Council, as he addressed attendees of the 2019 Global Bay Area Cooperation and Development Forum. In the post-recession years, the bay area’s GDP growth has dramatically outpaced that of the entire US.

Of course, this has led to a vast number of talents being drawn into the bay area, leading to a number of obvious development issues. As house prices rise, talents must decide whether they can afford to live in the bay area, or whether they can commute in a realistic time, and cities are struggling to cope with the mass upgrade of infrastructure.

Dennis Rodriguez, Chief City Executive of Siemens, Scott Mauvais, Director of Technology & Civic Innovation at Microsoft and Matt Middlebrook, Public Policy Lead, Airbnb, sat down to discuss issues currently being faced in bay areas and their solutions on a global scale.

During the panel, Middlebrook explained that although companies are becoming more engaged and aware of issues with housing, for example, there needs to be more involvement with local government.

“There has to be greater participation in cooperating with local governments because our company and other companies like ours cannot solve individually the housing crisis or transport issues in San Francisco or other major metropolitan cities, but we can certainly become partners to the cities, and become partners to the organizations to help address these.”

Figures indicate that in the US, people spend an average of 80 hours per year commuting to work, and Mauvais says that a significant problem for bay area companies is to figure out how to give more time back to their workers.

“How do we get more data around how people are moving around? How do we create incentives for better matching around shared rides? How do we build in pricing infrastructures so that we can have congestion pricing, so that we can price curb space, so that we can discourage single occupancy in vehicles? From a software perspective, these are software problems that we can address on the demand side to figure out how to move people around more efficiently.”

One significant change within cities today is that fewer people are buying their own cars. “People are not traveling by car. In part because of the cost of cars, in part because of the difficulty of getting around cities in cars, and people just find other means more convenient,” noted Middlebrook.

For example, he explained that in San Francisco, developers are, for the first time, building large scale housing developments without creating any parking spaces, so are moving towards policies that are not car-focused.

However, that creates an infrastructural issue. “We need to focus on big regional issues like public transport because as we move away from a car-centric development, particularly in urban areas, we need to move towards really investing in public transportation infrastructure,” Middlebrook stressed.

Infrastructure is a key issue when it comes to the development of smart cities. There is a widening gap between the technological companies that are growing in bay areas and the technological capabilities of the cities that house them. Rodriguez explains the reason for this - many cities are unsure of how to move from traditional infrastructure into smart infrastructure.

According to Rodriguez, different cities in the US are now putting out calls to talk about how to smartify their city, with many unsure of how to take traditional infrastructure and bring it into the smart city era.

For this reason, discussing the methods and solutions to these key issues is now more important than ever. The forum has been a success, as China's own Greater Bay Area has been able to learn from and discuss the issues faced by today's world-class bay areas. It's hoped the forum, under the theme “Connect, Cooperate, Develop," will help bay areas communicate and find resolutions to global issues faced now and in the future. 

(For the latest China news, Please follow People's Daily on Twitter and Facebook)(Web editor: Bianji, Hongyu)

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