05.06.14 - City Lab covers Global Cities Indicators Facility's work to create an ISO standard for the collection of city data

City Lab (formerly known as Atlantic Cities) has published an article on the Global Cities Indicators Facilty’s efforts to develop international standards for the collection of data on cities, so that municipalities around the world can better compare statistics on indicators of urban health and performance, such as life expectancy, transit service, public green space, and solid waste collection. GCIF is an initiative of the Global Cities Institute at the John H. Daniels Faculty of Architecture, Landscape, and Design at the University of Toronto.

"Many organizations, in independent media and special interest groups, issue rankings of cities," writes Neal Peirce. "But in 2008, when the Global Cities Indicators Facility at the University of Toronto compared rankings that had been applied to seven prominent world cities, it turned out that only six of the 1,200 indicators being applied were exactly the same.”

Since then, GCIF has been working to develop a set of standards for the collection of city indicators — and last month, the International Organization for Standardization gave its seal of approval. Municipalities who elect to follow new ISO standards for the collection of urban data, will be able to accurately compare their performance with cities around the world. And, as Peirce points out, people living in cities — including those leading businesses, organizations, and advocacy groups — can use this comparable, standardized data to “ask city leaders tough questions, stoking debate about their own city’s performance on the basis of verified measures ranging from education to public safety to water and sanitation.”

"The path to an ISO standard aimed at broad global city buy-in was not an easy one," writes Peirce.

Supporters acknowledge a heroine behind the story — Patricia McCarney, director of the University of Toronto’s Global Cities Indicators Facility, who has made creation of good global data on cities an all-consuming goal for close to a decade.

the project began in 2008, McCarney relates, when Hoornweg and his World Bank colleagues approached her to start working on a uniform set of indicators for cities. Nine pilot cities, including Bogotá, Toronto, São Paulo and Belo Horizonte helped to devise a list of some 115 initial indicators. Over time the number of participating cities would rise to 258 across 82 countries.

But as McCarney and her allies pushed forward on the project, it became clear that independent audits including ISO-like third-party verification of the data would be critical to its acceptance. ISO central in Geneva was approached in 2011 and initially seemed lukewarm to the idea. But as French, Japanese and Canadian bodies showed interest in some form of city standards management, that changed.

A technical committee was formed. With McCarney’s institute acting as a de facto secretariat, meetings were held in urban centers from Japan to France and Britain to Canada. Comments were received from cities worldwide — “fantastic for us, really strengthening the set of indicators we started with back in 2008,” notes McCarney. The analysis winnowed down and rejuggled the list to 100 candidate indicators. Finally, 46 (see them all here) were selected as well-tested core measures that cities must report to prove they’re in conformance with the new ISO 37210 standard.

For the full article, visit the City Lab website.

Related stories: