Sustainable innovation in cities PART 4: The challenge of economic development

28 January 2013

Blog by Kirsten Jack, Acting Head of Smart Technologies, The Climate Group.

This blog is part of a short series of posts that sets out to profile some of the LLGA | Cities Pilot the Future (previously the Living Labs Global Award) success stories, as well as current open challenges for their 2013 edition. 

LLGA is a global Call for Solutions that brings together cities to implement solutions that will improve the lives of their citizens. The Climate Group chairs the panel of experts that assess the sustainability of each solution that is submitted. Our work with LLGA is part of the Agile Cities program, which aims to connect cities, citizens and innovators to drive accessibility, efficiency and growth. 

In the series I explore how innovative solutions for economic developmentenergy efficiencymobility and information products can each play a role in supporting cities that are at the forefront of the clean revolution.

You can submit solutions for LLGA 2013 current challenges until January 31.

In this post I take a look at solutions to promote economic development.

LLGA has a strong history of tackling economic development challenges, and examples from past LLGA editions can be found in Lagos, Cape Town, Sant Cugat and Kristiansand. All these cities found  -- and are piloting -- solutions through LLGA to promote economic development and growth.

Finding solutions to Economic Development challenges are central to transitioning cities to a green growth pathway because:

  • Growth is critical to ensure resilience of cities, and enable spending to guarantee city resilience and quality of life for its citizens.
  • The capacity to innovate is a core element of competitiveness, and the introduction of innovative solutions is key therefore to both ensuring competitiveness, promoting a culture of innovation and so ensuring continued growth.
  • The ability of large organizations to innovate towards a low carbon model is likely to be a key differentiator between those that thrive and those that fall behind in a ‘clean revolution’. 
  • The importance of economic development to city managers is also underscored in our recent survey of 50 global cities. 70% respondents stated they saw economic development and jobs creation as a significant challenge in the next five years (on a par with the challenge of climate change), with smaller cities of around 200,000 citizens feeling particular challenged.


In this year’s LLGA sets, there are two major challenges focusing on economic development.

Lagos, Nigeria, is seeking solutions to deliver content seamlessly in bandwidth-challenged environments, to provide access to the social and economic benefits of Internet. The UN estimates that by 2015 Lagos will be the world’s third most populous city, with over 23 million citizens. But while hardwear is ever more accessible, the infrastructure gap becomes the major obstacle, with the level of penetration as low as 28% within Nigeria, ranking third in the world for sub-standard Internet speed. So, even when there is Internet coverage, it is often not capable of dealing with the faster, more inclusive and interactive services that are needed to allow citizens to access city services, and to utilize technology to support the families and businesses.

The City of Lagos is therefore looking for a scalable city-wide Wi-Fi solution with the option of working in a disconnected mode, with an independent power source. Typically, these hotspots will be set up for various uses, such as content provision for schools, libraries and community centers. It is essential that the solution can work as a hotspot-content server for data storage, and can operate in a standalone mode.

Tacoma, USA, is looking for tools to support economic and sustainability decision-making to secure return on its investments. The City of Tacoma was named one of the most polluted urban environments in North America in the early 1980s. Since then, the city has striven to clean up its environment and provide a model for sustainable living. As a result of this progressive environmental posture, it was recently designated the first city to be named a “Lifecycle Community” by the Institute for Environmental Research and Education.

As part of this designation the city is adopting Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) practices, and the city’s Environmental Service Utilities (ESU) is therefore inviting solutions to develop a Sustainable Return on Investment tool, that can be used to evaluate and select the most sustainable solutions to the city's infrastructure needs.


Benefits for cities participating in LLGA’s process are clearly demonstrated by the successful LLGA Pilots that are in progress, or those that are already completed. A number of highly impactful solutions are currently being trialed, such as:

  • The Nollywood Upgrade Project (Nollywood UP). Piracy is the biggest worldwide threat to the film industry, and has cost the industry a whopping US$18.2 billion. It is a threat not only to the western markets, but also those in developing regions such as Lagos, Nollywood.
  • Recognized among the top three film-producing clusters in the world, Nollywood movies are cherished on the African continent as well as across the global diaspora, with many films reaching audiences of over 15 million viewers. Yet, video piracy affects 80-90% of distribution, severey limiting the economic benefits that the sector could bring to the city. So in 2011, Lagos set the challenge to reduce piracy and effectively monetize Nollywood and published a Call for Solutions in LLGA.  
  • The Nollywood Upgrade Project (Nollywood UP) finalist of LLGA2011, was officially launched in September 2012 by Nollywood Workshops in partnership with the Lagos State Government. The initiative will support the Nigerian Film Industry to withstand challenges presented by digital piracy. Its first phase will provide training, film financing and new distribution technologies to the cluster. In addition the winning solutions, is set to provide an online digitisation platform to support film distribution, placing Nollywood well on the road to sustainable economic growth.

Benefits for Lagos include:

  • Finding hitherto unknown and fully committed solution providers.
  • Launch of the Nollywood Upgrade Project as a partnership, including local and internationally committed stakeholders within just 12 months.
  • Involving leading global institutions such as Harvard University.
  • Combining training, film financing, and new distribution technologies into a single process.

The LLGA program has also highlighted solutions to help Cape Town with its large unemployment figures through support and funding of innovative entrepreneurs via the Venture Capital Cultivator fund.

Also in Cape Town, we find Cape GeniUS!, the winner of the 2012 edition. This project aims to tackle present and future challenges at strategic and operational levels in the city of Cape Town with the 'Open Innovation' process, which facilitates conversation between businesses and communities.

Finally, two more LLGA challenges to mention include Sant Cugat‘s Local Innovation Plan, winner for the City of Eindhoven in 2010. This plan aims to introduce innovation as a basic element to accelerate sustainable development and economic competitiveness, and is designed through an innovative participative process.

The second is City Direct by Innovation Center, the winners for Kristiansand in 2012. The Center provides a platform through which citizens can share ideas on budgets and priorities directly with city leaders, allowing the city to learn what its people want efficiency and effectively.

To learn more about sustainable innovation in cities, read my previous posts on information products,  sustainable mobility and energy efficiency. While the above is the last post in this short blog series, I’ll soon return with a series on how cities continue to innovate, sharing findings from our Agile Cities program.


You can submit solutions for LLGA 2013 current challenges until January 31.


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