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Data, the 4IR and spatial transformation in Johannesburg

- Miriam M. Maina

The Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) has been lauded for its potential to accelerate global social and economic transformation, raise income levels, and improve the quality of life. The 4IR is distinguished from previous industrial revolutions by increased fusion of technologies and the blurring of lines across the physical, digital and biological spheres. This has been driven by developments in technology and computing, most notably the expansion of processing power and storage capacity, enhanced connectivity and networks, increasing access to information and collaboration, and technological breakthroughs in AI, robotics, IoT, automation, biotechnology, quantum computing, large-scale information and big data, and analytics.

The effect has been the reorganisation of nearly all industries and sectors across the world, through the transformation of systems of production, management, governance, and all aspects of social and community life.1

While the 4IR holds great potential for enhancing productivity and efficiency, transforming sectors including healthcare, finance, mobility, and sustainable development, and driving the emergence of new markets; 4IR is not without challenges. ‘Datafication’ refers to the logic and processes through which subjects, objects, and everyday life are turned into digital data. This data is increasingly mined for value, or applied in governance, policy, and legislation. Critical engagement with developments in this field have highlighted the scope for this to contribute to expanding inequality.

Leveraging 4IR (and data) for sustainable development and spatial transformation

The 4IR transition marks a moment of transformation across government, businesses, and society. How can governments and institutions leverage 4IR’s potential to drive social, spatial, economic transformation? There is a need for governments to be responsive and adaptive, to leverage rapid technological change towards achieving development aspirations and enhancing human development, economic competitiveness, and transforming human settlements.2

This will require the expansion of the capacity and capability of all institutions and stakeholders to harness the potential of 4IR and apply it to developing solutions for local contexts. At the local level, there is an increasing need for interactive, collaborative decision making and mutual

learning across government, industry, civil society and residents. One of the key drivers of the 4IR is big data and analytics. Sometimes described as the ‘new gold’ or ‘new oil’ of the 21st Century, data underpins the majority of the technological dynamics in AI and digitalisation, and has transformed decision making and business models across industries. With this transformation has come the need for the formulation of national policies on data, data protection and data access.3

As in other sectors, urban development and spatial planning have been transformed by developments in 4IR, and through rapid technological change across sectors and industries related to the production of space. An emerging research thread will be on how urban data and analytics is applied in policy-making and in the legislation and coordination of urban investments in land use, infrastructure and utilities, transport and mobility, and human settlements development, particularly in cities in the developing world.4

Blog series

  • SA&CP and NOVAYA Labs will be publishing a 4-blog series on data, spatial planning, and public and private sector investment for sustainable urban development, focusing on the Johannesburg Metropolitan Municipality.
  • The blogs will explore how data has been used to drive strategic spatial planning, integrated development planning and investment from within the Metro.
  • They will also track developments in open data in Johannesburg and South Africa, and how urban data has been leveraged by the private sector and civil society in South Africa.
  • Lastly, the blogs will explore emerging research and investment opportunities created by applying data and plantech for strategic spatial planning, and the coordination of investment resources for urban development.

Dr Miriam Maina is an urban researcher, GIS and spatial analytics consultant and a post-doctoral researcher at the NRF Chair in Spatial Analysis & City Planning. This blog post first appeared on One City.