City Possible: The Key to a Future-Proof City

Learn how technology and data analytics are driving change for 3 critical areas that will make your city more efficient, sustainable, inclusive and resilient.
SPONSORED | February 28, 2017

Welcome to the City Possible

A Mastercard Perspective

America is home to many proud cities and the citizen spirit that built them is limitless. At the same time, each local community is faced with the challenge to strengthen and renew the foundation their forebears built, so their children and grandchildren have the chance to achieve the American dream.

While our cities have been engines of growth for centuries, this current generation has an historic opportunity to make this growth more sustainable and inclusive – so that the rungs on the ladder of success are more available to more citizens.

A century ago there was a movement called the City Beautiful Movement that sought to make cities more beautiful and democratic.  It’s a movement whose hallmarks include Central Park in New York and Union Station in Washington, DC.  Fast forward to 2017 and there is a new movement called the City Possible Movement that seeks to make cities better today and to make better cities for tomorrow – a tomorrow that will be exponentially more urban.

The City Possible Movement leverages world-class technologies that drive commerce, business, jobs, good governance, and growth on the one hand, while providing greater quality of life and equality of opportunity for more people on the other hand.

At the center of the City Possible is municipal leadership that comes in the form of mayors, city councilmen and women, city planners, economic development officials, representatives of businesses large and small, and more.  It is these leaders who hold the keys to making the City Possible a reality, working with and for their citizens.  There are three keys that many municipal leaders are already focused on that are vital to advancing this idea of the City Possible.

Those keys are:

  • Identity and security: Making cities more inclusive.
  • Quality of life: Making cities more connected.
  • Economic growth: And making cities more sustainable.

Key #1:  Identity and Security – Toward A More Inclusive City

Cities have always been gateways to opportunities. Today’s technologies – and especially digital technologies – have created incredible pathways for more opportunities to be made available to more citizens.  One of the seminal opportunities of our time is to make cities more inclusive.  It’s an opportunity that begins with ensuring everyone has one of the most basic, pillars of modern society:  an identity.  In the 21st century, it’s a digital identity.  

What many of us take for granted, i.e. a bank account or a permanent address, is not available to everyone.  Establishing a digital identity is often the first step for citizens to receive social benefits and to get access to public services such as libraries and transit systems.

Acquiring identification and receiving social benefits electronically or digitally helps people – many of whom are unbanked – have a way to receive, store, access, and use their money.  Electronic or digital receipt of funds can also help toward building up a credit score which enables people to get a loan to buy a car, go to school, start a business, or expand a business.

Employees who receive their salaries in an electronic format are able to save their money in a more secure and more formal way. And for cities, paying salaries and social benefits electronically provides city government with increased efficiency and insurance that the right amount in funds is being received by the right person.

Access to basic financial tools because of identity can be a create equalizer.  They can go a long way toward creating an equality of opportunity that’s essential to driving greater job creation, economic growth, and individual empowerment – including a heightened focus on driving gender parity as well as poverty-reduction.

The role of the public sector is indispensable.  But increasingly the private sector has a vital role to play as well.  The private sector can help drive ease and convenience for consumers through products and services, especially by adopting a mind-shift toward creating more products and services with cities in mind.  There are opportunities to make daily commutes more efficient and more hassle-free.

There are opportunities to make sure there’s a strong and secure acceptance infrastructure in place for electronic payments, so that consumers with access to electronic payments are able to use them.  The first key that municipal leaders hold in advancing the City Possible is inclusion.  The second key is connectivity.


Key #2:  Quality of Life – Making Your City More Connected

In many cities, mobility models were designed for cars and therefore lack the necessary integration across different modes of transport. This can make it hard for residents – especially those that don’t own a car and often work on unpredictable schedules – to get to their jobs or pick up their kids from school in time.

In many of the largest U.S. cities, commuters have to buy different paper tickets to take the subway, train, and bus. Think of each of these steps and the extra time and expense added to the daily lives of each commuter.  Think of the international tourists who come to a city, ready to explore, only to be confronted with a new tariff and ticketing system.

Congestion and pollution also pose substantial health risks – vehicles account for 75 percent of carbon monoxide emissions in the US – affecting the most vulnerable populations.

There is tremendous opportunity to bring a seamless experience to people’s daily commutes – one that can even encourage drivers to become public transit users.  This transformation from driver to transit user becomes all the more urgent as urbanization levels increase and roads become even more congested.  Improving public transit is more many a sign of a city’s progress.  Enrique Penalosa, Mayor of Bogota, went so far as to say: “an advanced city is not one where ‘even the poor use cars’, but rather one where ‘even the rich use public transport.”

In recent years, cities such as Chicago, Boston, New York, Los Angeles, and Las Vegas have made enormous strides in giving commuters a faster, easier way to get onto trains and buses, while at the same time giving them more control over their money.  They’ve done this by turning bank cards and mobile phones into transit tickets.  And it’s not just happening in the U.S.

It’s happening in countries like the UK as well. Transport for London has reduced the cost of collecting fares from about 14 to just below 9 percent by enabling bank cards to be used directly at the turnstile. Those are savings that the city of London can reinvest in other areas to the benefit of its citizens.

Key #3:  Economic Growth – Making Your City More Sustainable

Inclusivity and connectivity are essential pillars of the 21st century City Possible. Both are also inextricably linked to increased sustainability, especially when it comes to urban transit. Most transportation systems are designed for the peak of peaks, which requires a higher investment of public funds at a time when public resources are scarce. Through active demand management, cities can delay their next large scale infrastructure investment by 2-3 years, delivering significant savings.

Data analytics can enable transit authorities to nudge their users into off-peak routes using a mixture of information and incentives. Large urban transit systems could save hundreds of millions simply by diverting 5-10 percent of passengers to less busy routes at peak times. When Singapore offered free rides to those traveling before the morning rush-hour (at 6am), 7 percent of customers shifted out of the peak commute.

Advanced data analytics can also guide economic growth and urban planning. The analytics from spending flows can help identify and predict patterns of commercial activity – enabling city planning and commercial real estate to better understand the relationship of how people move around and buy. This insight can then be used to guide planning decisions such as deciding where city centers, businesses and retailers should be located.

Data derived from transit and retail outlets can help inform more inclusive and more sustainable urban planning around critical areas such as housing, transportation and energy management as well.



In the 21st century, urban leaders have a generational opportunity to make their cities more inclusive, connected, and sustainable by harnessing digital technologies and related data insights in an even fuller, deeper way.

Realizing the City Possible requires collaboration across industries, sectors and geographies and the leadership of organizations such as C40, as well as governments at all levels.  As such, it’s not a solo expedition but a shared responsibility.  Urban champion Jane Jacobs put it well when she said, “cities have the capability of providing something for everybody, only because, and only when, they are created by everybody.”

The promise of urban life is the promise of greater community and higher standards of living for more people.  There are no greater stewards of that promise than municipal leaders in both government and business.

About the Author

Mastercard is a technology company in the global payments industry. We operate the world’s fastest payments processing network, connecting consumers, financial institutions, merchants, governments and businesses in more than 210 countries and territories.

For Mastercard, “smart city” is not an end in itself, but a means towards unlocking economic growth opportunities for cities, creating a better quality of life for citizens, and building more sustainable and resilient communities.  We provide technology and insights that:

Unlock the power of data – to guide urban planning and tourism strategies

Optimize the urban mobility experience – to make public transportation more accessible and seamless for citizens and visitors

Provide innovative electronic payments – to help cities become more efficient and inclusive

Click HERE to learn more about how we help make cities smarter with advanced payments and data analytics technologies.