Macau Matters | Safe cities

Richard Whitfield

In August 2019, The Economist Intelligence Unit published its third Safe Cities Index (SCI), which ranks 60 cities across 57 indicators covering digital security, health security, infrastructure security and personal security. The research underpinning the report and its publication is sponsored by the NEC Corporation and is a good example of corporate social responsibility in action.
In the last 100 years, humanity has increasingly lived in cities and this urbanization process is continuing, especially in the developing world. Work and life opportunities and access to services are all improved and are more economically and environmentally sustainable when people live in cities. It is also very true that there is safety in numbers, so cities are generally safer living environments. But without proper precautions, cities can be very polluted and disease-ridden.
The SCI is a detailed benchmarking tool that cities can use to measure a wide range of security inputs and results. It reflects the multifaceted nature of urban safety, with indicators divided into four distinct pillars: digital, infrastructure, health and personal security. The 2019 edition of the SCI has been revised to weave measures of “urban resilience” within each of these four pillars. Urban resilience is defined as the ability of cities to absorb and bounce back from shocks and has become a key issue when thinking about urban safety in recent times, especially as policymakers worry about the implications of climate change.
In order, the top 10 cities analyzed are: Tokyo, Singapore, Osaka, Amsterdam, Sydney, Toronto, Washington DC, Seoul, Copenhagen and Melbourne. The results show that cities must first get the basics right in all areas and then focus on improvements that are tailored to specific local needs. Each of the four pillars require quite distinct interventions involving different agencies and other actors. Cities tend to perform equally well, or equally badly, for all four pillars, indicating that the different kinds of safety are intertwined and mutually supportive – they must be addressed consistently and in integrated ways.
Only 10 points separate the top 24 cities in the SCI, but 40 points separate the next 36 cities, indicating that the top cities are quite consistent while lower ranked cities are good and bad in many different ways. SCI scores are strongly correlated with average incomes – rich cities have the resources, expertise and community will to make themselves safe. The existence of expertise and community will seems to be especially important, because it was found that many lower ranked cities did not “harvest their low hanging fruit”, i.e., they did not implement even simple and inexpensive measures to improve city safety, mostly because of ineffective planning and management. The level of transparency in city governance, as measured by the World Bank’s Control of Corruption metric, is also strongly correlated with SCI scores, suggesting that local corruption can greatly hamper efforts to improve city safety – criminals want chaos and a lack of rules and enforcement to make their lives easier.
Generally, the SCI shows that excellent and resilient city safety in all its forms relies on focus and perseverance, along with well-resourced and integrated systems to transparently and equitably provide public services. It also requires joint planning by all the relevant stakeholders that builds on a good understanding of infrastructure that uses a city’s natural assets as tools to enhance its ability to absorb shocks. Finally, it must promote social connectedness among citizens to create communities that work together.
I feel that it would be well worthwhile for Macau to be included in the next SCI study, even if the government has to pay for it. I am confident that Macau would rank well, but it is important for us to know where we stand relative to other cities and where we should focus our efforts to improve the safety of our city. I see no reason why we could not out-rank Tokyo in a few years if we put in some effort.

Categories Opinion