A standard for cities?

The International Organisation for Standardisation (ISO) has issued an international standard for cities. Entitled ISO 37120:2014 Sustainable development of communities — Indicators for city services and quality of life, it features 46 performance indicators, mainly on access to public services. Cities are expected to track these, although compliance is not compulsory.

According to proponents, such as Neal Peirce of Citiscope, the implications of the “city ISO” are dramatic. Having set indicators will allow for cities to be compared based on the same objective indictors, “[a]nd just as significant, the people of cities — civic, business organizations, ordinary citizens — will be able to access the same new global standards. This means they can 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.”

Sure, better data and strengthened accountability. Sounds good. But what is an international standard?

According to ISO, “[a] standard is a document that provides requirements, specifications, guidelines or characteristics that can be used consistently to ensure that materials, products, processes and services are fit for their purpose.”

So if a city doesn’t rank well on the ISO standards it’s not fit for purpose? Sounds rather odd. I’m also curious about how developing country cities are expected to provide reliable data such as “Assessed value of commercial and industrial properties as a percentage of total assessed value of all properties”, and how much all this data gathering might cost them.

Thankfully there’s a chance I might get some answers: Meeting of the Minds, Citiscope, and the World Council on City Data are hosting a webinar on the topic on Nov. 11. You can register for it here.

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