31 October is World Cities Day , an occasion to promote global interest in urbanization and its sustainable development. BAI Communications designs builds and operates smart infrastructure in cities around the globe, so we asked some of our leading minds to discuss urbanization’s future, opportunities, and challenges. For the second article in our three-part series we asked General Manager Wi-Fi Data and Advertising Amy McLaughlin, from our New York office, how her work contributes to the United Nation’s intent to promote the successes of urbanization and address its challenges.

According to the United Nations Population Fund, urbanization has the potential to usher in a new era of wellbeing, resource efficiency, advanced infrastructure, and economic growth. But cities are also home to high concentrations of poverty.

In 1960, only New York and Tokyo had a population greater than 10 million people. By 1999, there were 17 cities of more than 10 million people around the world. Only 20 years later, this number has grown to 29. Evidently, the pace of urbanization is increasing.

How often, I wonder, do individuals or organizations pause to consider the impact of urbanization and, consequently, the legacy we’re leaving future generations?

Securing our future

In my city of New York, with its population of 20.1 million, there are many, many New Yorkers relying on various forms of public and private infrastructure. As the population increases, we must take ever-better care of the infrastructure that supports New York’s inhabitants and visitors.

New York’s OneNYC 2050 ‘is a strategy to secure our city’s future against the challenges of today and tomorrow. With bold actions to confront our climate crisis, achieve equity, and strengthen our democracy, we are building a strong and fair city’.

One of the goals of NYC2050 is also to modernize NY’s mass transit networks – from subways to ferries to shared transportation systems. It aims to improve accessibility and affordability for the millions of residents.

The MTA: keeping New Yorkers moving

For its part, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) is “North America’s largest transportation network, serving a population of 15.3 million people across a 5,000-square-mile travel area surrounding New York City through Long Island, southeastern New York State, and Connecticut.”

One of the reasons why the MTA is so large is that New Yorkers are commuters. The average commute is nearly one-and-a-half hours and 88 per cent spend more than two hours on public transport every day.

That’s a lot of time spent in transit.

Almost 15 years ago, Transit Wirelessa BAI Communications company – was established in response to the New York City Transit Authority’s (NYCTA’s) need for a communications network system to deliver wireless connectivity into the 100-year-old subway system.

MTA’s vision was to develop a shared wireless infrastructure within the underground stations of the New York City subway; including connectivity services for AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile and Verizon Wireless customers, which are subway commuters.

To help deliver that vision, we formed a unique public-private partnership with the MTA and NYCTA. Accordingly, we designed, built, and continue operating state-of-the-art communications infrastructure across the New York Tri-state area. Importantly, we are also financing and thereby relieving the authorities and subway rider of funding pressures.

Since inception, this cellular and Wi-Fi network has been connecting subway passengers to the digital world during their daily commutes. With its dedicated underground public safety band, it has also improved commuter safety.

Numerically speaking, we provide 160 miles of fiber to service 283 underground stations on 22 subway lines, serving about 5.3 million riders on any given weekday.

MTA and Transit Wireless remain dedicated to helping travelers stay connected while they travel. That’s no small feat technologically but, more importantly, it makes a significant contribution to their happiness and wellbeing.

Incubators of innovation, technology, and entrepreneurship

Before joining Transit Wireless, my responsibility as Mastercard’s vice president of data and analytics was to develop and lead its banking and merchant product divisions. During this time, I was immersed in the rapidly evolving industry of financial technology, popularly referred to as ‘fintech’.

Like the communications and transit industries, financial services organizations must build service-oriented customer relationships. Ultimately, this means having automation and data analytics at their core and supported by highly developed ‘internet of things’ capability.

The new digital economy, built on data and sharing platforms, is already having a profound effect on many cities globally. In turn, urbanization is an incubator of innovation, technology, and entrepreneurship. In this year’s Forbes’ 50 Most Innovative Fintech Companies, 20 start-ups make their first appearance. Two areas with notable additions are payments technology and companies that target the underserved, be they immigrants without U.S. credit histories or hourly workers living paycheck to paycheck.

Hence, urbanization and its influence on innovation, technology and entrepreneurship is not just about supporting the new digital economy. It is also vital for addressing deep social and global challenges of marginalized groups in our cities, such as youth, women, people with disabilities, and the elderly.

The Statue of Liberty with New York aglow in splendor

The Statue of Liberty with New York aglow in splendor

Great cities need great infrastructure

To be great these days, cities must also be ‘smart’, as does their infrastructure. Smart cities are developing through an accumulation of smart infrastructure and insights revealed by data analytics from connected devices, platforms and networks.

This knowledge, supported by collaboration and co-creation, helps governments and businesses alike explore urban development and how it relates to an improved quality of life for future generations, as well as today’s.

Urbanization in cities with high rates of disruptive innovation and rapid technological development puts pressure on urban policy makers to strengthen their capability when it comes to understanding, procuring and regulating new technologies.

Yet, this is not just about supporting the new digital economy. It is also about having proper economic and social governance, and regulatory policies in place. This gives citizens fair opportunity to participate in and contribute to sustainable urban development.

Thus, smart cities aren’t just about technology; they’re also about people.

The world’s greatest city

I argue that New York is the world’s greatest city. From the earliest European settlements in the seventeenth century, New York has been a thriving metropolis. As such, it has attracted people from wide-ranging socio-economic and demographic backgrounds, American and non-American alike.

People often romanticize New York and its subway is rightly famous. Transit Wireless is proud of its active contribution to this city with its iconic transit system – a global landmark. I’m now proud to play my role helping New Yorkers enjoy the connectivity they need to enhance their lives.


Read more

In this three-part series, we discuss urbanization’s future, opportunities, and challenges in the context of World Cities Day.

  • Promoting urbanization with sustainable development – Sydney
    What makes this year’s World Cities Day sub-theme important?
    ‘Changing the world: innovations and better life for future generations’
  • Smart transit for a smart city – Toronto
    The general theme of World Cities Day is ‘Better City, Better Life’. What progress or action have you seen contributing to this in Toronto?
  • Smart infrastructure, incubators, and urbanization – New York (this article)
    How does your work contribute to the UN’s intent to promote the successes of urbanization and address its challenges?