Boosting Urban Resilience With City Currency

Resilience Officers and other senior policy makers from six cities across the world recently traveled to Tel Aviv to take part in a workshop examining how a city-wide digital currency can help their cities become more resilient. The workshop not only provided a glimpse into the future of urban resilience, but helped bring it closer to reality.

The workshop followed a challenge issued earlier this year to members of the 100 Resilient Cities Network, giving them the chance to utilize Colu’s City Currency. Israel and UK based technology company Colu has designed City Currency as a city-wide digital currency, which motivates residents towards impactful positive behaviors, including increased local spending, healthy living, recycling, civic activity and beyond. City Currency provides a rewards mechanism, which follows a similar economic logic to frequent-flier miles programs. However, unlike these programs, it promotes city interests, according to their specific needs. City Currency can be distributed by municipal authorities and partners, to be used by local residents, businesses and beyond. Its distribution is calibrated in order to help each city meet their resilience goals.    

Workshop participants hit the streets of Tel Aviv’s Florentin neighborhood, to experience how City Currency might look in practice.

City Currency, once adopted by a local government, operates within the Colu payment app and is available to all who live and work in the city as a reward scheme. The digital currency, which can be spent across the city, is added to a resident’s Colu wallet in return for actions which help meet community priorities. The rewards can then be redeemed at public and private institutions that are subscribed to the program. The incentives offered through City Currency can be tailored and purpose-built to meet the particular needs of each city. It allows cities to engage residents, local businesses and institutions through their everyday transactions, empowering them to achieve specific goals. Currently in Tel Aviv, for example, residents get additional rewards when using the Colu app to make purchases at independent local businesses, which helps foster equitable economic development.

Representatives from the cities participating in the workshop – Belfast, Porto Alegre, Milan, Addis Ababa, Cape Town and Tel Aviv-Yafo – underwent a thorough application process which reviewed the long-term challenges and the potential shocks and stresses faced by each city. The workshop then focused on how City Currency can help tackle these issues, by bringing together stakeholders from across the city to work towards shared goals.  

Day One of the workshop saw each city outline its characteristics and specific challenges. These included anything from social inclusion, to green issues, mobility, economic regeneration and beyond. Assessing the city’s composition, demographics, geography and existing services for residents and businesses, representatives were able to build a ‘City Map,’ to highlight where City Currency might have the greatest impact. From this, potential use-cases were discussed.  

Hitting the streets of Tel Aviv’s Florentin neighborhood, participants had the opportunity to experience how City Currency might look in practice, visiting a variety of cafes, restaurants and independent businesses which already accept payment through Colu’s app. Tel Aviv is one of four cities in Israel and the UK in which Colu currently operates a mobile app for local transactions.

Integral to Day 2 was drilling down exactly how City Currency might operate in 100RC member cities.

During the second day, city representatives worked intensively alongside Colu in order to drill down exactly how City Currency might operate in their city. The issues covered ranged from potential partners to user and merchant acquisition, the regulatory landscape and more. As a result, the cities were able to carefully consider how a City Currency plan can actually be implemented.

So, what’s next? The workshop was definitely one of a kind, bringing together cities spanning both developed and emerging economies. Yet it also demonstrated that for cities which face different resilience challenges, a city-wide currency can be a powerful tool to engage local stakeholders toward helping to overcome those challenges. The workshop represents a significant step towards deploying City Currency to help cities become more inclusive, resilient and successful. Colu will work alongside the participating cities, to determine whether and how City Currency might be implemented. To this end, at least two cities will be selected to launch and implement City Currency within the coming months. This is an exciting step forward in a journey to build sustainable and equitable economic growth, one city at a time.