Real-time data, from energy cost information to customer happiness, are widely available. For investors looking to put their money to work, and companies looking for a place to settle, this can be a double-edged sword. Since any type of construction activity is, to some extent, harmful to the natural environment that surrounds it.

On the one hand, it makes it easy for us to understand what makes a city work. But on the other hand, the large amount of data can often evoke more questions than answers.

Currently, investors and occupants are beginning to understand the flood of data and using it to their advantage.

Until just a few years ago, when investors wanted to compare cities and their potential, they analyzed important metrics such as GDP growth, demographic measures and employment figures. But it is now recognized, especially among institutional investors, that in order to take into account a city, it must offer long-term value, so standard economic forecasts do not provide enough information.

Let's analyze some types of metrics

Researchers who analyze cities to invest are measuring things with greater difficulty to quantify. Indices that measure competitiveness, or cities that are better at attracting and retaining talent, innovation, quality of life and good governance, are increasingly frequent. Real-time and public-origin data have biases, but they have also become more important.

Other data, which are booming and very important, are those that track and support sustainability or ethics, as they are attractive to investors and occupants who are changing their relationship with the cities they occupy towards sustainability. They want to make a difference and contribute to these cities. Therefore, sustainability metrics are increasingly important.

What challenges do they present for these cities?

Cities face large amounts of data as much as companies. We are facing the initial stage in the development of ways to use big data more effectively. Many cities are creating initiatives to monitor and track data without actually having the right infrastructure or talent to use it properly to improve the quality of life of citizens or the ease of doing business for those companies that want to invest. The lack of talent in data analysis, in particular, is a major obstacle for city governments, especially since they tend to go to the private sector.

Many cities are creating initiatives to monitor and track data without actually having the right infrastructure or talent.

When we talk about the issue of transparency, there is an expectation that more data will improve transparency, especially in emerging markets, but there is a possibility that large amounts of data create more confusion than clarity. It may also be that the quality of the data provided is inadequate, especially when it comes to data of public origin.

Finally, the best analyzes usually offer objective views on things like efficiency or cleanliness of public transport, but they can be too clinical. They do not capture the nervousness of New York or the vitality of Shanghai, for example. This is a big gap in the evaluation of cities. We need to measure the energy, the buzz of a city in a way that is not too disinfected.

The cities that are taking better advantage of the data are, Barcelona, with an entrepreneurial attitude and a focus on improving the quality of life, is ahead of the curve.

Another city is Helsinki, which is quite skilled at using the private sector to maximize its data usage. Its Digital Twin program allows the city to predict and manage problems such as congestion.

Buildings and workplaces that take into account the sustainability and health of their workers, improve productivity, attract talent and create happy workers, becoming the best places to work. But can you really analyze that happiness?

In the WEF Future Cities Council there was a discussion in which two people were at opposite ends on this issue. One was extraordinarily cynical with the fact of being able to measure happiness. The other, who leads a smart city initiative, firmly believed it was possible. What is true is that it is a topic of discussion that city leaders are definitely taking seriously.

Another important aspect is that the quality of light and air contribute to happier and healthier workplaces, and that is something that can be measured. So you can get some indexes that work quite well.

It seems very interesting to think about this, but how do you adapt this data in real estate?

Ultimately, investors and occupants want to know that talent in their chosen city is healthy and happy, thanks to good long-term prospects. Being able to measure accurately that is the Holy Grail. If done well, it can change the way our industry sees markets and, hopefully, make better decisions.