Colombo, the focus of our exploratory work on mobile network big data, is a tiny town by global standards: 550,000 people. But our analyses show that the surrounding area is tightly integrated contributing over 54 percent of the daytime population of the city, but contributing little or nothing to the services the commuters must be provided. A former Mayor once told me that he had thought of using the dormant power of the legislation that established the Colombo Municipal Council to establish tolls at the gates of the city. Appears this is not a problem limited to Colombo.
Current debates about the efficiency of urban governance gravitate around the ‘fit’ between the size of the administrative boundary controlled by a city mayor or governor, and the actual number of people who live in the ‘wider functional metropolitan’ area. Many cities spill across multiple political jurisdictions as their populations and footprints have grown over time, leading to fragmented decision-making and lack of co-ordination even though they all ‘belong’ to a continuous urban agglomeration. For example, only seven million of Mexico City’s 22 million residents are actually controlled by the city mayor of the Distrito Federal while the majority lives (and pays taxes) in the neighbouring political districts. The inability of a metropolitan-wide entity to raise money and determine policy and investment strategies for the entire ‘functional’ area, inevitably leads to dysfunctional transport, infrastructure, housing and environmental policies which can’t be solved within the confines of restricted political boundaries. Sustainable commuting patterns or water supply systems, for example, cannot be implemented without some level of control across broader geographical areas that extend well beyond the city limits of these, and other, global cities.