How Blockchain Can Transform Our Cities

Blockchain is one of those technologies that has been significantly hyped, but with little to really show for itself.  Advocates believe it will do everything from solve poverty to tackle inequality.  To date however, it hasn’t really done anything of note.

This doesn’t appear to be dampening enthusiasm however.  The latest organization to puff up the prospects of blockchain are the National League of Cities, who have recently published a report showcasing what it believes to be the tremendous opportunities for blockchain to transform our cities.

Restoring faith

The report talks about the decline in trust across the developed world, especially towards those in authority, and the contributing role misinformation has played in that trend.  They believe that blockchain technology can help to restore that trust by providing an indelible security layer to all information, whether related to voting, real estate, transportation and more.

The report outlines seven main ways that cities can explore blockchain right now:

  1. Expanding digital inclusion programs, such as support for the un-banked.
  2. The use of blockchain in governance, procurement and business licensing.
  3. To increase civic engagement and offer fresh pathways for voting.
  4. Strengthen possibilities for local alternative energy projects.
  5. The development of digital transportation infrastructure to underpin autonomous vehicles.
  6. Explore some of the negative factors that might hold the technology back.
  7. Learn from what other cities have done with blockchain.

“Imagine an anonymous “smart” spreadsheet listing and time-stamping each new bill paid, purchase made, vote cast and credit earned,” the authors say.  “In order to transfer value from one spreadsheet to another, a trusted third party verifies both spreadsheets and ownership of the asset, its transfer and its deduction from the payer’s spreadsheet. The blockchain is a copy of this third party’s master ledger, with both accounts on it, held by all three parties.”

It’s hard to get past ‘imagine’ as the key word here, as all of the supposed use cases require an awful lot of imagination to see them in real-life usage.  Despite many reports of this nature, which all propose a wide range of supposed use cases for the technology, to date there hasn’t been anything developed in reality.  It does kinda suggest that either the technology isn’t all that, or there are some serious barriers that the authors of these reports fail to appreciate.

Most new technologies have some very non-technical issues to overcome before they achieve widescale adoption, but with blockchain you do sense that there are still many technical kinks to iron out too.  These will surely mean that the promise outlined in this report will be some way from ever being realized.