Happy new year. I hope the Christmas period gave you the opportunity to relax, help turn your attentions away from the challenges we all face and return to work this year refreshed. The start of 2021 has been bleak, especially for us in the western world.
The habitual strains on healthcare networks have been exacerbated by Covid-19. The development of vaccines has been exciting and inspirational news but it’s clear we have some dark days ahead in the immediate term.
I’ve asked Paul Wilson, the chairman of the SmartCitiesWorld Advisory Board to spell out his thoughts about the next 12 months. You can read my own next week. In spite of the gloom of where we are, the vaccine developments show how inspirational and effective technology can be in transforming our lives for the better. We all want to see more of this in the months ahead.
Locked down people watch more online movies than they should. The UK is entering its third national lockdown as I write, and home schooling, local walks, online movies, cooking and Zoom calls sum up many of our lives. I’m left wondering if the popular culture science fiction many of us are consuming, which repeatedly presents our shared future as worse than the present or past, is becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy. George Clooney’s Netflix film The Midnight Sky is a stylish and bleak portrayal of our shared dystopian future. But yet again, beautifully designed advanced technology can’t stop the destruction of the earth’s biosphere and the only route is finding a new home in space.
Finding another planet is becoming the ultimate fantasy in consumer culture. For some it’s a delusion that stops us grappling with contentment with consuming less and for others it’s a stark warning. And while predictions seem unfashionable and unwise these days, the old adage ‘those who fail to plan, plan to fail’, keeps me wanting to predict 2021. Three things seem like certainties to me: a growing focus on climate change and the climate crisis; the growing urbanisation of our growing global population; and an even more accelerated digital transformation.
The focus on the climate crisis will crescendo this year at November’s COP26 in Glasgow, in what is billed as the most important global summit for the planet ever. Extinction Rebellion protestors will be out in force and many pioneering examples of change will be heralded in the preceding weeks and months. National political leaders will take centre stage, but after the party, it’s city leaders who will deliver the changes we all need to build a more resilient and sustainable future.
Ola Rosling, President of the sustainable global development Gapminder Foundation, is helping the United Nations track the performance of its Sustainable Development Goals. He suggests that the world is a performing as expected against these goals, but there are a small number of areas where development indicators are getting worse, or much worse. One of those areas is the number of people living in slums.
This means that the focus on urban resilience will continue to increase as pandemics are added to the fires, floods, storms and droughts that affect us more and more, and have a disproportionately large impact on the poorest. As progressive thinkers prepare for COP26, the amount of airtime given to urban planning and smart cities will be a barometer for how pragmatic the outcomes of the summit will be.
Great food for thought from Paul. In the coming weeks I will be speaking more about our priorities for the year and the new kinds of content we are going to bring you in 2021. It’s a worrying time for us all but I hope when I am writing my editor’s letter this time next year we’ll be moving forward optimistically and continuing to transform how we live and work for the better.