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The fourth generation of cities

It’s a strange time. Of course, it has been a strange time for well over a year but optimism surrounding vaccination rates in countries like Israel, the UK and Chile is being sharply tempered by fresh and sudden lockdowns in Europe, vaccine scepticism in some countries and a deadly and passive approach to the virus in Brazil. 

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Cities need citizen engagement.
Cities need citizen engagement.

 

It’s a strange time. Of course, it has been a strange time for well over a year but optimism surrounding vaccination rates in countries like Israel, the UK and Chile is being sharply tempered by fresh and sudden lockdowns in Europe, vaccine scepticism in some countries and a deadly and passive approach to the virus in Brazil. Predictions must be diluted with caution but even with the astoundingly quick vaccine development rates, we will be living in the shadow of Covid-19 for some time, sadly.

 

What we have definitively learned this week is that the pandemic has strongly underlined the value of smart cities. I’ve spent some time poring through the findings of ESI Thoughtlabs’ Smart Cities for a Riskier World report and I implore you to do so - you can download it here.

 

It found almost two thirds of cities feel the biggest lesson of the pandemic is how crucial smart city programmes are for their future. This was particularly marked in the Middle East (80 per cent) and Europe (68 per cent).

Interestingly, and encouragingly, 43 per cent of cities have learned the importance of operational continuity and agility, as well as the merit of data and analytics. While there are many exceptions, cities have been criticised for being slow moving, trapped by silos and dragged down by legacy infrastructure.

 

But there is an acceptance that things must change across the board with a sizeable minority (37 per cent) convinced of the need to invest more in upgrading core infrastructure and a quarter recognising the need to build reliable and affordable connectivity.

 

As Andrew Caruso, Director, Strategy and Operations, Urban Solutions, at engineering consultancy Hatch notes in the report: “Technology enables SDG progress because it can integrate both technical and social solutions. It optimises use of scarce resources, connects governments with their citizens, and scales quickly to respond to dynamically changing conditions. Further, it enables both front-end insights and feedback loops that power a cycle of continuous improvement.”

 

The report rightly argues the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals should be a key measure of a smart city’s progress. The report finds cities are doing well but there is room for improvement - it classes 22 per cent of cities as ’sprinters’ or advanced in most SDGs. The bulk of cities - 58 per cent - are ’advancers’ or making progress on the goals, while the remaining 20 per cent are classed as ’implementers’, who are including SDGs in their city plans.

 

What is encouraging is cities are already building back better from Covid-19 by putting people and prosperity at the centre of their plans. More than 90 per cent are actively aiming for no poverty, 89 per cent include good health and well-being, a share that will likely increase within the next 12 months, and 86 per cent put quality education in their plans.

 

This people-led approach, underpinned by the latest technology, is what we at SmartCitiesWorld have been arguing since our inception. Cities need citizen engagement. They can innovate for their populace but those systems need buy-in. ESI Thoughtlabs feels the same and has nicely encapsulated those who offer the best of both worlds as Cities 4.0. There are currently only 20 - with a heavy western Europe bias, albeit with Singapore, Moscow and Orlando among their number - but they present a blueprint for others to follow.

 

No weekly newsletter from me next week but if you are celebrating, I’d like to wish you all a happy Easter and thanks for your continued support.

 

 

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