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Cities need to be agile if citizens are to thrive

WEF explores city agility in eight categories including buildings, land, mobility, IT, security, education and governance

Cities around the world must be able to move and react quickly and easily
Cities around the world must be able to move and react quickly and easily

Cities must be ‘agile’ – able to move quickly and easily – to enable their citizens to thrive and for them to harness new opportunities and address new challenges created by rapidly changing technology, a new report suggests.


The World Economic Forum report, Agile Cities: Preparing for the Fourth Industrial Revolution, explains the concept of agility and sets out guidelines for measuring agility in key areas of city life.


“The report is meant to provide a starting point for conversations on how city authorities can better prepare for the changes of the Fourth Industrial Revolution while improving urban liveability for citizens,” said Alice Charles, cities leads at the World Economic Forum.


“Many cities are already blazing a trail in ways others could emulate.”


Assessing agility


From the diverse experience of the forum’s Global Future Council on Cities and Urbanisation, the report proposes how to assess physical, digital and environmental aspects of agility in eight categories: buildings, land, energy, mobility, IT, security, education and governance.


In an agile city, the report notes, governments: embrace ongoing transformation; planners efficiently rezone land for temporary uses; buildings serve a diverse mix of functions; policing and prevention strategies are smart and data-driven; agencies share and seamlessly redeploy their IT assets; interoperable transport systems are optimised by real-time information; energy networks maximise use of renewables while ensuring secure supply; and the education system quickly adapts to reflect the economy’s changing needs.

“Many cities are already blazing a trail in ways others could emulate”

The report also draws examples of agility from cities around the world, including:

  • ‘enterprise districts’ in Singapore where zoning is more flexible to allow academia and business to share collaborative spaces and encourage synergy among businesses in different sectors
  • an app for integrated mobility in Quito, Ecuador, which will make it easy for users to plan and pay for a single journey, and that uses different modes of transport such as metro, bus, private taxi and bike hire
  • consolidation of separate municipal IT infrastructures in Dubai, with shared services now covering over 90 per cent of employees and 95 per cent of budgets, which has considerably reduced emissions from ICT equipment
  • an app in Moscow through which the city government seeks residents’ feedback on urban development issues before making decisions, with over 1.5 million Muscovites already registered.


“We know agility is important for cities, but what does it really mean? This report introduces a framework for assessing it and shares many examples of new and emerging initiatives which can potentially be adapted by other cities,” added Carlo Ratti, co-chair, Global Future Council on Cities and Urbanisation, and director of Senseable City Lab at MIT


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