Smart city technology has proven powerful at helping cities around the world battle Covid-19, as our annual review shows, and it will continue to be required throughout 2021.
SmartCitiesWorld ran its first coronavirus-related story on 10 March, reporting that Bloomberg Philanthropies, working with the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and the Bloomberg Harvard City Leadership Initiative, had launched a new programme of support to help US mayors respond to the rapidly evolving situation.
Michael Bloomberg, who had just dropped out of the US presidential race, announced the coronavirus Local Response Initiative, which aimed to provide cities with virtual technical assistance, coaching and accurate information to help local leaders on the frontlines of the public health crisis.
A press statement said that “As the virus continues to spread through communities around the world, with devastating impact on the wellbeing of residents and local economies, it has fallen to mayors to step up to direct the response”.
Within two weeks, Covid-19 was dominating our news coverage and, in April, we launched the Covid Effect hub, which remains a one-stop shop for all of our coverage on the global pandemic.
Throughout 2020, smart city technology has proven powerful in the battle against Covid-19 and, with news of a new variant, it will continue to be instrumental in helping cities and communities put in place measures to tackle its impact.
We’ll continue to bring you news of the tools and technologies that can help in the ongoing fight against the coronavirus as well as share learning and practices from around the globe. In the meantime, we take a look back at the top 10 most popular stories posted in 2020 on SmartCitiesWorld
Central and local governments in South Korea were among the first to employ the use of technology to track the virus by sending real-time alerts via text message, apps and online on the number of confirmed cases of the coronavirus as well as the travel histories of those infected. In March, we reported how a “self-quarantine safety protection” app, developed by the Ministry of the Interior and Safety, allows those who have been quarantined to stay in touch with caseworkers. The Corona 100m (Co100) app, launched on February 11, had a million downloads in its first 10 days after launch.
Also in March, the Colombian capital of Bogotá announced that it was opening 76km (47 miles) of temporary bike lanes to reduce crowding on public transport and help prevent the spread of coronavirus, as well as to improve air quality. A statement from the mayor’s office said: “The bicycle, being an individual means of transport, represents one of the most hygienic alternatives for the prevention of the virus, especially in this first preventive stage in which it is recommended to avoid close contact and crowds.”
3. LA rolls out pre-paid cards for Covid-19 financial assistance
In April, the City of Los Angeles said it would provide pre-paid debit cards to get financial assistance to the most in-need residents faster amid the pandemic. The programme was to be deployed with Accelerator for America and Mastercard’s City Possible, and the partners reckon the approach could be quickly scaled to other cities. Funds were distributed via no-fee, pre-paid debit cards, enabled by City Possible, to citizens experiencing financial hardship due to Covid-19-related job losses or furloughing.
4. Amsterdam adopts first city doughnut model for circular economy
In April, we reported on the City of Amsterdam’s Circular 2020-2025 strategy, which outlined actions to halve the use of new raw materials by 2030. The strategy is based on what Amsterdam reports as “the world’s first City Doughnut” economic model. The city aims to have a completely circular economy by 2050, based on reusing raw materials to avoid waste and reduce Co2 emissions.
In September, Singapore topped the Institute for Management Development (IMD) Smart City Index for the second consecutive year, followed by the Finnish capital Helsinki and Swiss city of Zurich. The ranking is based on citizens’ perception of the impact that technology has on their quality of lives as well as economic and technological data. It included key findings on how technology is playing a role in the Covid-19 era.
In January, we reported on the news that, in 2019, a single driver died in a traffic accident in Oslo, down from five in 2018 and that no pedestrians, children or cyclists at all were killed on the roads last year in the Norwegian capital. Figures from the Norwegian Public Roads Administration show the number of deaths on Oslo’s roads has fallen sharply, down from 41 deaths in 1975. The country has a ‘vision zero’ strategy, implemented in 2001, focused on reducing crashes that can lead to fatalities and serious injuries.
The Boston Department of Innovation and Technology’s Citywide Analytics Team launched two dashboards in March that allowed residents to track the number of coronavirus cases in the city and throughout Massachusetts. Mayor Marty Walsh said: “Ensuring residents have accurate, up-to-date information about the coronavirus is critical during this challenging time. These dashboards are another resource for residents to gather information and stay informed as we follow public health guidelines to keep ourselves and each other safe.”
Artificial intelligence has been central to many solutions developed to battle the virus. In March, we reported how China was using 5G patrol robots to monitor mask-wearing and body temperatures in public places airports and shopping malls in cities such as Guangzhou, Shanghai, Xi’an and Guiyang. Meanwhile, intelligent disinfection robots developed in a week from design to sample production by Siemens and Aucma were to be used in some of China’s hospitals.
In May, it was announced that Google affiliate Sidewalk Labs was shelving its controversial Toronto smart city plans, citing the impact of coronavirus and “unprecedented economic uncertainty”. The abrupt announcement marked the end of a project that had been delayed several times and received strong criticism in some quarters from citizens and privacy campaigners to its own advisors.
Also in May, a report from ABI Research highlighted how drones, new types of surveillance, digital twins and real-time dashboards were among the technologies emerging in new use cases by cities during the coronavirus pandemic. Analysis by the global tech market advisory firm showed that city governments are adjusting to a new reality with Covid-19 driving urban resilience and digital transformation strategy agendas.
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