Technology, data, partnerships, and citizen engagement all have a vital role to play in enabling municipalities to recover from the Covid-19 pandemic and drive social development goals, a new study finds.
Alongside these elevated priorities for social good, Smart City Solutions for a Riskier World, released by research firm ESI ThoughtLab, also identified the rise of a new class of city – Cities 4.0 – that were leaders in leveraging these proficiencies to achieve their goals.
To help understand how cities are using the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) as a future roadmap, ESI ThoughtLab collaborated with a coalition of government, business, and academic leaders to conduct a comprehensive benchmarking study of diverse cities across six world regions: Africa, Asia Pacific, Europe, Latin America, Middle East, and North America.
The research also included artificial intelligence-enabled sentiment analysis of citizen views on the SDGs and digital solutions from around the world. The study seeks to act as an evidence-based playbook for driving better social, environmental, and economic outcomes.
“Our discussions with global city leaders have made it clear that the pandemic has been a catalyst for remarkable technological, business, and social change, which will continue even after the health crisis ends,” said Lou Celi, CEO of ESI ThoughtLab.
“The most successful cities will be digitally transformed, citizen-centric, and fully sustainable, as well as skilled in the new ways of doing business. We call these cities, Cities 4.0.”
Researchers from ESI ThoughtLab found that 20 of the 167 cities surveyed meet the definition of Cities 4.0 – cities that excel at leveraging technology, data, ecosystems, and partnerships of all kinds, from those with businesses and universities to citizens and communities.
“The most successful cities will be digitally transformed, citizen-centric, and fully sustainable, as well as skilled in the new ways of doing business.”
As a result, Cities 4.0 are further ahead in smart city initiatives than other cities. For example, they widely deploy 14 smart city projects versus an average of seven for other cities and they have superior infrastructure, better public transportation, roads, parks, healthcare, and digital connectivity.
In addition, Cities 4.0 have made the greatest headway on the SDGs, with 86 per cent making progress across all 17 goals, and they are seeing higher ROI on technology investments made in all urban domains, including digital infrastructure; mobility and transportation; public safety; living and health; government and education; sustainability; and energy and water.
The 20 Cities 4.0 identified in the study are Aarhus, Athens, Baltimore, Barcelona, Berlin, Birmingham, Boston, Copenhagen, Helsinki, London, Los Angeles, Madrid, Moscow, New York, Orlando, Paris, Philadelphia, Singapore, Tallinn, and Vienna.
The research also found that cities are investing in an array of smart technologies. The largest investments are being made now in cloud (87 per cent of cities), mobile (85 per cent), IoT (81 per cent), biometrics (72 per cent), and AI (66 per cent). Over the next three years, the technologies posting the largest increases in investment will be digital twins (+164 per cent), 3D printing (+125 per cent), augmented reality/virtual reality (+63 per cent), and data warehouses (+50 per cent).
Leaders of Cities 4.0 are applying lessons learned during the pandemic to set a path to achieve the SDGs. They reported that they were doing the most with SDGs related to people, including no poverty (91 per cent of cities), good health and wellbeing (89 per cent), decent work (86 per cent), and quality education (86 per cent).
The city leaders also identified hurdles to advancing on the SDGs over the next three years, including complex policies and regulations (52 per cent of cities), finding the right partner or supplier (50 per cent), and managing data security and privacy (44 per cent).
Leaders of Cities 4.0 are applying lessons learned during the pandemic to set a path to achieve the SDGs
As well as providing a roadmap to Cities 4.0, the report also advises city leaders to take the four steps that Cities 4.0 follow to advance their SDG agenda:
- regularly monitor and assess SDG efforts
- ensure SDG programmes are widely supported throughout government
- designate a department to take the SDG lead
- undertake a voluntary local review of progress on the SDGs.
ESI ThoughtLab’s research was based on rigorous analysis, including in-depth phone surveys of 167 smart city leaders around the world conducted during the fourth quarter of 2020. The full list of cities featured includes Abu Dhabi, Amsterdam, Atlanta, Bangkok, Beijing, Rio de Janeiro, Washington, DC, Cairo, and Libreville.
Research firm ESI ThoughtLab has a team of 30 economists and subject matter experts that specialise in assessing the impact of technological, economic, and demographic shifts on cities, companies and industries.
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