As city leaders around the world continue to cope with the impacts of COVID-19, they are also assessing which will remain with us in a post-pandemic world. Repercussions of the health crisis, including recession, high unemployment, and the new urban exodus, have highlighted weaknesses and underscore why leaders need to improve public health and other infrastructures, create new jobs, and adopt new technologies and innovative solutions to address their social, environmental, and economic challenges.
ESI ThoughtLab’s thought leadership team asked experts participating in our Smart City Solutions for a Riskier World study to offer their perspectives on how the pandemic will reshape cities, what future trends they foresee for urban centers, and how smart technology and solutions, along with new partnerships, will help city leaders address the challenges they face.
Smart City Solutions for a Riskier World is a multi-organization initiative designed to create an evidence-based roadmap to making cities safe, sustainable, and resilient. The research will reveal lessons learned from the pandemic, centered on the social, environmental, and economic imperatives that matter most, and based on objective quantitative analysis that shows which investments and technologies will be most effective for achieving their goals. It builds off of last year’s research program, Building a Hyperconnected City.
What will cities look like over the next 3-5 years? How will city living, shopping, working, and mobility change? Will Main Street look different? How so?
Kok-Chin TAY, Chairman, Smart Cities Network: COVID-19 has had tremendous impact on cities worldwide. Hence, future cities need to see an exponential growth in their use of technologies for city governance, to make progress with the digital economy, and get used to the future of work.
Gordon Feller, Advisor to cities; Board Member: 4 VC-funded smart-city solution providers; 4 non-profit smart-city solution providers: Executives who help lead cities—whether elected, appointed, or otherwise—must be armed with tools, and usable real-time data is among the most vital of those critical tools. Solid research and analysis can help leaders because they’re finding that data-at-rest is often found less useful than data-in-motion.
Miguel Eiras Antunes, Global Smart City, Smart Nation & Local Government Leader, Deloitte: The pandemic will have a long tail, and cities will take some time to bounce back. We will continue to see slower economic growth, a broader focus on public health infrastructure, and cities struggling with backlogs and pent-up demand. But we will see an emergence of an adaptive governance style that focuses on data-driven decision-making, adopting emerging technology, and implementing innovative policies.
Kevin Taylor, Segment Development Manager, Smart Cities, Axis Communications: In past years, there was a global mega-trend of populations moving into metropolitan centers. More recently, and in light of COVID-19, it is likely that more suburban areas will grow into mid-size cities. The things that have drawn people to cities over the last 30 years—economic opportunity, cultural/social/entertainment choices, and an environment conducive to mass transit and micro-mobility options—are likely to be scaled down into smaller “home-town” style communities.
Mark Saunders, Academic Director, Zigurat Global Institute of Technology: Cities may implement different changes, but it is important to appreciate which may be temporary and which more sustained. Key changes such as contactless payments are likely to become ubiquitous and permanent; issues like “the future of work” and the utilization of city center office space may be more dynamic.
Andrew Caruso, Director, Urban Solutions, Hatch: COVID-19 has reinforced fundamental principles of healthy, resilient communities. The ability to access the necessities of everyday life within one’s local context—food, education, economic opportunity, transit, safe space for exercise, and digital connection—has proven essential to surviving catastrophic risk events of all types. Buildings will need to increasingly flex to accommodate new uses. In the wake of rising eCommerce, we hope Main Streets find reawakening in their history of social and civic functions, potentially reinvigorated by rising levels of non-motorized transport adoption.
Raúl García-Rodríguez, Advisor, Real Estate Market Advisory Group, UNECE: Cities will be less automobile focused; people will try to reduce their mobility range to closer areas thus fostering neighborhood life rather than city life. All services will eventually return to the “closer” environment, suburban development will no longer focus just on retail services, offices, and industrial uses as all uses (other than non-polluting production) will reallocate within the “closer” areas.
William Baver, Vice President, Smart Platform, NTT: With remote working becoming a norm rather than an exception, new localisms emerge, and cities will have to deal with this by decentralizing their services and increasing flexibility to meet a demand that can scale up or down. Data-driven information can certainly help city leaders here in understanding for instance which facilities are used and how.
Yi Wang, Head of Global Development Program, ANBOUND: Science and technology are driving the sustainable development of cities. The development of diversity and equality with access to conceivable gadgets could prepare for uncertainties. City leaders have ideals and can handle their urban planning properly, but would they be able to plan people’s life? We will be rethinking the needs of people in a city that is truly people-oriented and that aims to bring about urban prosperity.
What techniques and tools will cities of the future use to achieve their sustainable goals? What role will smart technology, partnerships, and financing play in improving social, environmental, and economic conditions?
Yi Wang, Head of Global Development Program, ANBOUND: In today’s information society, material wealth can be digitized, including currency. History, cultural, and artistic expression are also in the process of rapid digitization. The smart city will not just rely on the tedious technical systems, but rather on smart technology like VR, AI, cloud, IoT, 5G/6G, robotics, biometrics, and anti-digital crime. Smart solutions will facilitate data platforms open to the public and engage business executives in regulations and policymaking.
Kevin Taylor, Segment Development Manager, Smart Cities, Axis Communications: The first tool that cities should leverage is an internal culture of collaboration. If the pandemic has taught us anything, it has revealed that no one person, stakeholder or department within government has all the answers to solve all the needs of the community. Best of all, this tool costs cities nothing; they already have everything they need to put it to work for the good of the community they serve. Cities will adopt technologies that are open architecture and compliant to established standards.
Karen Lightman, Executive Director, Metro21: Smart Cities Institute, Carnegie Mellon University:Techniques such as user-centered design and design-thinking principles should guide any city of the future—because cities are about the people, not the gadgets. Yes, we should aim to improve efficiency, but not at the expense of human nature or humans in general. We should be mindful of diversity, equity, and inclusion to ensure that any techniques or technology are based on improving quality of life for all.
Miguel Eiras Antunes, Global Smart City, Smart Nation & Local Government Leader, Deloitte: New and emerging technologies will play a vital role. We will see a truly hyperconnected era in cities with the convergence of IoT, 5G, cloud, and edge computing. For instance, today’s smart cities might have sensor networks of a few thousand connected devices. Imagine a scenario where millions of such devices can be connected in a city center, measuring temperature, humidity, air quality, flood levels, pedestrian traffic, and more.
Jarendra Reddy, Director, Urban Solutions, Hatch: Smart solutions will enable transformations in both demand and supply. Real-time feedback could help consumers understand the impacts of consumption patterns and make individual decisions that optimize their use of scarce resources. Likewise, providers can leverage more robust data to assess future requirements and pinpoint opportunities to improve products and services, leading to more efficient and less impactful consumption and production patterns.
Karen Lightman, Executive Director, Metro21, Smart Cities Institute, Carnegie Mellon University: Techniques such as user-centered design and design-thinking principles should guide any city of the future—because cities are about the people, not the gadgets. Yes, we should aim to improve efficiency, but not at the expense of human nature or humans in general. We should be mindful of diversity, equity, and inclusion to ensure that any techniques or technology are based in improving quality of life for all.
William Baver, Vice President, Smart Platform, NTT: Smart technology, data, and analytics will need to be translated into new sustainable economic and environmental policies. Cities will need to learn how to harness the power of data to make more informed decisions and ultimately achieve their goals. AI and analytics-based solutions providing real-time and predictive information will be key alongside having better data and multiple data sources.
Mark Saunders, Academic Director, Zigurat Global Institute of Technology: Cities need to fully embrace a range of technologies to automate activities to make them more efficient and safer. Key “backbone” systems, like Internet of Things networks, allow a range of downstream benefits across the whole gamut of city life. We all need to help cities understand the hugely positive business cases around smart city developments and act on them.
Raul Garcia-Rodriguez, Advisor, Real Estate Market Advisory Group, UNECE: Corporate social responsibility and sustainability criteria will be the necessary catalyst for companies to survive. Innovation and technology will allow the adoption of sustainable criteria and policies for every process and activity. The financial sector could and should be the main catalyst when adopting CSR and sustainability criteria by providing capital for the transition conditioned to ESG impacts.
How will cities use a range of partnerships to achieve their future goals? How will they leverage partnerships with companies, government agencies, other cities, start-ups, universities, and other entities to make things happen?
Per Bjorkdahl, Sustainability Sales Engagement Director, Axis Communications: Construction of current partnerships needs to be revised to sustain dramatic changes that now caused disruptions. New partnerships need to broaden their scope to be able to withstand disruptions. Research institutes can contribute by narrow focus on local conditions backed by the research of best practices in a much wider context.
William Baver, Vice President, Smart Platform, NTT: Cities cannot be alone in this journey. They will need to partner with local, regional, global organizations across both the public and private sector to make this happen. We will see the creation of new business models that can allow these groups to exist and cooperate while sharing costs and profits. To make things happen, a two-way dialogue will be important to receive and share information on all fronts.
Kok-Chin TAY, Chairman, Smart Cities Network: Ecosystems of stakeholders will start to develop, as people begin to see the benefit of partnerships with the increased online interactions. Such partnerships will help fill the gaps that individual companies cannot fulfill.
Andrew Caruso, Director, Urban Solutions, Hatch: Our hope is that cities emerge from this crisis with the same vision—the courage to reimagine existing relationships and structures between stakeholders, and the focused ambition to generate opportunities for shared value and prosperity. Much like a vaccine trial, reinventing our cities will be iterative. It will require quantitative analysis and qualitative reflection. We must talk about failures as much as successes, shift away from celebrating the individual successes to collective prosperity, and leverage and invent new technology at every step.
John Tuohy, Director, Smart Cities Strategy, Oracle: Cities will need to partner with other academic, non-profit, and government agencies to use platforms for online services and engagement that may have a high startup cost. An example might be using a non-profit platform to attend a conference shared by multiple conference providers. Also, start-ups that offer niche pointed solutions in lieu of expensive enterprise solutions, provided they can provide integration and security.
Mark Saunders, Academic Director, Zigurat Global Institute of Technology: Resilience is a “team sport” and no single party can succeed on their own. While cities compete with one another, there is also much to do to share and work together. Sharing “what works” and “what didn’t work” are key aspects of this and when cities define longer term outcome-based aspirations, different companies, agencies, and institutions can identify how they are able to contribute and collaborate.
Miguel Eiras Antunes, Global Smart City, Smart Nation & Local Government Leader, Deloitte: A successful development strategy for cities depends on six critical factors: technological innovation, citizen involvement and co-creation, strategic partnerships, local leadership strategy, innovations in public procurement, and new innovative financing systems. It is necessary to create the right conditions for people to develop their business, invest in education, create a vibrant talent economy, and evolve a robust technology ecosystem. Governments can’t do it alone: they will need to build a broad, multi-stakeholder ecosystem on the ground.