- Published: 28 March 2023
It can be difficult to imagine what the cities we live in will look like in ten, or 20 years’ time, but it’s something which local decision-makers are having to think about right now. If, one the one hand, cities have become the engine of economic growth, on the other they are also increasingly facing unprecedented sustainability challenges that directly affect the quality of life of their residents.
Local levels of air pollution are mounting globally, posing a health risk for 99 per cent of the people living in metropolitan areas. Around half the world’s urban population continues to have no convenient access to basic public services like clean water, affordable housing, and public transport.
And while urban systems show clear signs of vulnerability and inefficiencies, their growth isn’t slowing – the United Nations estimates the proportion of people living in cities will reach 68 per cent by 2030, compared to 57 per cent in 2021.
With these crises coming into view, municipal governments around the globe are increasingly turning to smart city projects to tackle them – harnessing digital technologies to provide data-driven solutions.
While this can sound futuristic, we already have many examples in action. Real-time sensors are being used to optimise the routes of bin collections and minimise the risks of overflowing waste. Similarly, data-driven traffic management systems are being used to improve street circulation and prevent congestion, thereby also reducing air and sound pollution.
Additionally, smart technologies are being implemented on a broader scale to make healthcare and energy provision more efficient. E-health applications are boosting the quality of diagnostics and preventive care by providing medical professionals with real-time data. Smart grids are helping different energy suppliers to combine their resources, enabling the green transition.
Despite their incredible potential, smart city projects come with their own challenges. Bringing digital solutions to complex urban systems is easier said than done, and many municipal governments are finding it difficult to manage a digital transformation that requires the coordination of local and global bodies.
The severity of these issues is what motivated the United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UN-Habitat) and the Development Bank of Latin America (CAF) to partner with our team at the Urban Innovation Policy Lab at Edinburgh Napier University, to develop a guidance framework for the governance of these smart city projects.
Our joint study outlines what municipal governments need in order to effectively lead digital transformation and make their cities more sustainable and innovative. As part of it, a survey of more than 250 cities across 5 continents revealed the wide mix of strategies and tools used worldwide to govern smart city projects. Among them, two aspects emerged as critical.
First, municipal administrations need to develop an organisational culture which is supportive of this innovation and collaboration. And secondly, they should seek the input of local residents and businesses throughout the different phases of smart city development, from the design of digital services to their delivery in practice. In short, embrace smart city technology – and bring people along with you.
This is only one of our many research collaborations, aiming to better understand how technological solutions can benefit urban communities. We have recently completed a study on science, technology and innovation for sustainable urban development in collaboration with UNCTAD, another UN agency, while we are also collaborating with the National League of Cities to analyse people-centred approaches to urban innovation.
We are also regularly engaging with local administrations and organisations across Scotland, including the Scottish Government, to start harnessing the potential of some of these solutions on our doorstep. But it will take buy-in from municipal authorities around the world for smart city projects to fully tackle the environmental and social challenges we all face, and make our cities fit for the future.
Autor(en)/Author(s): Dr Paolo Gerli & Professor Luca Mora
Quelle/Source: The Scotsman, 21.03.2023