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Smart City Strategy Summit: Key Takeaways

ESI ThoughtLab

In the post-pandemic world, cities will be utilizing a range of smart and sustainable solutions to support their recovery and to reimagine the metropolises of the future. Among the key issues they will be looking at are mobility, data, partnerships, digital twins, and the growing importance of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).  

ESI ThoughtLab, in partnership with CityAge, NTT Data, Bentley Systems, and Axis Communications, convened a virtual summit on March 30th to launch the results of our latest study, Smart City Solutions for a Riskier World, and bring together city leaders to exchange views on smart solutions for a post-pandemic world. The Smart City Strategy Summit attracted 240 registrants, 75% of whom were smart city leaders from 142 cities and 27 countries.

An initial panel discussed the post-pandemic recovery path and the cities of the future—what we have called Cities 4.0. Cities 4.0 are urban centers that excel at leveraging technology, data, ecosystems, and partnerships of all kinds, including those with businesses, universities, citizens, and communities. They use these tools to help them to achieve their social, environmental, and economic goals.

City leaders from Barcelona, Singapore, Los Angeles, and Orlando explained that the pandemic had heightened the importance of the UN’s SDGs as well as the value of smart city programs. They also offered insights into the best practices that helped them advance towards achieving the 17 SDGs. The panel displayed broad agreement that the SDGs are a great framework for engaging citizens and moving forward with cities’ agendas and that investment in digital technologies is a must.

Attendees then participated in five detailed workshops, covering several of the topics highlighted during the summit. At the end of the event, workshop moderators summarized some of the key takeaways of each workshop.  

The Future of Distance: Rethinking mobility and infrastructure in a post-pandemic world

One of the main takeaways was that relevant data is an essential component to do proper planning within cities and to tackle mobility issues—including delivering services like light rail transit, bus rapid transit, vehicular roadway traffic, and micro mobility.  

“It’s essential to select data relevant to tackle mobility challenges,” said moderator Kevin Taylor, Business Development Manager at Axis Communications.

Making Data a Strategic Asset and Not a Liability: How Cities 4.0 use data to drive value, improve decisions, and assess SDG progress

Moderator Bennett Indart, Vice President of Smart World Solutions at NTT, highlighted the importance of sharing data, particularly during the pandemic. “Cities […] have been forced to really share data across different departments and different silos, in partnership. And that is essential to be able to have that visibility across the different bodies, both internally to the city and across the different counties and the different boundaries that exist.”

Another important point was that the talent needed to do robust data analysis is in high demand and in scarce supply, which makes it a very valuable asset for cities.  

Driving Change Through Partnerships: Tapping next-generation partnerships and innovative funding models

This session underscored the importance of partnerships to create opportunities for innovation. “The strongest environmental ecosystems have strong biodiversity, so they have connections and partnerships across genomes, across animals, across plant life. Think about a city in the same way,” said Steve Wray, Senior Vice President and Principal at Econsult Solutions. “Partnerships across different sectors can create the connections that can solve problems within a city.”

The moderator also noted that the government funding which cities will receive to help them recover from the pandemic can be leveraged to create long-term opportunities for investment in partnership opportunities.  

Building an SDG Roadmap: How cities leverage the SDG framework to drive better social, environmental, and economic outcomes

Moderator Hervé Solignac, founder and CEO of URBATIS, an IT development and advisory firm, emphasized the need to adapt the Sustainable Development Goals to the policies that are developed within each city. “The SDGs are only good when they meet a particular city’s strategic goals and KPIs,” said Solignac.  

The session also spotlighted the importance of replication. Large cities that have successfully implemented the SDGs in their plans should think about sharing their methodology with smaller urban centers. Three key components for success were mentioned: involving the city councils in the adoption of the SDGs, deepening citizen engagement, and tapping the academic community to advise during the process.  

Next-generation Urban Planning and Programs: Using digital twins and smart technology to drive real-time decisions, predictive insights, and integrated solutions

The last session delved into digital twins and they key role this innovative technology can play  in the digital transformation of cities. Moderator Ton de Vries, Senior Director of Business Development at Bentley Systems, also spoke about the environmental impact that can be achieved through technology. “The city is the infrastructure interface between us, the people who live there, and the planet. There needs to be a green transition and a green transition is a digital transition,” said de Vries.