Cities in a Time of Global Emergencies

Cities in a time of global emergencies xi

PREFACE As underlined by our respective presidents in the foreword, the pandemic has not relegated pre-existing long-term concerns to the backburner of global challenges. Smart cities are indeed living evidence that improving our collective ability to become more resilient to pandemics is highly correlated with our determination and resolve to fight climate change. This high level of interdependence between two apparently separate sets of issues is becoming clear when one considers how the global disruption in travel and trade has affected the daily lives of billions of citizens round the world. It is even more striking when one looks at how technology and innovation (in addition to swift and massive actions from governments) have helped us weather the storm, or at least mitigate its effect, especially for the most vulnerable. Smart cities are, typically, where people, technology and innovation meet and attempt to shape a common, desirable future. But there are many ways to be smart. Casting the base of a more environmentally supportive urban future can be done in more than one way. Most smart cities are still in a phase of trial and error in this respect, and this is why comparative studies and exchanges of experiences among cities are so important. The pandemic has played the role of an accelerator in this regard, forcing cities mayors and decision-makers to adopt emergency measures when their citizens’ lives were at stake. This second book in the IMD/SUTD series of smart city case studies offers a timely opportunity to assess how the strategies and approaches pursued by smart cities have been perceived by the populations involved. In this context, the interdependence between health resilience on the one hand and longer term efforts to fight climate change on another should be a core concern. Clearly, there is no “cookie cutter approach” that smart cities should be ready to adopt and follow to become more people-centric and more climate-friendly. But the diversity of the choices made, and the variety and imagination with which they have been implemented by cities around the world is a rich source of information and experience, that no city (smart or not) can afford to ignore. What will the world look like in 20 years from now? Is the trend towards urbanization going to take a different shape, and progress at a different speed? Will we witness a redefinition of urban spaces and a redistribution of responsibilities across urban and rural geographies? It is probably too early to answer such questions with the precision we would all hope for. However, one thing at least is clear: in all parts of the world, the pandemic has played the role of a formidable accelerator for digital transformation, while environmental concerns have been even more present in the thinking of our decision-makers. At city level, this means that smart cities will be the object of increased scrutiny and attention.

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