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INNOVATION | 16.09.2020

The advantages of smart cities in the new normal

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The future of cities will be shaped by their ability to become smart cities, with sufficient resilience to cope with crises like the current COVID-19 pandemic.

 An estimated 54.5 percent of the world’s population lives in cities, a figure that rises to 75 percent in socially and technologically advanced regions such as Europe. In addition, the UN forecasts that in 2050, 70 percent of people will reside in large urban areas. These statistics indicate the need for restructuring to improve quality of life for urban populations — a need that is amplified given the high incidence of the coronavirus in the most populated areas.

In fact, the high rate of infection in cities has accelerated work to make them “smart” and equip them with capabilities that better prepare them for any crisis, whether it be a health, environmental or social crisis.

An opportunity for recovery

The IESE Business School of the University of Navarra recently gave its opinion on this evolution and published the IESE Cities in Motion Index study. In it, professors Pasqual Berrone and Joan Enric Ricart highlight that the current crisis is “an opportunity to rethink strategies for many cities and increase their resilience, in part thanks to greater public-private collaboration.”

Moreover, they provide various conclusions and recommendations after contextualizing the current health emergency, and connect them to the importance of “creating” resilient cities: the need to focus on quality of life in order to achieve a fair recovery; the identification of the city’s most essential resources; the implementation of strategies that adapt to this “new normal”; the search for synergies between all social actors; and better links with other territories that are not necessarily urban.

Smart cities are necessary

Various lines of action arise from the conclusions of this report. City councilors should focus on these and technology will play a key role in their success.

From properly managing places and movement to prevent overcrowding, to sharing strategies across departments within the city government. Not surprisingly, all specialists agree that there must be a shared vision for the city’s objectives. These will have to be in line with the region in which it is located and the country to which it belongs.

This work will be key for any city to be much better prepared for a pandemic (and the post-pandemic phase) within five years. And not only that, the transition toward the smart city concept also leads to greater social well-being, economic growth and environmental sustainability, which seems necessary when we consider that 60 percent of global carbon dioxide emissions are generated in large urban areas.

The role of technology

It comes as no surprise that the adoption of the latest technological innovations is the pillar on which new smart cities will be built, especially in terms of data collection. It is a fact that detailed information not only helps governance and decision-making, but also solves future problems through improved predictability.

Among the technologies that will help in developing smart cities, the following stand out:

  • 5G and WiFi 6. Both will be key to data generation and transport; in other words, they will make it possible for cities to be much better connected. This connection will transform cities into “organisms” capable of adapting to any type of problem that arises.
  • The Internet of Things (IoT). With a 5G-future, the ability of objects to communicate with each other will provide an enormous amount of useful information that can be used to make the most appropriate decisions. At a time like today, the IoT is a great help in contact tracing among those who have been infected with COVID-19. And that’s not all: this technology provides the data that security and health services need to move much more quickly and smoothly around the city.
  • Big Data. Of course, without technologies that are capable of compiling all types of data for analysis, the Internet of Things would be of little use. Cities should therefore have Big Data tools, which can alert them to any change or incident that might occur.

 

  • Artificial Intelligence. The fourth leg of this technological structure is AI, as it not only conducts predictive analyses of what may happen, but also has the ability to learn and advance any contingencies. This is not only useful when facing a pandemic such as this, but also for tasks such as improving mobility or caring for the environment.

Collaborative spirit

All these technologies must be considered as pillars on which to base our work; in other words, they are not the solution in themselves. In fact, there is one element that binds them: collaboration.

Collaborative work will therefore be the cornerstone of smart cities. And it is precisely this collaboration that is the driving force behind an interesting initiative created by the Smart Cities Council. This is a collaborative online tool for cities to improve their response to the coronavirus (COVID-19). The platform is called Activator – COVID-19 Mitigation Roadmap and it allows the leaders of each city to work and share information in real time in order to make the best decisions in the face of the impact of the pandemic.

The Radar COVID application is another tool related to the virus developed by the Secretariat of State for Digitization and Artificial Intelligence of the Spanish Ministry of Economic Affairs and Digital Transformation. Its task is to trace the coronavirus, as well as to notify a user’s contacts of the possible risk of infection, complying at all times with the recommendations of the European Commission in order to protect the privacy of these contacts.

In short, the ultimate goal of smart cities is to find a way to improve the lives of their inhabitants.