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Smart City Strategy Summit: Dialogue with City Leaders

ESI ThoughtLab

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.

The event began with a panel on post-pandemic recovery and Cities 4.0, a term coined by ESI ThoughtLab to describe urban centers that will evolve beyond yesterday’s smart cities to transform and interconnect various urban domains by leveraging technology and data, and by using a wider set of partnerships and innovative financing models.  

Lou Celi, CEO of ESI ThoughtLab, reviewed the research results and explained that the pandemic had heightened the importance of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, as well as the value of smart city programs. He also offered insights into the best practices that have helped cities to advance towards achieving the 17 SDGs. These practices include regularly monitoring their progress, gaining wide support across government and from citizens, and assessing their results against those of their peers.  

During the panel session, city leaders from Barcelona, Singapore, Orlando, and Los Angeles shed light on how their cities are achieving their recovery goals, and what were the main lessons learned in 2020.

“This pandemic really spotlighted the importance around resilience planning. A core part of the city’s job is thinking about how we can ensure long-term prosperity in times of shocks or stressors,” said Chris Castro, Director of Sustainability and Resilience, City of Orlando. “Another thing it highlighted was the inequities that we knew about but didn’t realize their extent. We’re talking more about the digital divide as a challenge, about food insecurity, as well as energy and transportation burdens.

Los Angeles, one of the first cities in the country to adopt the UN’s SDGs as a framework for progress, also highlighted their work around fighting inequality. “Much of those [inequalities] we’ve already been working on, for instance issues around police reform. We were the first city to adopt ‘8 Can’t Wait’ to make sure we have transparency around the use of force,” said Jeanne Holm, Deputy Mayor of Los Angeles. “There’s also the ability to think about the digital transformation of government. Everything from the infrastructure of 5G (we were the first 5G city in the country) and being able to roll out 5G equitably […] in our most disconnected communities, to providing jobs and training and support.”

For Barcelona, a city that had already adopted the UN’s 2030 Agenda before COVID-19, the pandemic forced leaders to re-prioritize their goals.

“When COVID hit the priority was saving lives, so the SDGs were not part of the day-to-day agenda. But then we realized that the challenges that have arisen during the pandemic, the need for a better health system for all, a better education for all, a need to have a more diversified economy, all these challenges were already in the 2030 Agenda. The only thing that happened was that the priorities changed.

When concluding with advice for other cities, the panel displayed broad agreement that the SDGs are a great framework for engaging citizens and moving forward with cities’ agendas. Panelists also emphasized that investment in digital is a must. As cities deal with more complex challenges in the face of crises, having a more agile response mechanism and resilience plan also will be essential.  

A recording of the panel discussion can be found here.