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Urban Development

World Urban Forum looks to realize a ‘common vision’ for cities of the future

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Ms. Maimunah Mohd Sharif, Executive Director of UN-Habitat, speaks at the opening of assemblies on the first day of the 10th Session of the World Urban Forum in Abu Dhabi. 8 February 2020, United Arab Emirates. UN-Habitat/Waseem Ali

The Tenth Session of the World Urban Forum (WUF10), the largest global gathering on the future of cities, opened on Saturday with thousands taking part in lively discussion, through different assemblies representing youth, women, grassroot communities, local and regional governments and business.  

The Executive Director of the UN’s agency for urban affairs, UN-Habitat, Ms. Maimunah Mohd Sharif, urged participants in the five assemblies to focus on concrete outcomes.  

“I know that we share a common vision of sustainable and safer cities. We will go further today. We know that urbanization is unstoppable”, she said at the first event of the six-day meeting being held for the first time in the Arab region, in the capital of the United Arab Emirates, Abu Dhabi.  

‘There is no time left’

The Youth Assembly was represented at the Joint Opening by Leah Namugerwa, a 15-year old climate activist from Uganda and founder of the youth climate action group Fridays for Future, who told participants they were good at planning but fell short on implementation. 

 “I am here to promote action to ensure that children and youth are truly represented in your decisions making processes. We must take action. There is no time left…Please take serious climate action now,” she pleaded.  

The Chair of the Global Board of the Huairou Commission, Ms. Violet Shivutse said women were coming to cities for various reasons and faced several challenges including housing, inadequate provision of childcare facilities, and lack of security. 

“We may be poor, homeless, and landless, but we are not hopeless,” she concluded.  

The Chief Executive of the bank, HSBC Amanah Malaysia, Arsalaan Ahmed, pointed out that while the public sector is an enabler, the private sector can and should provide the international financial capital required to ensure sustainability.  

Culture can ‘reverse urban decay’

 Following the Opening Session, delegates rushed to attend the various Assemblies taking place concurrently. The importance of working with all levels of government was emphasized at the World Assembly on Local and Regional Governments. 

 The President of the South African Local Government Association Thembisile Nkadimeng, Mayor of Polokwane, referred to the WUF10 theme, Cities of Opportunities Connecting Culture and Creativity, saying that “culture plays an important part in influencing creativity around the world and contributes to inclusive and sustainable development…Local and regional authorities are well placed. Johannesburg has used culture as a key for reversing urban decay.”  

‘Youth have a huge role’ 

The Youth Assembly heard from Ms. Joyce Msuya, Deputy Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) who told them: “Youth have a huge role in driving political will. It is time for us to trust the youth. They are ready to listen, link, learn and lead.” 

 Young Kenyan community leader Isaac Muasa told the Youth Assembly that the biggest challenge was unemployment and lack of opportunities.  

 Juan Ramón Lazcano de la Concha, Vice Mayor of the City of Santa Cruz de Tenerife, in the Canary Islands, Spain, said flexibility would be needed going forward: “We need to generate the ability to resist, change, reform and adapt to everything ahead. There will be new jobs relationships and ways of inhabiting the planet and these will be future challenges,” he stated. 

Investor opportunities 

In the Business Assembly, UN-Habitat’s Deputy Executive Director, Victor Kisob, said creating well-functioning, sustainable cities, required massive funding and this should be turned into an opportunity for investors.  

“As the global leader on sustainable urbanization, UN-Habitat is capitalising on its unique position to rally a broad spectrum of partners to innovate cities of the future,” he said.  

In the Women’s Assembly, Hoda Alkhzaimi President of Emirates Digital Association for Women spoke about the main challenges being perceptions and the importance of “pushing boundaries, breaking boxes and rebuilding norms.” 

Her words were echoed by Roheyatou Lowe, Mayor of Banjul, Gambia, who said her priority was to change the narrative to empower women and break down barriers to make hers a more gender-responsive and “smart” city. 

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Urban Development

Cities Are Key to India’s Post-Pandemic Growth

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The unfolding COVID-19 pandemic has been catastrophic for cities, which have borne the brunt of the outbreak. According to estimates, about 70% of India’s GDP comes from its cities and around 25-30 people migrate to the cities from rural areas every minute. However, most big cities in India have wide economic disparity, with expansive slums and a large urban poor population. Studies estimate that about 25 million households in India – 35% of all urban households – cannot afford housing at market prices. It is time to create a new urban paradigm that enables cities to be healthier, more inclusive and more resilient.

The World Economic Forum’s new report, Indian Cities in the Post-Pandemic World, highlights the country’s most pressing urban challenges that were further exacerbated by the pandemic. The report provides insights for translating the lessons learned from the pandemic into an urban reform agenda.

The impact of the pandemic has been profoundly uneven on different population groups. Vulnerable populations, including low-income migrant workers, have suffered the dual blows of lost income and weak social-protection coverage. The pandemic has also laid bare gender-based imbalances in public and private life in India’s urban areas.

The report, produced in collaboration with the IDFC Institute in Mumbai, compiles insights from leading global and Indian urban experts across seven thematic pillars: planning, housing, transport, environment, public health, gender and vulnerable populations.


Among other recommendations, the report underscores the critical role data can play in helping cities manage and direct emergency operations during a crisis. But data alone is not a panacea; realizing the potential of cities requires empowered and capable governance, investment in transport and infrastructure to fuel productive urban economies, and a rethink of outdated planning norms and regulations.

The wide-ranging recommendations compiled in the report include:

· A rethink of outdated urban planning regulations, which will make cities more compact, commuter-friendly and green

· Greater decentralization and empowerment of local governments, which will allow for more proximate and responsive governance

· Addressing supply-side constraints to building houses at an affordable cost and encouraging a vibrant rental housing market that allows for labour mobility

· Investing in transport solutions that recognize the need to integrate peri-urban areas with urban cores

· Bolstering health capacity in cities by increasing the number of trained healthcare personnel; ensuring that infrastructure has adequate functional capacity, aligned with current and future demands

· Prioritizing inclusivity by addressing the biases and impediments faced by women and vulnerable populations in accessing urban opportunities

· Prioritizing action on environmental sustainability, air pollution and disaster management in urban rebuilding efforts

“Well-designed and governed cities can be dynamic centres that spur innovation, drive economic productivity and provide citizens with a good quality of life. The pandemic is an opportunity to address historical urban challenges and bring about positive long‑term change,” said Viraj Mehta, Head of India and South Asia and Member of the Executive Committee, World Economic Forum.

“Amidst every pandemic, from the bubonic plague to the Spanish flu, pundits have foretold the death of cities. And yet they have emerged stronger every time. The pandemic can be a turning point in India’s urban journey, if we draw the right lessons and translate them into lasting change,” said Reuben Abraham, Chief Executive Officer and Senior Fellow, IDFC Institute.

The Indian Cities in the Post-Pandemic World report is part of the World Economic Forum’s broader collaboration with the IDFC Institute for a working group on Rebuilding Cities which has emerged from the Regional Action Group for South Asia. This group brings together public and private sector leaders and prominent experts from the region to interact regularly in order to support an adequate public-private response to the COVID-19 pandemic and jointly chart recovery efforts.

The working group on Rebuilding Cities is partnering with multiple Indian state governments to constitute state-level working committees comprising local/municipal government representatives, urban experts and other relevant stakeholders to devise implementable and context-specific urban reform recommendations.

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Urban Development

Data-driven Cities Have Better Responses to COVID-19

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As a second wave of COVID-19 causes further economic and social disruption worldwide, data-driven cities, powered by smart infrastructure and solutions, are using data analytics and predictive modelling to help shape their pandemic response to limit loss of life and minimize economic disruption.

Today, the World Economic Forum publishes a new report, Technology and Data Governance in Smart Cities: On the Frontlines of India’s Fight against COVID-19, to share practical approaches that cities in India and around the globe have adopted in response to the pandemic.

The report, produced in collaboration with the Government of India’s Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs (MoHUA) and Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu India LLP, also highlights the various technology and data governance challenges faced by three Indian cities, Bengaluru, Surat and Pimpri Chinchwad, as well as Tel Aviv, Lisbon and New York.

With more than 460 million urban residents, cities in India have been on the frontline of the fight against COVID-19. The report’s analysis suggests that significant investments in smart city technologies have helped enable a robust response to the pandemic. However, the report cautions, while these technologies can mitigate public health risks and reduce economic damage, they can also be misused.

“For more than a decade, smart city technologies have promised to improve the resilience and responsiveness of cities. This year, that promise has been put to the test in India,” said Jeff Merritt, Head of Internet of Things and Urban Transformation, World Economic Forum. “The findings of this report underscore the critical role that data can play in helping cities manage and direct emergency operations during times of crisis. But data alone is not a panacea; realizing the potential of smart cities requires strong internal coordination, knowledge sharing and a foundation of good governance.”

The experience of India’s cities and their global counterparts suggests that if cities are to institutionalize and strengthen the use of smart solutions, the following actions need to be prioritized:

  • Ensure standardization and interoperability of data and smart city systems by formulating city-based technology management policies
  • Enhance data security and protection through the development of municipal data policies in compliance with national laws and guidelines that ensure citizens’ data security
  • Strengthen coordination across agencies through the establishment of new mechanisms for information sharing among city and state governments
  • Establish adequately staffed technology and data management organizations beginning with the appointment of a chief city data officer and city data contributors
  • Adopt objective indicators for monitoring service delivery by developing assessment frameworks
  • Leverage multiple delivery channels for public outreach through implementation of connectivity-related smart solutions

Recognizing the need for new approaches and policies to address gaps in governance, enhance technology’s benefits and avoid harm, India helped launch the G20 Global Smart Cities Alliance in 2019. Last month, the World Economic Forum announced that four Indian cities had been selected to pioneer a new smart-city policy roadmap.

“Through their pandemic responses, cities have begun to realize the enormous potential of data-driven governance. We must build on the momentum to deepen and institutionalize this ‘DataSmart’ work,” said Kunal Kumar, Joint Secretary and Mission Director, Smart Cities Mission, Government of India.

“The rapid response of smart cities to tackle COVID-19 has again highlighted the criticality of technology and data-driven decision-making. To make this response sustainable, cities need to continue investing in technology-related capabilities and streamline citizen service delivery processes,” said Arindam Guha, Leader, Government and Public Services, Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu India LLP.

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36 Pioneer Cities Chart a Course Towards a More Ethical and Responsible Future

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The World Economic Forum announced today that 36 cities across 22 countries and six continents have agreed to pioneer a new roadmap for safely adopting new technology as part of the G20 Global Smart Cities Alliance.

Cities are facing urgent challenges from the COVID-19 pandemic and other major disruptions, which are expected to culminate in a budget crisis that could reach $1 trillion in the United States alone. They need data and innovation to become more resilient, responsive and efficient. Yet there is no global framework for how cities should use these technologies, or the data they collect, in a way that protects the public interest.

This is set to change with the launch of a new global policy roadmap by the G20 Global Smart Cities Alliance, designed to give cities the procedures, laws and regulations they need to use new technology responsibly. The secretariat of the alliance is hosted at the World Economic Forum.

“This roadmap is not about theoretical ideas and pipe dreams, it is built on practical, real-world policies from leading cities around the globe,” said Jeff Merritt, Head of the Internet of Things and Urban Transformation, World Economic Forum. “City governments are on the frontline of a global crisis and need to be able to act quickly and decisively to curtail this pandemic and set course for their economic recovery. Technology is an essential tool in this fight but governments cannot risk falling into the usual traps related to privacy, security and vendor lock-in. That’s where the G20 Global Smart Cities Alliance can help.”

To kickstart adoption of the roadmap, the alliance has recruited a group of 36 “pioneer cities” that will collaborate with global experts to enhance their city policies, in areas ranging from privacy protection and cyber security to better services for disabled people and better broadband coverage.

The pioneer cities are launching their activities today at a global event broadcast by Smart City Expo World Congress, the world’s premier smart cities event.

List of pioneer cities (in alphabetical order):

  • Apeldoorn, Netherlands
  • Barcelona, Spain
  • Belfast, United Kingdom
  • Bengaluru, India
  • Bilbao, Spain
  • Bogotá, Colombia
  • Brasilia, Brazil
  • Buenos Aires, Argentina
  • Chattanooga, United States
  • Cordoba, Argentina
  • Daegu, South Korea
  • Dubai, United Arab Emirates
  • eThekwini (Durban), South Africa
  • Faridabad, India
  • Gaziantep, Turkey
  • Hamamatsu, Japan
  • Hyderabad, India
  • Indore, India
  • Istanbul, Turkey
  • Kaga, Japan
  • Kakogawa, Japan
  • Kampala, Uganda
  • Karlsruhe, Germany
  • Leeds, United Kingdom
  • Lisbon, Portugal
  • London, United Kingdom
  • Maebashi, Japan
  • Manila, Philippines
  • Medellín, Colombia
  • Melbourne, Australia
  • Mexico City, Mexico
  • Milan, Italy
  • Moscow, Russia
  • Newcastle, Australia
  • San José, United States
  • Toronto, Canada

“This initiative originated in Japan last year from our Centre for the Fourth Industrial Revolution, a fact I’m very proud of,” said Koichi Akaishi, Vice Minister for Science, Technology and Innovation for the Cabinet Office of the Government of Japan. “I hope to see more cities participating in the Alliance following the model set by these first pioneer cities.”

Leaders of organizations participating in the programme:

Miguel Eiras Antunes, Global Smart Cities Leader, Deloitte Global, said “The transformation from a traditional city to a ‘smart city’ does not just happen overnight. Success depends on the quality of the decisions that are made and the way those decisions are executed. Deloitte is committed to working closely together with the G20 Global Smart Cities Alliance on Technology Governance to co-design policy frameworks that will empower governments to accelerate smart cities initiatives for sustainable developments.”

“Being a pioneer city in the G20 Global Smart Cities Alliance is an excellent opportunity for us to promote the innovative work that is taking place in Leeds right now, but also facilitates the opening of doors where we can learn from other leading cities around the world and implement best practice in our city,” said Stephen Blackburn, Head of Smart Cities, Leeds.

London’s Chief Digital Officer, Theo Blackwell, said “We need to work together to realize the potential of data to solve city challenges by putting it in the hands of those who can make a difference. But we also need to do it in a way that is safe, ethical and responsible. London is proud to join this global initiative as a pioneer city to promote the adoption of ethical smart city policies.”

Will Cavendish, Digital Services Leader at Arup said “COVID-19 has driven a step-change in the use of digital services in cities, and many of these changes will only accelerate beyond the pandemic. The policies developed by the G20 Smart Cities Alliance will be fundamental in ensuring that the enabling digital connectivity and data infrastructures, along with the rapidly-emerging technology-enabled services, are deployed in an inclusive, transparent and mutually beneficial manner.”

“Technology and knowledge are two strategic assets to build inclusive, data-driven, and sustainable smart cities capable of tackling new and emerging challenges,” said Roberta Cocco, Deputy Mayor for Digital Transformation and Services to Citizens, Milan. “That is why Milan is joining the G20 Global Smart City Alliance, as this initiative will allow us to share best practices with innovative cities around the world. Today more than ever, in fact, we need to collaborate with each other to identify the most effective tools to face global threats like COVID-19. It is only by joining our forces that we can beat this common enemy that is threatening the health, the economy, and the future of our citizens.”

Dr. Julia Glidden, Corporate Vice President, Worldwide Public Sector, Microsoft Corporation, said “Accessibility and privacy policies are critical to making cities more inclusive and transparent. Microsoft congratulates the Forum and G20 for creating model policies that aid cities in serving all citizens.”

“We will adopt a transparent and participatory philosophy of local governance in the city of Istanbul,” said Ekrem İmamoğlu, Mayor of Istanbul. “Our aim is to empathize with all segments of society, and value the participation of everyone, ensuring that the majority of the people are represented – not the few.”

Eduard Lysenko, Minister of the Moscow Government, Head of the Moscow Department of Information Technologies, said “Digitalization of urban infrastructure and entire spectrum of social services belongs to the Moscow Government’s prioritized policies. Moscow has developed and widely employs digital platforms that increase the availability of electronic services and improve the quality of life and safety of its citizens. Those platforms allowed by the way to promptly provide the Muscovites with the maximum level of protection in the face of the global COVID-19 pandemic. Today we are ready to share experiences and coordinate efforts within the pioneer city programme for the G20 Global Smart Cities Alliance. We develop technologies not for the sake of technologies, but for the sake of people.”

Gilvan Maximo, Secretary of Science, Technology and Innovation, Brazil, said “The G20 Global Smart Cities Alliance will provide us with a global partnership to accelerate the adoption of technologies in a responsible manner and for the benefit of the citizen, debating complex issues and seeking joint solutions. Therefore, Brasilia is eager to participate in this joint work.”

“This opportunity to collaborate as a G20 Global Smart Cities Alliance pioneer city on a new roadmap for safely adopting new technology is very welcome indeed as we work to develop a Belfast Smart District and to weave digital innovation into every part of our economy,” said Alderman Frank McCoubrey,Lord Mayor of Belfast.We’ll be exploiting new technologies and data to tackle city challenges in areas such as health and mobility to improve our citizens’ quality of life – and we must ensure this is done ethically and in a way that prioritizes transparency, privacy, equity and inclusion. Being part of the G20 Global Smart Cities Alliance on Technology Governance means that each of the partner cities will benefit from expert, tailored insights and policy tools and this collaborative approach will allow us all to make progress in how we govern technology more swiftly and effectively, for the benefit of all our citizens.”

Dr. Frank Mentrup, Mayor of Karlsruhe, said “The G20 Global Smart Cities Alliance offers a unique opportunity to develop common ethical standards, foster digital sovereignty and therefore create and build a new resilient ‘trust infrastructure for cities and citizens’, as trust is going to become one of the most important and most vulnerable resources of our future.”

We believe that technology is a key enabler that can transform our cities in to smart cities leading to delivery of improved services to citizens and businesses”, said K.T. Rama Rao, Minister of Municipal Administration and Urban Development, Industries and Information Technology, Electronics and Communication, Government of Telangana, India. “We are keen to collaborate with G20 cities in formulating policy frameworks to improve quality of life of our citizens using emerging technologies.”

“Transforming our cities into smart cities is a great tool to improve people’s life quality,” said Horacio Rodriguez Larreta, Mayor of Buenos Aires. “That is why we are committed to continue incorporating technology, developing innovative public policies, and to work together with the G20 cities to build a modern and efficient state that makes life easier for everyone who lives, works, studies or visits us in Buenos Aires.”

“The pandemic presents an opportunity to reshape our future, with renewed digital rights and tools that should allow access for all and people-centred government. Local and regional governments will need to lead this shift to ensure the application of technology promotes human rights through equitable public service provision; putting our communities and planet first,” said Emilia Saiz, Secretary General of the United Cities and Local Governments. “The G20 Smart Cities Alliance is an important mechanism to help facilitate this transformation, bringing together a critical network of partners to collectively address and mitigate future crises”

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