In 2024, cities are poised to continue undergoing profound transformations. Trends and challenges that have been gradually evolving in recent years will converge, intensifying change within the urban landscape over the next 12 months. As advancements in technology and science continue to deploy endless possibilities for urban planners and decision-makers, further anticipation, adaptation, and coordinated solutions will be expected from cities, who will also need to discern the implications of current global tendencies, while prioritizing their citizens and the planet’s interests.
Drawing upon our profound knowledge of global urban affairs and leveraging our role as the curators of the world’s leading event in this field — the Smart City Expo World Congress — we have identified 10 urban trends that are setting the stage for cities to strive for sustainable and citizen-centric progress in the upcoming year.
1 | The voice of cities is ready to resonate louder in the global geopolitical landscape
In 2024, cities, housing over half the world’s population and vital to the global economy, will take center stage globally. Today’s crucial moment calls for metropolises to play a key role in achieving shared objectives. Challenges like the climate crisis, socio-economic progress, and safeguarding human rights highlight the complexities of this new urban era. The era of cities acting independently is over; collaboration is now the key element of advancement.
We experienced this at the 2023 Smart City Expo World Congress, where cities reached a milestone by supporting the Barcelona Declaration. This landmark agreement seeks to amplify cities’ voices in European Union policy-making and European democracy. Moreover, the congress emphasized city collaboration, honoring the U.S. Mayoral Roundtable with the Governance Award for driving digital transformation across diverse urban landscapes. And lately, for the very first time, COP28 has opened with a Local Climate Action Summit (LCAS), showcasing to the world that cities are critical partners in tackling the escalating climate crisis.
Cities are prepared to unite, employing teamwork to confront intricate challenges and steer us toward a brighter, sustainable future.
2 | New economic drivers will keep (re)defining the city’s vitality
After leaving the pandemic behind and the reactivation of economic activity, more and more cities are looking for new sectors and businesses to focus on, to guarantee future prosperity. New strategic plans are betting on sectors like the Blue economy, science, innovation, the creative sector, or industry 4.0, while the traditional economic drivers are evolving into more sustainable, innovative, resilient, and proximity industries.
This scenario encourages the creation of startup hubs and the enhancement of a fresh entrepreneurship ecosystem, which is attracting talent to newfound destinations that are offering opportunities, and quality of life.
Nevertheless, what is true is that cities cannot make this happen alone. Collaborations gathering the administration, companies, and citizens are the key to facing urban challenges on transportation or affordable housing, making our cities grow, promoting them globally, and ensuring their economic vitality.
3 | Cities will keep exploring AI for smarter urbanism but caring for the ethics behind it
It was only a year ago that ChatGPT was released, putting Artificial Intelligence at the very top of the agenda. The recent announcement of the European Union’s agreement for regulating AI, a first-of-its-kind deal aiming at setting the rules to achieve a trustworthy development of this technology, reiterates that the potential of AI is only getting started.
Throughout 2023, this hype has also impacted the urban realm. We have increasingly seen voices from the public and private sectors sharing and exploring the possibilities this technology offers in city planning and problem-solving.
From AI-based landfill monitoring to buildings that optimize heating and cut greenhouse gas emissions, the opportunities that AI has in store for cities seem to be endless. But, before city representatives potentially hand more strategic decisions to this technology, in 2024 we will see decision-makers take a more critical view on the ethical standards that each AI operates through, accompanying the implementation of these new tools with more strict and adequate regulation.
4 | The Metaverse and Digital Twins will be spearheading a revolutionary transformation in urban planning
Welcome to the Metaverse: the dynamic digital realm reshaping how cities are planned. Digital Twins mirror reality in real-time and are used by planners and decision-makers to reimagine urban landscapes. From predicting traffic patterns to crafting sustainable urban spaces and enabling collaborative shaping of neighborhoods, these are the future of urban planning. Yet, data privacy and inclusivity concerns hover over these tools. The challenge for cities will be how to navigate this virtual realm while ensuring people-centric urban environments.
In 2024, the convergence of the Metaverse and Digital Twins won’t be just about creating a parallel universe; but about revolutionizing city living. As boundaries blur between physical and digital realms, urban centers lead the charge into an era where innovation, efficiency, and limitless possibilities redefine urban life.
5 | Mobility innovation will mainly race to meet net zero
Even though transport accounts for around 26 – 28% of the total greenhouse gas emissions, cities don’t have any intention to slow down. It is for that reason that innovation regarding urban mobility in 2024 will revolve around lowering transport-sourced greenhouse gas emissions.
Urban mobility is at the heart of meeting the 2030 Agenda and the Sustainable Development Goals, so the coming year will see higher investment and more ambitious policies favoring alternative energy vehicles, such as hydrogen and battery-electric, new forms of public transport, and zero-emission urban logistics, taking on a more comprehensive approach to mobility and climate planning.
6 | Urban green will be implemented for greater physical and mental health
Green public spaces are key not only to cooling down the temperature in cities but also to maintaining a higher air quality, too.
In the last few years, we have increasingly heard about harmful phenomena in cities such as air pollution, or the heat island effect. The lack of urban green is also responsible for higher rates of eco-anxiety and depression.
It is estimated that, by bringing at least 30% more green back into cities, more than a third of premature heat-prone deaths could be avoided. As summers become more and more unbearably hot, local governments will take it upon themselves to increase urban tree cover, save lives, and improve the mental health of citizens.
7 | Design digital tools and new models of prop-tech will lead the revolution in tomorrow’s buildings
The green and digital transition of buildings and infrastructures has been one of the hot topics in this year’s edition of the Smart City Expo World Congress.
The way we design, construct, plan, and manage our architecture cannot be apart from how we envision the future of our cities so, new digital tools and new models of organizing the spaces are emerging to support human-centered decision-making, creating sustainable and inclusive communities, and improving the quality of life.
The intersection of technologies, community, and living is the key to tomorrow’s buildings, infrastructures, and urban spaces.
8 | This will be the year for groundbreaking water management innovation
As the climate emergency puts water systems under excessive pressure, cities are among the most vulnerable areas when it comes to this challenge, as they gather the highest density of citizens in areas that often are not the most water-secure.
By 2050, it is expected that over 5 million people will live in water-scarce areas, and 2023, with its recurring and long-lasting droughts all over the world, has made it clear that scarcity is not an issue that is not going anywhere.
In light of these current and expected scenarios, 2024 will be the year in which groundbreaking innovations will come forward to provide effective water management solutions for cities.
9 | The blue economy will be a booming sector, but coordinating efforts is necessary to ensure sustainability
Some cities and regions are finding potential for their future development on their coasts. The Blue Economy clusters a wide range of sectors, so the estimated value of the ocean economy is around USD 1.5 trillion per year. Thus, this growth engine is becoming relevant in several city agendas and attracting the private sector.
In recent years, ocean responsibility has been acquired by public and private sectors, and nature-based solutions have started to appear. However, climate change and water risks are threatening the advancement of a resilient, inclusive, and circular Blue Economy.
In the year of the celebration of the UN Ocean Decade Conference, it is crucial to strengthen the alliances and take action in good governance, enhance the role of cities and regions in the decision-making of ocean policies, forecast, monitor, and show data about our coasts, and collaborate altogether in fostering water security for a sustainable Blue Economy.
10 | Technology will continue to amplify the urban dimension of ongoing conflicts
In 2023, the world has experienced armed conflicts increasingly unfolding at the heart of cities. Urban warfare jeopardizes civilian lives and vital infrastructures, shaking the foundations of dignified living. Within city limits, the proximity of civilian spaces to military targets magnifies the impact of devastating attacks, endangering innocent lives.
Technology has emerged as a crucial element in urban conflicts, and in 2024 we will see its influence consolidated. Drones and digital warfare, alongside traditional weaponry, prolong conflicts and escalate casualties. Yet, technology’s accessibility empowers civilians to raise their voices, aids humanitarian initiatives, and invites a global audience to take action.
The urban battleground poses an immense challenge for humanitarian efforts. Local and international organizations are tirelessly working to provide crucial aid to civilians in need. If you wish to support their cause, visit the websites of organizations such as the International Committee of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement, Doctors Without Borders, and UNHCR.
In conclusion: 2024, navigating fluidity
In 2024, cities face an era of profound fluidity. From navigating urban conflicts with evolving technology to prioritizing ethical considerations in AI integration and revolutionizing urban planning through the Metaverse and Digital Twins, cities are at the forefront of transformative shifts. The focus on water management, mobility innovation for net-zero goals, and the imperative for urban green spaces underline the protagonism of urban centers in tackling the climate crisis.
Above all, the emphasis on collaborative solutions signals a pivotal moment where cities work together towards a sustainable and inclusive future on a global scale.
We invite you to join the conversation about the future of cities in 2024! Share your thoughts about the trends we’ve identified on our social media channels, or, if you prefer, reach out to experts via the form below to be part of this transformative dialogue.
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About the authors
Mons Badia is an expert in eco-innovation, sustainable and resilient urban development and creative and cross-cutting urban solutions. She has been working at Anteverti since 2017, where she is a senior specialist of the Smart City Expo World Congress team and content coordinator for Tomorrow.city. She has also developed smart city and smart region strategies as a consultant.
Mons serves as the President of the College of Environmental Scientists of Catalonia, and has previous professional experience working in the United Nations Global Compact, in the Norwegian University of Science and Technology and in the Universitat de Barcelona, as well as in the consulting firm Inèdit.
Mons Badia has a degree in Environmental Sciences and Fine Arts (Universitat de Barcelona), and is currently studying a Master's Degree in Philosophy for Contemporary Challenges (Universitat Oberta de Catalunya).
Valeria Andrade is a multidisciplinary expert with 8 years of background helping organizations identify the opportunities shaping the cities of the future, managing projects, and organizing international corporate events. Since 2022, Valeria has worked at Anteverti as a senior congress specialist for the Smart City Expo World Congress, and provides support for other events related to urban issues, such as Barcelona ReAct.
Previously, Valeria worked at the association Barcelona Global, where she gained experience in projects focused on mobility, affordable housing, education, public-private partnerships, tourism, and talent attraction. She holds a degree in Political Science with a specialization in international relations, geopolitics, and global governance.
Clàudia Gomis is an expert in civil society, conflict, migration, and global development with international experience in project planning and implementation, research, communication, and media relations. Since 2023, she works at Anteverti as a congress specialist for the Smart City Expo World Congress.
Previously, Clàudia worked in Washington for the UN and the North American Representation of the Central Tibetan Administration, and as a digital communications manager at the European Institute of the Mediterranean, where she specialized in event planning and EU-funded project implementation. She holds a degree in International Relations, a master's in Violence, Conflict, and Development from SOAS – University of London, and additional training in human security and European studies.