A few weeks ago, we published the first part of our conversation with five leading global urban experts from different fields on how Covid-19 and the challenges brought to the fore by the pandemic will impact the future functioning of cities.
Now, it is time to focus the discussion on other emerging and complex dimension of our new urban scenario: the future role of technology and innovation in city planning and management.
Because, as we all are witnessing, the Covid-19 crisis is forcing cities to rethink not only the way they work and provide services to citizens, but also the way they harness technology, innovation and cooperation to tackle socio-economic challenges.
In that regard, how will public priorities change after the pandemic? What are the urban challenges prompted by Covid-19 where technology and innovation can make a real difference – and how?
Here is what Carlos Moreno, Catherine D’Ignazio, Elkin Velásquez, Emilia Sáiz, Laura Faye Tenenbaum and Pilar Conesa – who is now joining the conversation – have told us.
ELKIN VELÁSQUEZ | @ElkinVelasquezM
UN-Habitat Regional Director for Latin America and the Caribbean
«It is time to promote
that are connected with global solutions
and are capable of developing
know-how and technologies
appropriate to local needs.»
«Adapting to the circumstances – with its challenges and opportunities – and trying to consolidate the dynamics that can build the new city of proximity and the polycentric city requires decisions to be made with that perspective in mind. And that purpose needs scientific support and innovation.
At a scientific level, this circumstance opens up opportunities to engage and encourage the public sector, academia and the private sector to respond to the challenge of investigating the different aspects related to new patterns of life, consumption and production. If a city has already established an alliance involving the State, companies, universities and communities, it is time to incentivize and boost it. And if this is not the case, it is time to promote such initiative. Cities must enable the appropriate platforms and protocols to facilitate this meeting and this constructive dialogue with neighborhood-by-neighborhood impact – and also at the city and regional level.
At the level of innovation, it is time to promote innovation ecosystems that at the same time are connected with global solutions and are capable of developing know-how and technologies appropriate to local needs. A first sine qua non condition is to ensure that all neighborhoods, homes, businesses and public services have appropriate connectivity within the city – and that public institutions really invest in innovation.
CATHERINE D’IGNAZIO | @kanarinka
Professor of Urban Science and Planning
at Massachussets Institute of Technology
«We have to restart
conversations about the
‘digital right to the city‘,
meaning how do we ensure
to digital city services.»
«As we have all been in lockdowns and quarantines for the past weeks, I have been thinking a lot about the unequal access to school and to waged work mediated by the Internet. Many people in my own community don’t have Internet access or a computer, for example, so their children have been unable to attend school remotely. Mona Chalabi had a great piece in the Guardian about how it’s mostly the folks in the highest economic bracket that are able to do their work from home.
I think it’s time to restart conversations about the «digital right to the city», meaning how do we ensure equal access to digital city services, to online public schools, to remote health care, and to work that can done over the Internet.
I think an exciting new area of public/private partnership could be around designing and engineering programs that ensure equipment and broadband access as a basic right for all city residents, as well as creating friendly and accessible interfaces to online services, as well as economic development programs that upskill workers for digital economies.»
EMILIA SAIZ | @UCLGSaiz
Secretary General of United Cities and Local Governments (UCLG)
«We need to ensure
that security and surveillance
are carried out in a
shaped by our communities
and put to the service of
«UCLG has developed, together with Metropolis and UN-Habitat, a Live Learning Experience that brings local and regional leaders together who are fulfilling their critical role to carry out an affordable and fair service delivery, fostering the preservation of the commons, and promoting human rights. We have asked the thought-provoking questions that will need to guide our actions both in the immediate aftermath but also beyond the initial post-Covid-19 recovery phase.
We are also promoting the Cities for Global Health platform, facilitated by Metropolis, living repository of LRG responses to the crisis, where all cities are welcome to engage in the exchange of local initiatives. We believe it is essential to ensure that we eliminate the false dichotomy between security and health, or privacy and civil liberties. We need to ensure that security and surveillance are carried out in a rights-preserving manner, shaped by our communities, and put to the service of democratic societies. It is technologically possible and it should be our framework once the crisis is over.
Strong local democracy can be the custodian of those values, to achieve the new normal with vulnerable populations in mind, tackling false narratives and guaranteeing a rights-based approach to the aftermath of the pandemic.»
LAURA FAYE TENENBAUM | @LauraFayeTen
Science & Climate Communicator –
Former Senior Science Editor of NASA’s Global Climate Change website
«The biggest challenge
we face right now
in both this pandemic as well as in climate change
is about good leadership skills
and good communication skills.»
«It is one thing to have the scientific knowledge and it is another thing to have the technology or the engineering tools. But I think the biggest challenge we face right now in both this pandemic as well as in climate change is about good leadership skills and good communication skills, which are going to be the most important thing moving forward to deal with both the climate crisis and pandemics.
Because they are both coming. We know we have pandemics. That’s what happens. But it’s become so much worse than it could have been if we had good communication and good leadership in place at the national level – at least in America.
And so, what we need in cities is really good communication skills and good leadership. Cities need to explain to people why they need to be doing what they’re doing – stay at home or in place orders –, to give people the best scientific information so that people are well-informed and educated on how to deal with their regional and local environmental catastrophes. We need to foster a science literate society and continue to foster good communication, especially on the local level. Because these pandemics and climate change are coming: it is not whether or not they are coming or not – it is how can we best deal with them so there is the least amount of suffering.»
CARLOS MORENO | @CarlosMorenoFr
Professor at the Sorbonne University
and Mayor of Paris’ Special Representative for Smart Cities
have to give a higher priority
to the general interest
– and technology is going to play
a very important role in this regard.»
«This crisis shows the importance of a quality public service for all: not only at the health level, but also at the level of education, transport services and services through new uses – such as bicycle mobility services or the modification of roads to make way for bicycles and prevent individual vehicles from becoming the primary option for personal health safety.
All this implies that local governance have to give a higher priority to the common good and to the general interest, and technology is going to play a very important role in this regard. For example, we have seen that the digital rethinking of telework has become widespread in a few days, with Covid-19 becoming the most important vector of digital transformation in recent decades. Now we need to keep that effort up, because it shows that it is possible to work in another way. That this idea of crossing the city to go to work just to «make a presence» does not mean “quality of life”.
And that we have to combine proximity, technology and the digital world to be able to develop this ’15-Minute City’ – as we have called here in France – which is nothing but a fairly polycentric response with technology and from the local governments to offer a different paradigm of coexistence with the virus. Because we do not have to think of a post-Covid period, but, above all, of a ‘coexistence with the Covid-19’ period of at least 2 years – the time that the vaccine can be made available.»
Covid-19 has brought several challenges, while it has also accelerated some positive changes – as digital transformation, teleworking and the sense of community.
In that regard, technology and innovation are being crucial to reduce the pandemic impact and will also be crucial in the post-pandemic scenario for several purposes: achieving the polycentric sustainable city, reinforcing economic development and promoting digital inclusion and citizen empowerment.
The polycentric and proximity city has turned from a dream to reality. After making proximity services accessible for people, the main challenge is mobility to work. Teleworking and new shared office buildings in different neighborhoods – for people who do not have a suitable place to telework at home – will lead us to reduce mobility in cities and save personal time. Innovation is also key to accelerate green, sustainable and low-carbon cities.
At the same time, Covid-19 has radically impacted economic areas such as tourism and industry, requiring us to rethink economic development based on innovation, technology, research and knowledge. To achieve this goal, it is necessary that governments, the private sector and research institutions work together.
Furthermore, we need to guarantee digital rights for all, since digital inclusion is key to increase – or drastically decrease – social equity. Governments have to prioritize the digital access for all and promote citizen empowerment.
The experience of Covid-19 has been dramatic, but we cannot miss this opportunity to accelerate the development of innovative and sustainable cities with the collaboration of the public-private-research-society.
➕ Want to read the first part of the conversation?💡 What are the urban challenges prompted by #Covid19 where #technology & #innovation can make a difference – and how? 💬 Here is what @ElkinVelasquezM, @Kanarinka, @UCLG_Saiz, @LauraFayeTen, @CarlosMorenoFR & @PilarConesa say: Clic para tuitear
Find out more on the post-pandemic urban scenario in our
‘Covid-19 & the Future of Cities’
Carlos Moreno and Elkin Velásquez’s contributions to this article have been translated from Spanish by Sergio García i Rodríguez, Communications Manager of anteverti and co-director of CitiesToBe, who has also edited the article | Header picture by George Bakos on Unsplash.