30 July 2021

Recently Gwen Murphy, SCERTIFY CEO, had the honor to moderate an inspiring discussion on smart cities and communities as part of the ITU Emerging Technology for Connectivity webinar series.

In this session, panellists explored approaches to designing smart cities and communities based on people-centred innovation, technology and applications. They discussed how the use of emerging digital technology and collected data can improve the quality of life for the citizens and resources efficiency. More specifically, they discussed the use of emerging technology to create people-centred smart cities and communities and the global ecosystem of smart cities and communities, including technology, governance, and policies as well as the challenges and opportunities for creating sustainable smart cities and communities in Least Developed Countries (LDCs), Landlocked Developing Countries (LLDCs), Small Island Developing States (SIDS) and other regions.

Highlights from the Session

Tania Marcos, Vice Chairman of the United for Smart Sustainable Cities (U4SSC) Initiative from the United Nations that is helping cities cope with the fundamentals of digital transformation changes and enabling them to progress consistently along the path of achieving the Sustainable Development Goals, focusing specifically on the Sustainable Development Goal 11.

The approach to enhancing smartness and sustainability developed by U4SCC is meant to be measurable and reportable.  To this end, the initiative has developed a set of international key performance indicators (KPIs) for smart cities and communities to establish the criteria to evaluate the ICTs and the digital technologies contribution in making cities smarter, more sustainable and provide cities with the means for self-assessment.  The benchmark report can elaborate the findings from the implementation of the U4SCC KPI in the city and provide useful analysis, lessons learned and actionable recommendations.

Key Takeaways

  • Digital skills and Tools are essential for creating smart cities and communities.
  • The Smart City must be global in its approach.  Smart cities and communities must be participative with all stakeholders; government, civil society, academia, private sector, etc.
  • A smart life must meet human rights, protect private data and the public must not be left behind. Therefore, it is important to implement the necessary strategies to ensure that social integration is in place.
  • Creating smart cities and communities should be done in an integrative, collaborative and participative manner.

Hani Eskandar, Senior Coordinator – Digital, International Telecommunication Union (ITU), presented the Smart Villages:  A whole of government approach to digitally transform rural communities. The Smart Villages concept considers the community as a holistic unite and works across sectors in an inclusive way.  It is a whole of government or whole of society approach with the objective to serve more than one SDG, with the same investment, scale up to cover the needs of rural communities. It provides an opportunity of saving for cost, efforts and mutualization of the digital investment.

ITU has published the Smart Villages Blueprint with Smart Africa, the Government of Niger and many other partners and is building on the experience of similar initiatives.  The blueprint gives a variety of tools and approaches to build a model based on the current context of the country.

Davor Orlič, Chief Operations Officer at UNESCO International Research Centre On Artificial Intelligence (IRCAI), shared an example of a smart cities project, including a showcase of African machine learning communities and the idea of creating a World Network of AI Centers solving SDGs with AI. Additionally, he introduced the idea of social impact bonds to support investments in AI startups for smart cities. IRCAI is looking to determine how the concept would attract impact investors and give citizens and consumers trust in the results the technologies are delivering.

IRCAI expect to fundraise for a network in strengthening AI research excellence centres across the world and facilitate their collaboration and networking. The objective of this Global network of AI excellence centres in Sustainable Development is to boost the research capacity in AI and Sustainable Development and making it attractive for scientists and new talents, social impact and venture capital investors, and policymakers. Creating such a network will contribute to mid to long-term capacity for smart cities and building communities of practice.

Souad Ben Abderrahim, Mayor of Tunis, Tunisia, presented the perspective and experiences of the cities (particularly the city of Tunis) on smart cities and communities. She said that a smart life must meet human rights, protect private data and the public must not be left behind. She said that in order to make the most of the richness of our diversity and to reach for innovation, we need to reach all with our determination and boldness, and we must work with our partners in order to move forward. Therefore, it is important to implement the necessary strategies to ensure social integration is in place. She emphasized that it is important to work with international partners and local partners and in collaboration with sponsors and start-ups, to ensure the implementation of an infrastructure and adequate partnerships are in place.

Hotham Altwaijry, Assistant Director, Data and AI Authority (SDAIA), presented three major projects in Saudi Arabia around sustainable Smart Cities under vision 2030.  The first project, Neom, is a new city that is being created, envisioned to be the City of future, where the main idea is to gather the greatest minds and talents around the world and to pioneer the smartest ideas to get implemented.

The second project is to establish a city called The Line while trying to preserve 95% of the nature in that city with zero cars, zero streets, zero carbon emissions.  The city will be powered by an “invisible” backbone underground that will facilitate all the needed infrastructure and utilities such as networking and electricity designed to be green and preserve the environment.

The third city being created is envisioned to be a luxury destination built around nature preserving the environment, in a sustainable manner.  Data and AI will play a big role while digital identity and digital wallet will be implemented with cashless payment and touch‑free experiences.

IRCAI is setting up a global network of AI excellence centres in sustainable development.

Lacina Koné, CEO, Smart Africa, presented use cases of smart cities and communities in the region. He presented the five manifestos of Smart Africa: 1) put ICT at the center of national and social economic development, 2) improve access to ICT, especially the broadband; 3) improve the accountability efficiency and openness through the use of ICT, 4) put the ICT at the private sector first and 5) leverage ICT to promote Sustainable Development in African communities.

He also highlighted how the fast urbanization in Africa (70% of the African population or 2.5 billion people will live in the cities by 2050) will create new challenges such as traffic, mobility, cars in the city, water loss, energy consumption, and cost of health and social services.  He presented the approaches of Smart Africa to some of these challenges. He highlighted that the vision of Smart Africa in 20 years is to see tangible and sustainable changes in all cities across the continent. Smart Africa believes Africans have the willingness and the abilities to transform their communities and create cities where life is enjoyable and sustainable. If we take a close look across the continent, the trend has started, and tangible results are achievable. Smart Africa is deploying all the efforts to ensure that 20 years from now, the majority of Africa Cities will be: Connected, Green, Clean, Safe, Resilient and Efficient.