Cities must increase collaboration, prioritise people and find innovative ways to use new digital technologies to overcome climate change and various other socioeconomic and geopolitical challenges, according to experts speaking at the first day of Smart City Expo World Congress 2023.
During the ‘Welcome to a new urban era’ panel, four speakers outlined the biggest problems facing cities in the coming years, citing rapidly growing populations, the rising cost of living, increasing temperatures, the scarcity of key resources, and more.
Many of these issues are caused by rapid population growth, according to Claudio Orrego, regional governor of Gobierno Regional Metropolitano de Santiago.
“Never before in history have we had so many people living in cities and this is creating huge challenges,” he said, explaining that there are currently 33 cities with a population of more than 10 million people and that 43 cities expect to be home to similar numbers of citizens by 2030.
Orrego highlighted four major concerns as inequality, climate change, safety and security, and fragmentation, noting that all are interrelated.
“Inequality is the root of democratic instability,” he said. “People want to have the same quality of life as others living in the same city and unless we’re able to level the playing field for everyone in society, our democratic systems will fail – and in some places they already are.”
He added: “Safety is the most important human right and cities must be able to provide safety to everyone in a democratic way.”
To surmount these issues, Orrego advised cities to “integrate solutions in a holistic way” and increase collaboration between the public and private sector.
"We need to involve the citizens, ensure strong, human and honest leadership, and use all the available technologies to help govern cities,” he said. “There are many challenges ahead and we have the strength and willingness to address them, but more than ever, we need public-private collaboration. The new urban era signifies a global city revolution.”
Emilia Saiz, secretary general of United Cities and Local Governments, also advocated collaboration, arguing that cities should focus on multilateral governance and involve local communities in conversations. In addition, they should employ technologies to address inequalities and develop “local services that prioritise care”.
“In order to overcome current inequalities, we must create different services and new essentials, and they must be organised around a caring society,” she said. “The new urban era will be about a system of cities that work together and not one single city.”
According to Gina Tost i Faus, secretary of digital policies at the Generalitat de Catalunya, “disruptive technologies” such as artificial intelligence and quantum computing will help cities to conquer the challenges they are facing. However, she cautioned cities to “take a citizen-centric approach, rather than a technology-centric one”, explaining that “one of the biggest challenges to innovation is getting technology from the lab to real life”.
Laia Bonet, deputy mayor of Barcelona City Council, also emphasised the need for cities to think beyond technology, saying: “Technology alone will not save us but the ways we use it will drive innovation.”
Bonet noted that “rather than look away” from the issues they are facing, cities must act now.
“These conversations are crucial – we must build more resilient and sustainable cities,” said Bonet. “We need to break the business-as-usual mindset and come up with new solutions…and respond with enormous solidarity.”