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A global study of 200 cities by ThoughtLab analyses how cities are future-proofing their urban environments and provides a blueprint for going forward.

Social, economic, and environmental disruptions, heightened by the pandemic, are changing the expectations and behaviours of citizens, requiring urban leaders around the world to develop action plans to become future-ready.

This is the finding of a global study by research firm ThoughtLab, which has joined forces with a coalition of business, government, and academic leaders to provide city leaders with a blueprint for future success.

The study shows that cities are ramping up their technology investments across all key urban domains. It also revealed that although climate change is the top challenge cited by cities and citizens, it is one of the lowest areas of investment across the domains covered.

Creating future-ready cities

Building a Future-Ready City aims to show what it means to be future-ready, and what cities need to do to get there. To analyse how cities are future-proofing their urban environments, ThoughtLab, together with global engineering company, Hatch Urban Solutions, conducted a worldwide benchmarking study of 200 cities – representing 5 per cent of the world population. It conducted the survey to assess the alignment between city strategies and citizen expectations. To gain qualitative insights, ThoughtLab interviewed city leaders about their plans and held meetings with a global cadre of urban experts.

Of the 200 cities participating in the study, the top 10 most future-ready cities are

  • Tokyo
  • Hangzhou
  • Helsinki
  • Tallin
  • Taipei
  • Durham
  • Aberdeen
  • Sapporo
  • Boulder

“Cities are facing greater upheaval today than at any time since we began conducting urban research. Our goal is to provide cities with an evidence-based roadmap to address rapidly changing citizen expectations and behaviours, along with in-depth benchmarking analysis to enable them to measure where they are in future-readiness against others,” said Lou Celi, CEO of ThoughtLab and the director of the research programme.

The most successful metro areas, according to the study, will be those that have clear long-term visions and plans for transforming themselves into future-ready cities with the ability to meet dramatic shifts in citizen behaviours and urban solutions.

To assess the future-readiness of cities, the study investigated each city’s progress across digital infrastructure, transportation, living and health, and other critical urban domains, as well as the level of transformation each city believed it required to meet future urban demands. In addition to self-reported data from cities, ThoughtLab and Hatch economists included data from trusted secondary sources to develop a pioneering future-ready index.

The study uncovered many pivotal areas for future-readiness. The top seven include (1) driving digital transformation and innovation; (2) building resilience and agility; (3) using technology and data to improve decision-making; (4) adapting to citizen needs around health and safety; (5) building trust and transparency; (6) empowering communities and citizens; and (7) building global economic, political and trade connections.

The top five cities by region are:

  • North America: Boulder, Salt Lake City, Oklahoma City, Santa Clara, and Berkeley
  • Latin America: Belo Horizonte, Merida, Aracaju, Pachuca, and Bucaramanga
  • Europe: Helsinki, Tallin, Durham, Aberdeen, and Madrid
  • Middle East and Africa: Dubai, Tel Aviv, Kigali, Manama, and Dammam
  • Asia Pacific: Tokyo, Hangzhou, Taipei, Sapporo, and Christchurch.

The research also shows general alignment between city leaders and citizens, but also some major gaps. Both see climate change as the greatest challenge facing cities and agree on the need for major urban transformation. They concur that affordable housing, homelessness, and public health should be high on urban agendas. But citizens see inadequate infrastructure, income inequality, and, particularly, low trust in government, as bigger problems than cities care to admit. And citizens are less confident about their city’s ability to take the action needed to become future-ready.

How will cities future-proof?

The study identified the main mechanisms that cities are using to implement their city strategies and achieve better results:

  • Collaboration and partnerships, especially with financial institutions, universities, businesses, startups, and technology companies, as well as with other cities and city networks
  • Emerging technologies, particularly automation, AI, electric vehicles, Internet of things, data analytics, mobile, and cloud. Two-thirds of future-ready cities cited the importance of digital twins for achieving their plans
  • Data analytics, using more sources of data, and doing more to integrate, analyse, secure, and extract value from the data. This includes cybersecurity data to better prepare for cyberattacks
  • Funding diversification, particularly private-sector financing, government-based borrowing, and privatisation of assets
  • Citizen engagement and trust, via both traditional and digital means of communication, involving citizens in decision-making, and creating new roles like chief citizen officer.

Becoming future-ready is easier said than done, though, said ThoughtLab. Cities face resource challenges around unclear return on investment, shortage of skills, and budget constraints; technology headaches around finding the right suppliers and the pace of technology change; and political pain points around governance complexity and administration transition. Because of the progress they have made, future-ready cities experience fewer of these challenges.

Despite the hurdles, the study shows that cities are ramping up their technology investments across all key urban domains. Cities intend to spend $350m on average cumulatively over the next five years, or about $470 per citizen. Future-ready cities plan to outspend others across the domains:

  • Digital infrastructure: $275 per capita for future-ready cities versus $127 for others
  • Energy, water, and other utilities: $180 per capita for future-ready cities versus $121 for others
  • Mobility and transportation: $177 per capita for future-ready cities versus $119 for others
  • Living and health: $117 per capita for future-ready cities versus $62 for others
  • Environment and sustainability: $115 per capita for future-ready cities versus $77 for others
  • Public safety and security: $88 per capita for future-ready cities versus $45 for others.

Although climate change is the top challenge cited by cities and citizens, it is one of the lowest areas of investment across these domains. Some of this reflects a holistic approach to sustainability, which is built into the plans of various other domains. The environment, nonetheless, represents a huge opportunity for cities to invest in innovation locally to create jobs and build more sustainable, future-ready communities.

The study was sponsored by Axis Communications, Cognizant, Dassault Systèmes, Dell, Deloitte, GM, Intel, JLL Technologies, Kearney, NTT, and Visa.

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Quelle/Source: Smart Cities World, 15,11,2022

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