Urban networks – Chinadaily.com.cn
Cities should cooperate globally to pool resources, share ideas and explore the best ways to tackle common challenges
We’re used to seeing global governance and big tech companies as the main building blocks of innovation and industrial transformation. However, the role of cities is also crucial if we are to ensure that the transformation process is inclusive, balanced and focused on the quality of life of citizens. After all, it is in cities that barriers to the movement of elements such as knowledge, technology, talent and capital are removed and the integration of science and technology into economic governance and social is facilitated.
At the same time, the resources of cities are limited. Therefore, networking is crucial to evolve in a sustainable way. Various smart city networking initiatives have been launched in recent years. For example, the Open & Agile Smart Cities, initiated in the European Union and which today bring together more than 150 cities around the world. In China, the World Organization for Cooperation for Innovative Cities is also setting up a network, which aims to connect 37 Asian cities, including Beijing, Tianjin, Chengdu, Chongqing, Xi’an, Guangzhou, Hangzhou and Shanghai; 23 European cities, including Brussels, Turin, Milan, Paris, Barcelona, Copenhagen and Moscow; eight American cities; three African cities and two Oceanian cities. The two initiatives could benefit from cooperation.
Global city networks provide participating cities with essential tools and opportunities, enabling cities to benchmark their projects against those of other cities and to compare means and procedures. The more cities there are in the network, the more relevant this mutual benchmark will be.
These networks can set up mechanisms for mutual technical assistance. Local governments often lack knowledge and depend on independent partners / consultants to design projects. Such networks can act as intermediaries, allowing cities to find and use the technical, organizational or budgetary experience gained by other participating cities. They can help establish virtual working groups where city managers with expertise in rolling out specific projects can offer advice to other cities that are wondering how to start the digital transformation process.
Such networks can also help create new business models. Cities face budget constraints as fiscal rules often restrict their ability to invest. However, projects which do not appear economically viable today will not necessarily remain so in the future. Cities can identify cost reduction models by examining approaches from other cities. A network like WICCO can bring together cities, institutions and industry to brainstorm new business models to fund smart city projects. One promising approach is the creation of partnerships between local governments, institutions and the private sector.
We see at least four areas where global cooperation can have a substantial impact on the implementation of smart city solutions.
Mobility is essential for every city because it has a direct impact on sustainability and efficiency in our daily life. The exchange of ideas on best practices in the use of artificial intelligence technologies for mobility management is essential given the diversity of possible solutions.
Fintech and smart commerce are essential for smart cities. For example, new technological solutions for payments and vouchers can be deployed to boost traditional retailing, which has suffered from restrictions imposed due to the novel coronavirus outbreak and competition from online platforms. Rhea Vendors Group, a technology-centric European company specializing in vending machines, is working on innovative forms of retailing to turn even taking coffee from a vending machine into a new digital experience.
Sanitary applications and safety are also important. Pollution endangers the health of city dwellers. And the COVID-19 pandemic has shown the importance for cities of having the tools and skills to quickly manage complex tasks such as setting up and managing vaccination centers. We don’t know what the next emergency will be. However, cities should prepare and deploy tools to enable rapid reactions in the future.
Design is essential for smart cities. Smart cities are not just about technology. They also concern what our aesthetic sense tells us when we move around. Design is an area offering significant cooperation and business opportunities between European and Chinese cities. Several European cities have taken the initiative to involve well-known designers when planning new smart city projects. Chinese cities are doing the same. For example, well-known Italian architects such as Massimilano and Doriana Fuksas were invited to design the Shenzhen International Airport. Design is an area offering significant cooperation and business opportunities between European and Chinese cities.
Cities are also led to adopt smart city solutions to face the challenges they face, such as the aging of their populations, climate change or digital inequalities. However, a single tree does not make a forest.
As global challenges cross country borders, multilateral initiatives are the best way to address challenges, pool resources and achieve greater impact. We need more global networks allowing big cities on all continents to share their experiences and to reflect together and with industry on the solutions of tomorrow. This will ensure that the city transformation process is implemented in the most efficient way.
The author is president of China EU, an international association based in Brussels.