Today marks the seventh World Cities Day. Under the overarching theme of Better City, Better Life and the subtheme of Valuing our communities and cities, World Cities Day serves as a reminder to one of the most recognisable and deeply important pillars in service of a society: Cities. World Cities Day concludes Urban October — an initiative founded by UN-Habitat which looks to tackle Goal 11 from the Sustainable Developmental Goals, which aims to “make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable”.
In addition to the obstacles faced by nations burdened by mass urbanisation, the world has witnessed radical changes. COVID-19 has altered how people think, behave, spend, and consume in a way few could have predicted. This particular world health crisis has presented cities, industries, and businesses with much uncertainty — each under immense pressure to adapt and transform. It has also thrust the topic of health and well-being to the forefront of discussions.
A critical time lies ahead in shaping the path to recovery. Globally, cities need to be more resilient to account for citizen health and well-being. They must also be better equipped to respond to the closure of services and workplaces, and better able to manage any future economic downturn.
The way forward is undoubtedly marked by digital transformation and the increasing prevalence of smart cities. Not only is digital transformation a precursor for economic growth, it is an investment to help cities rebuild through data, online services, and planning tools. It ultimately improves the quality of life for citizens, making cities safer, healthier, and more sustainable.
The true value of smart cities is evolving amid the effects of COVID-19. While they are important in stimulating economic activity and sustainability, the new measure of a smart city’s success will include how the holistic well-being of its citizens improves.
Dubai’s own smart approach to citizen well-being
Well-being at the heart of smart city progressDubai’s mission to put well-being at the heart of its smart-city initiatives is evident in Expo 2020’s pioneering Worker Wellness Programme. The first phase of this project saw a total of 5,540 workers volunteer for a preventative health programme that used Whoop technology – wearable wrist-strap wellness devices – to record and improve worker welfare.
District 2020: A blueprint for a future-focused smart city
District 2020 will evolve into a new type of urban experience in the region. Designed to be adaptable and human-centric, the community aims to curate an innovation ecosystem that meets the needs of its future workers, residents and visitors. Both its physical and digital infrastructure will ensure that District 2020 is a place where people can live and work in balance — they will have access to the latest enabling technologies (5G and IoT) while being in a holistic, integrated, mixed-use environment that equally promotes well-being. Through actualising values which promote a balanced lifestyle, District 2020 will focus on building a community which enables individuals to thrive.
Post-Expo 2020 — one of the most anticipated mega-events of 2021 that itself will leverage smart technology to create a seamless experience for visitors and partners — District 2020 will grow to become a blueprint for the kind of adaptable smart city that could prove so effective at managing the kind of disruption faced in recent months.
Inheriting Expo’s advanced digital and ICT infrastructure, District 2020 will curate all the elements necessary to shape a cohesive smart city, including key players that are driving progress in smart city operations. They include German giant Siemens, Expo 2020 Dubai’s Official Infrastructure Digitalisation Partner, as well as China’s Terminus Technologies, a leader in AI and IoT that will establish an AIoT R&D centre at District 2020 following its involvement in Expo 2020 as its Official Robotics Partner.
With a human-centric purpose, District 2020 has been designed to consider the many aspects of well-being of its future population and, most importantly, will provide a greater degree of control over such elements when compared to a conventional city. For example, careful consideration has been given to smart mobility and reducing the time spent commuting. As a solution, autonomous vehicle (AV) routes and interconnected pedestrianised pathways will allow workers to move around quickly and seamlessly, by car, foot, or bicycle.
By providing an urban lab, District 2020 will enable businesses and innovators to participate in piloting projects that offer solutions to urban issues. The community will benefit from optimised lifestyles, and they will also be involved in creating and implementing new ideas that could potentially be scaled to improve communities elsewhere.
Additional smart elements supported by an underlying ICT infrastructure (Telecom, Network & Data Centre) will also allow for integrated sustainable practices. Buildings fitted with smart sensors and metering will provide precise analytics of water and energy usage, allowing for controlled and reduced consumption. These smart monitoring systems will constantly grow in sophistication to improve life for District 2020’s residents and workers.
As District 2020 actively contributes to the discourse surrounding smart city developments which emphasise citizen well-being, it does so in a climate of uncertainty. The permanence of today’s changes in citizen behaviour is not yet known, which is why the pressure is on cities, industries, and businesses to work flexibility and adaptability into their future plans. Smart technologies are fundamental to enabling evolution, as they provide the insight and intelligence authorities and organisations need to quickly assess and adjust their approach as society changes around them.