What does urban life mean at the end of the second decade of the 21st century? Cities are growing rapidly around the world, and this growth seems unlikely to stop any time soon. But there is also a growing recognition that this growth cannot be uncontrolled, or at the expense of people or the environment. Cities need people—in fact, cities are people. Ever-extending commuting times, increasing congestion, poor air quality and pollution are not acceptable, and nobody should be asked to tolerate them. Instead, city governments must harness the available technology to ensure that cities become smart and sustainable places to live, offering a good quality of life to their inhabitants. 

Increasingly, city governments are starting to consider and implement initiatives to provide healthy cities, sustainable buildings, and improved quality of life. They understand that citizens need to be involved in designing the cities of the future through participatory processes. Being able to develop resilience means being smart and collaborative.

Four recent and forthcoming events on cities demonstrate the breadth of the agenda on urban life, and just how widely cities are thinking.

Greenbuild

Greenbuild is an event that is focused on sustainability in the built environment. Attracting architects, planners, and engineers, among others, its aim is to encourage thoughtful and ethical construction and design of cities that will improve resilience and wellness in city populations and cities. It recognises that the built environment can play a part across a wide range of environmental and social issues, and can have an impact on mitigating climate change, developing communities and social cohesion, improving health and resilience, and restoring and protecting ecosystems. Plenary speakers in 2018 included Amal Clooney, the human rights lawyer, and leading campaigner on rights and refugees. Education sessions covered an enormous range of challenges, including tours around Chicago to examine energy efficiency, transformation of green spaces in the city and redevelopment of particular urban spaces. The 2019 event will be held from 20–22 November 2019, in Atlanta, Georgia.

Smart City Expo World Congress

2018’s Smart City Expo World Congress was held in November in Barcelona, long-recognised as one of the world’s leading smart cities. This annual event is not just one of the biggest smart city events, with over 20,000 participants from around the world, but is also host to the Smart City Awards, with entries this year coming from 57 countries. The finalists ranged from urban regeneration and renewal projects through to ambitious projects designed to make cities among the smartest in the world. Elsewhere at the event, there was plenty of technology on show, but sessions and discussions also focused on the importance of people to drive change and sustainable development. This is, of course, particularly true when considering how to manage climate change, and the need for habits to change around transportation and travel.

Smart City Event

The 8th Smart City Event was held in June 2018 in The Hague, in the Netherlands. With over 700 attendees from over 40 countries, it was a significantly smaller event than Smart City Expo. There was, however, still a wide range of experience and expertise, and plenty of networking opportunities. Delegates heard from Oualid Ali, founder and president of the Future Cities Council, and from speakers from smart cities around the world, including Taipei, Amsterdam, Milan and Barcelona. Again, there was plenty of technology and ideas on show. There was a big focus on resilience, but once again, the overwhelming message was the importance of people. Speakers stressed that cities rely on people, and also need to work for people. People-centred design is crucial in creating sustainable communities, and sustainable communities are required for sustainable cities. 

CES Smart Cities

CES Smart Cities aims to bring together the ‘entire ecosystem’ of smart cities: policy-makers, technology, solutions and audiences. It recognises that cities are ecosystems rather than single entities, and that just like ecosystems, each part influences and is influenced by those around it. From transportation to energy, health and public safety, each part is integrated into a whole. Cities also affect the areas around them, and the country in which they are located. Technology expected to be on show at January’s event in Las Vegas includes 5G connectivity, the Internet of Things, and smart solutions in the automotive, health, public safety, energy and utilities sectors, together with ideas for how artificial intelligence and advanced analytics are already starting to transform cities.  

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