Delivering the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals in smart cities

In 2015, the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (UN SDGs) were adopted by all UN Member States as a universal call to action to deliver a series of global socio-economic and environmental ambitions by 2030.

Integration and empowerment

Balancing social, economic and environmental sustainability, many of the 17 UN SDGs go to the heart of cities’ strategies to meet the needs of growing and ageing populations and tackle rises in crime, an increasing wealth gap and air and noise pollution. While the SDGs are naturally interdependent, SDG No 11 is specifically ‘to make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable’.  So how are smart city authorities working toward this goal?

Given the scale, complexity and interconnectedness of sustainability challenges, cities need integrated strategies that deliver holistic services while engaging citizens to make better everyday choices. Underpinning these strategies, urban data management platforms are required to gather and leverage huge volumes of data from diverse sources; from here, a single, real-time view of the availability and demand for services is available, both for city authorities in their planning and for citizens to access day to day.

Integrated mobility

Take mobility for example: a modern integrated mobility strategy is essential to minimize environmental impacts and connect citizens to economic opportunities, education and health services. Essentially this is about reducing emissions and getting people out of their cars and onto walkways, bikes, and safe and efficient public transport networks; and it’s about managing the flow of private, public, commercial and emergency vehicles.

Mobility as a Service platforms and subscription services can seamlessly present information about all available options to take a citizen from their doorstop to their end destination – from bus times for the metro, to the platform number of their train, to the availability of a bicycle parked for hire outside the metro station, to the availability of elevators and escalators for wheelchair users.

Lowering emissions

Smart traffic management systems can prioritize emergency response and commercial delivery vehicles dynamically and in real-time to reduce pollution, lower emissions and increase quality of life. In the case of commercial deliveries, different logistics providers can now collaborate using blockchain to manage deliveries door to door, including any transfer of responsibility along the journey.

Given the shift in energy use away from oil and gas, e-cars and hydrogen-fuelled trucks will increasingly be part of the new mobility mix, again enabled by an integrated strategy and citizen empowerment. One major priority is how to provide the infrastructure for charging electric vehicles at home and in public spaces, including real-time information for citizens on free spaces.

Green energy

In every case, as citizens, we need to ask ourselves, ‘Do I really need to travel?’ Such choices and decisions have been brought sharply into focus recently as more and more people have needed to work from home. While employers must ensure that the necessary digital workplace solutions are in place, cities must take responsibility for the communication network backbones to be in place in public spaces.

More broadly, green energy strategies include installing infrastructure for distributing locally produced energy from renewable sources, such as solar panels and local waste gasification, and using data to forecast demand and distribute energy. Citizens have a vital role here and cities need clear strategies to support the implementation of multiple technologies for green energy. Imagine if bio-waste from households could be combined with green waste from city parks and turned into energy at the neighbourhood level, and the impact this would have on waste collection and management.

Aiding city planning

At the same time, cities are taking action to minimize the impacts of the built environment on people and quality of life. Given that many different organizations are involved in creating this environment, developing and understanding of the current situation and being able to simulate the broad impacts of different plans and scenarios is highly valuable.

Again, emerging technologies have a key part to play. Spatial computing, for example, combines virtual reality with text, sound or images that enhance the user’s understanding and experience. By creating a spatial model of a city, city planners and others can simulate scenarios in order to understand and analyze the effects of any changes.

Building resilience

There are many different facets of planning the resilience of a city. Flooding and stormwater management has become an important topic with so many cities needing to increase their capacity to absorb rainwaters instead of draining it off through the sewage systems.

There has, of course, been another major resilience factor affecting daily lives and the economy of cities. Vienna started some years ago with implementing an early warning system related to the risks of spreading diseases such as measles in order to ensure the necessary health system responses, now we have seen that the city updated this same system to manage the effects of a virus outbreak.

Balancing social, economic and environmental sustainability go to the heart of cities’ strategies to meet the needs of growing and ageing populations and tackle rises in crime, an increasing wealth gap and air and noise pollution.

Shared ambitions

With the growing number of people living in cities, integrated urban planning approaches, processes and technology platforms must be in place for a truly holistic approach to delivering clean water, sanitation, energy, food, mobility, education, healthcare, economic opportunity and public safety.

UN SDG 11 is really about the role of cities as hubs for ideas, commerce, culture, science, productivity and social development. A partnership between citizens and city authorities is at the heart of these ambitions; together they can shape life of smart cities that creates positive sustainable impacts and, ultimately, helps to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure peace and prosperity for all. A Data-driven approach is a key enabler to achieve these goals.

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About Albert Seubers

Director Global Strategy IT in Cities and member of the Scientific Community
Albert H Seubers (1959) graduated at Agricultural University Wageningen in 1985. Ever since he worked in IT consultancy focused on governmental topics. He worked for Dutch Telecom implementing the first fiber networks in Netherlands, for CMG as director in the Public Sector Service group, for HP as Public Sector executive before he joined Atos. Since 2011 he is Director Global Strategy IT in Cities for Atos. The Atos MyCity program focusses on the virtuous circle of managing a city on all aspects as safety, citizen services, employment, education, social and health care, transport and traffic, sustainability and governance and economics. Engaging citizens and business communities to create and maintain a sustainable, safe and prosperous city is the key message in Atos MyCity. In his role he works with cities all over the world to help them define their strategy often referred to as a Smart City Strategy or find solutions to support their strategy. Albert is a strong believer in the fact that data is enabler for successfully creating the city of the future.

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