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Friday, September 15, 2017

Linking Smart Sustainable Cities and the Sustainable Development Goals

A recent Flipbook of the U4SSC initiative launched by the ITU and the UNECE highlights 17 case studies that demonstrate how urban governance measures can contribute to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals set by the United Nations.

The energy infrastructure project called PowerMatching City includes 25 homes with smart appliances. - Credit: UIT
The energy infrastructure project called PowerMatching City includes 25 homes with smart appliances. - Credit: UIT

United for Smart Sustainable Cities: An initiative like no other!

The United for Smart Sustainable Cities (U4SSC) Initiative was launched in Rome in May 2016 as a global platform for joint work on smart cities. After a successful 1 year run, U4SSC has entered its second phase.

This unique United Nations initiative has the support of several programs, organizations and secretariats including the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE), the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN Women), the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD), the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA), the United Nations Environment Programme – Finance Initiative (UNEP FI), the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), the United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UN-Habitat), the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO), the United Nations University Institute for the Advanced Study of Sustainability (UNU-IAS), the United Nations University-Operating Unit on Policy-Driven Electronic Governance (UNU-EGOV) and the World Meteorological Organization (WMO).

The first U4SSC meeting was held in Geneva, Switzerland from 21-22 July 2016 and was attended by over 150 smart city experts from the United Nations, governmental sectors, private sector entities as well as non-governmental organizations. The second U4SSC meeting was organized during the 7th Green Standards Week (GSW). The seventh edition of the prestigious Green Standards Week held in the majestic Colombian city of Manizales this April, was dedicated to theme of "Circular economy and smart and sustainable cities". At this GSW, in the presence of over 950 participants, the main output documents developed during the first phase of the U4SSC initiative were announced in the form of three flipbooks.

Connecting cities and communities with the Sustainable Development Goals: The next step to urbanization

One of the key achievements of the U4SSC is the world’s first flipbook on “Connecting cities and communities with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)” which presents 17 case studies on Smart Sustainable Cities and their relationship with the United Nations' SDGs. As urban stakeholders across the globe clamor for more guidance on smart cities while simultaneously attempting to balance the achievement of the SDGs, this flipbook steps in as the savior and describes how urban governance actions can contribute to important areas such as zero poverty, quality education, gender equality, clean energy, and sustainable cities and communities, among others.

First look: What’s hot in the flipbook

While the flipbook has garnered significant attention on account of its distinctive approach to attaining the SDGs, there is an array for case studies which require special mention and are a treat for any researcher on smart cities.

In the area of smart electrical grids, the flipbook presents the concept of "PowerMatching", developed in Groningen, in the Netherlands, as a demonstration for a future energy infrastructure project called PowerMatching City. This project includes 25 homes with smart appliances allowing residents to choose how they would want to use the energy based on its availability in real time. For the first time in Europe, this project will bridge supply and demand for electricity and heat in an intelligent way, thereby contributing to the SDG 7, which aims at ensuring access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all.

In the e-banking segment, the U4SSC flipbook discusses a case from Pakistan that highlights the government’s efforts in achieving SDG 8 i.e., promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all. Given the problems faced by Pakistan including cyberattacks and frauds, compounded by the absence of a regulatory mechanism to respond to these threats and the population's lack of knowledge about e-banking, the local government set out to make the digital banking experience more user friendly. In 2002, it passed the Electronic Transaction Ordinance, which provides a legal structure for these types of payments. Five years later, it passed the Payment Systems and Electronic and Fund Transfers Act, putting the State Bank of Pakistan in charge of supervising and monitoring transactions within the country and abroad. Recently, it also passed the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act, which is expected to have a considerable impact on the security of operations. As a result of these concrete efforts by the State, the use of electronic tools for financial operations is growing in Pakistan, and the author of the case study encourage neighbouring countries to take similar initiatives to overcome similar threats to their e-commerce and banking sectors.

This flipbook also provides a response to a question raised by many in recent times-how does the welfare of domestic species in fit in with the existing smart city aspirations. Welfare of domestic species, which share our urban habitat is an age-old dilemma, which has either remained in the NGO domain or within governmental legislations. The case study on “Monitoring Animals Using ICTs” not only addresses the importance of wildlife protection but also brings-forth technologies for the protection of pet species within the urban sphere based on research conducted at Indian Institute of Technology in Varanasi, India. The technology presented in the case study pertains to the security of dogs and prevention of dognapping, which is quite prevalent in developing countries where microchipping of pets is not common. This flipbook is one of the first prepared by United Nations agencies which caters to the needs and well-being of domestic animals and lays the foundation for more work on this topic. Without giving anything more away, I will let you await the publication of the flipbook to find out more.

Another case-study in the Flipbook that stands out, deals with Smart Mobility in the Indian city of Ahmedabad, which faced serious traffic problems due to the size of its population and the existing urban layout. The vision implemented by the local government, based on "providing efficient, accessible, equal and personalized governance for citizens" is part of the " 100 Smart City Mission". This vision translates into a new transportation system that will be launched this year: express buses, city buses and a metro, connected by "informal" modes of transportation, such as shared taxis and motorcycle taxis. This system takes full advantage of technology to maximize the city's infrastructure. Since its launch, it has contributed to the development of real-time bus monitoring systems, bus routes based on data, estimated bus arrival times based on real-time calculations, unified payment methods and more. All of this is exclusively based on data analysis technologies, IoT, "open loop" cards (as an alternative payment method) and open APIs.

What does the future hold?

Without resting on its laurels, the U4SSC members have already progressed on to the second phase of the initiative which will building on its existing work with the following deliverables:

Guidelines on tools and mechanisms to finance SSC projects       Guidelines on strategies for circular citiesCity science application frameworkGuiding principles for artificial intelligence in citiesBlockchain 4 citiesToolkit for Smart Sustainable Cities 

To ensure that the extensive research conducted within this initiative is able to percolate to every corner of the world, the U4SSC partners have issued a “Call for experts on Smart Sustainable Cities” for interested smart city experts to join the initiative and provide their inputs to the ongoing work.

With just once glance at the flipbooks prepared by the U4SSC, it is clear that this initiative is here to stay for the years to come. With the launch of these flipbooks, readers can relish the treasure trove of knowledge on smart cities provided by U4SSC and also have a “slice of the future” to understand how our cities will change over the years in keeping with urban governance and SDG requirements.

With the support of 16 United Nations agencies and the growing U4SSC community, the world no longer may have a reason to fret over its burgeoning urbanization problems. Hopefully, through the concept of smart sustainable cities, we may also be able to overcome the jinx of the Millennium Development Goals and leave a better world for our future generations.

For more details on the Flipbook on "Connecting cities and communities with the SDGs", access here. Also, you can check the Methodology to collect KPIs on Smart and Sustainable Cities.

By Cristina Bueti, Advisor of ITU-T Study Group 5 “Environment and Climate Change” at the International Telecommunication Union and focal point for Latin America at ITU-T