Can Smart City development efforts correct the course of the Human Development Index?

The Human Development Index (HDI) decreased in 2020 – for the first time since its launch in 1990 – and again in 2021. It has been increasing for the last two years, but some analysts fear that the setback remains permanent. The Smart City Leaders’ Talk organized by the Global Cities Hub on 28 May 2024 might offer some answers on how people-centered smart cities can contribute to correcting the course.The HDI developed by UNDP is one of the most referenced measures of development, after the Gross Domestic Product (GDP). It gauges progress in terms of societal outcomes, including life expectancy at birth, expected and average years of schooling and gross national income per person.

Data show that the poorest countries have been hit the hardest by Covid-19. The difference between those with the highest and those with the lowest living standards has grown, upending a decades-long trend. The same trend has been observed at the local level between cities and rural communities. The Economist pointed out that People living in rich parts of Asia, Europe and North America not only live longer and enjoy more years of schooling, but they also live in cities that are far easier and more pleasant to live in.

The Economist Intelligence Unit’s Liveability Index 2023 shows that cities across the world have fully recovered from the deterioration caused by the covid-19 pandemic – based on research of living conditions in 173 cities across five categories: stability, health care, culture and environment, education and infrastructure. Cities in the Asia-Pacific region have rebounded the most. The index also suggests that life in cities is a bit better than at any time in the past 15 years. 

“Knowledge and innovation have been powerful, perhaps fundamental, drivers of human development. Ideas build on each other and are combined in processes that require people to work together. Engaging with other people can facilitate the direct sharing of ideas and enable indirect spillovers of knowledge, particularly when it is concentrated geographically, explaining why cities provide fertile ground for new ventures and technological advances.” (Source: UNDP Human development report 2023/2024)

Smart city development is clearly one of the use cases of those technological advances. ‘Smart city’ is a concept of urban development that aims to improve people’s quality of life by using new technologies (AI, IoT, ICT, digitalization, etc.) in various areas. A smart city relies on an ecosystem of objects and services that interact with each other and with the people. This being said, smartness is a tool (use of technology) and not an aim in itself; the aim being a city that is more sustainable, resilient, adaptive, efficient, etc.

Could smart city development efforts become a game-changer and offer a hope that the fall of the UN’s Human Development Index in 2020 and 2021 does not represent a permanent setback?

The Smart City Leaders’ Talk at the WSIS+20 High-level Events in Geneva will discuss the main issues of people-centered and climate-resilient smart city development and the necessary future framework to channel the global multistakeholder discussion on this crucial topic. It will offer insights on the most crucial aspects of digitalization and smart city development to protect and fulfil human rights and ensure climate resilience at the realization phase. Discussion among mayors and leaders of international organizations will enlighten what international governance framework is needed to make sure that smart city development benefits all and leaves no one behind.

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