Smart City Leaders’ Talk

The Smart City Leaders’ Talk at the WSIS+20 High-level Events on 28 May 2024 discussed the issue of people-centered and sustainable smart city development and provided a great example of an inclusive dialogue between international organizations and local governments on this crucial topic. Hosted by ITU WSIS Process, co-organized by GCH and WeGO, with the participation of OHCHR, UN-Habitat and contributions from eight smart city leaders from Bonn, Dhaka South, Dschang, Geneva, London, New York, Seberang Perai and Quelimane City, it offered a broad thematic and diverse geographical vision.

The speakers agreed that one of the main tasks of leaders is to be able to promote the smartness of a city and community, use the opportunities offered by digital technology and mitigate the associated risks – all at the same time. The dialogue between international organizations (ITU, OHCHR, UN-Habitat) and LRGs is crucial to develop the right global policies which can be successfully implemented at the national and local levels. A mindful matching of technology’s offers and citizens’ real needs is the only successful and sustainable way forward.

A human rights-based framework is a useful tool to define the challenges and mitigate the risks while advancing the development of a smart city leaving no one behind. Following the principles of inclusivity, equity and accessibility serves as the right starting point for building people-centered smart cities. The policy discussions at the global level should help to find the right balance between technology-driven processes and people-centered approaches. Only an inclusive international governance framework can make sure that smart city development benefits all and leaves no one behind.

City leaders reminded us that the main goal is to serve the people and offer solutions to their needs in time – referring to daily operations and emergency situations alike. Understanding the complexity and layers of smartness is key: people, economy, infrastructure, governance, etc. Education and capacity building for the general population is indispensable to make everyone everywhere be able to use smart city services. Creating the right conditions for smart digital economy opens new opportunities for businesses, start-ups, and individuals. Developing smart and sustainable infrastructure makes cities more efficient and resilient while remaining human-focused. Digital platforms for local public service delivery are crucial – from waste management to disaster response systems.

People-Centered and Sustainable Smart City Development

Smart city leaders emphasized the importance of capacity building of local government staff and areas that require improvement to accelerate digitalization of local services. The question of protection of data and the ethical use of AI in cities are high on the agenda of local leaders, reflecting on WSIS action line C10 on the ethical dimensions of the information society.

Highlighting different aspects of smartness, including but not limited to fulfilling human rights, strengthening social inclusion, advancing climate adaptation and resilience, as well as presenting successful smart city projects was important to inform and influence policy making and regulatory processes. By connecting LRGs to the work of the ITU, Mayors and city representatives have contributed to strengthening the multistakeholder dimension of WSIS, which is one of its defining features.

Discussing how innovation, digitalization and ICT can help cities, communities and their leaders address challenges related to urbanization – like citizens’ digital literacy, climate adaptation and resilience, modernizing and delivering municipal services, promoting equal access, etc. – can ignite new ideas and forge new partnerships. They emphasized that digitalization of existing inefficient processes is useless, while upscaling of some existing infrastructure can contribute to deliver new services.

The efficient and ethical use of data was mentioned in several contexts. Speakers agreed that establishing the right data policy is key because there is no way to develop smart cities without effective collection, management and use of public data generated in cities by the local governments. Applying the right data management principles and offering a reliable cyber-security environment are crucial.

Human Rights-Based Framework and Inclusive Governance

Given their proximity to the population, their knowledge of the local contexts, their capacity to work through a multi-stakeholder approach, LRGs can contribute to the renewed framework for global digital cooperation with a vision to build people-centric, inclusive, and development-oriented information and knowledge societies. GCH is convinced of the need to provide a dedicated space to Local and Regional Governments in general and Smart City Leaders in particular to give rise to a more inclusive multilateralism and better access to digitalization for everyone, everywhere.

Capacity Building and Ethical Data Use

The panel discussion ‘CitiVerse: Envisioning Inclusive, Sustainable, and People-Centered Cities’ organized by the World Smart Sustainable Cities Organization (WeGO) explored the possibilities of promoting smart technologies and sustainable practices within the CitiVerse and showcased exemplary use of digital tools and sustainable solutions to enhance livability and resilience. It provided an overview of the transformative potential of the metaverse, highlighting its ability to redefine urban environments, enhance connectivity, and generate significant economic value towards a people-centered CitiVerse.

Speakers explored ITU’s activities in promoting sustainable digital transformation, data-driven urban planning, and fostering global collaboration among city stakeholders. It was the very opportunity to discuss the importance of accessibility and inclusion in the metaverse and the potential of CitiVerse to create inclusive, sustainable, and people-centered urban environments.

On the margin of the Smart City Leaders Talk at the WSIS High-level Events, city leaders also participated in a closed-door dialogue on the International Guidelines for People-Centred Smart Cities. The discussion focused on the international guidelines which UN-Habitat is preparing based on a resolution of the second session of the United Nations Habitat Assembly in June 2023. It was a great opportunity to directly share inputs on the topic with UN-Habitat’s senior leadership, including the different local needs based on the characteristics of the cities, the diverse ways the different generations engage with urban development processes, the creation of digital service standard models, the necessity of gender responsive budgetary approaches, and public-private partnerships.

The guidelines aim to inform the development of national and local smart city regulations, plans, and strategies and ensure they contribute to the sustainability, inclusivity, and prosperity of cities while upholding human rights. Therefore taking into account the needs and opinion of LRGs from the beginning is important to have an implementable outcome.

Contributors and Special Thanks

Thank you for all who contributed to the success of these amazing events:

  • Katja Dörner, Mayor of Bonn (Germany)
  • Sheikh Fazle Noor Taposh, Mayor of Dhaka South City Corporation (Bangladesh)
  • Jacquis Kemleu Tchabgou, Mayor of Dschang Municipality (Cameroon)
  • Sami Kanaan, Deputy-Mayor of Geneva (Switzerland)
  • Theo Blackwell, Chief Digital Officer, London (United Kingdom)
  • Eric Adams, Mayor of New York City (USA)
  • Manuel de Araujo, Mayor of Quelimane City (Mozambique)
  • Dato’ Azhar bin Hj Arshad, Mayor of Seberang Perai (Malaysia)
  • Jung-Sook Park, Secretary General, WeGO, Seoul (South Korea)
  • Bilel Jamoussi, Deputy Director of Telecommunication Standardization Bureau, ITU
  • Peggy Hicks, Director of Thematic Engagement, Special Procedures and Right to Development, OHCHR
  • Kazumi Ogawa, Principal Coordination Officer, UN-Habitat

Special thanks to the organizers at ITU, and partners Gitanjali Sah, Cristina Bueti, and Ruth Sidabutar.

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