Emerging Trends | ICT4SDG | IoT | SDG11 | Smart Cities
June 23, 2018

How ITU supports smart sustainable cities and the achievement of SDG 11

By Paolo Gemma, Huawei, U4SSC Vice-Chair

Rates of urbanization show no signs of slowing down, giving rise to significant challenges for city leaders. New technologies, however, present us with new opportunities to meet these challenges.

The vast majority of city dwellers have mobile phones. Smart cities are a key application area for the Internet of Things (IoT). Information and communication technologies (ICTs) are everywhere, with the result that data is being generated everywhere.

Cities around the world have an unprecedented opportunity to gain new insight into the workings of city systems and the behavior of city inhabitants. Data-driven governance can lead to new and improved public services that are more attentive to citizens’ needs.

Citizens themselves will be a key origin of innovation. Smart city solutions will often emerge from the powerfully creative combination of connectivity, data and citizens’ intimate knowledge of the everyday challenges faced by their communities.

But no two cities are the same. There is no “blueprint” for a smart city.

Cities face different urban development challenges, with the result that the priorities of smart city strategies often differ significantly.

The challenge of delivering common platforms for diverse forms of innovation

The international community aims to agree standards, norms and best practices applicable to all cities around the world.

Here lies a key challenge: these common platforms must provide a basis for differentiation, giving every city technical foundations able to support unique blends of smart city solutions. These platforms must be globally applicable and at the same time enable cities to amplify what makes them unique, preserving and expanding their cultural heritage.

The International Telecommunication Union (ITU) is the UN specialized agency for ICT.

The ITU standardization expert group for ‘IoT and Smart Cities,’ ITU-T Study Group 20, develops international standards supporting the interconnection and interoperability of cities’ IoT systems. Data processing and management is emerging as a key component of this work.

These standards offer essential technical foundations for smart city innovation, helping cities to innovate efficiently and at scale. They provide a basis for cities to deploy reliable standards-based technologies, build integrated IoT ecosystems and capitalize on the resulting data.

However, the implementation of standards alone will not be enough to effect the transition to smart cities.

There is no substitute for learning by experience. Cities pursuing smart city strategies are recognizing the need to share the results of their smart city projects – empirical knowledge of great value to other cities around the world.

The value of key performance indicators as a common reporting framework

This exchange of knowledge and experience is supported by the Key Performance Indicators (KPI) for Smart Sustainable Cities developed by ITU within the United for Smart Sustainable Cities (U4SSC) initiative.

“The initiative’s primary aim is to advocate for public policy to ensure that ICTs – and ICT standards in particular – play a definitive role in the transition to smart sustainable cities.”

These indicators offer cities a tool for self-assessment. They enable cities to assess the degree to which their smart city strategies are achieving their objectives. They provide a common format to report the progress of strategies that may differ significantly.

Dubai, United Arab Emirates (UAE), and Singapore led the way in implementing the indicators and over 50 cities have since followed suit, joining a global project to implement these indicators and report their experience.

U4SSC is a UN initiative coordinated by ITU and the UN Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE), and supported by the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), the UN Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN (FAO), ITU, the UN Development Programme (UNDP), the UN Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA), UNECE, the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), the UN Environment Programme (UNEP, or UN Environment), UNEP Finance Initiative (UNEP-FI), UNFCCC, the UN Human Settlements Programme (UN-Habitat), the UN Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO), UN University Operating Unit on Policy-Driven Electronic Governance (UNU-EGOV), UN Women and the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) to achieve SDG 11 (sustainable cities and communities).

The initiative’s primary aim is to advocate for public policy to ensure that ICTs – and ICT standards in particular – play a definitive role in the transition to smart sustainable cities.

Bring your unique perspective to the discussion

U4SSC is highly targeted towards learning from experience. It encourages collaboration and knowledge sharing, helping us to build smart cities safe in the knowledge that we are building these cities with internationally agreed technical tools such as those developed by ITU-T Study Group 20.

U4SSC has built relationships with a diverse selection of cities, all with different priorities atop their smart city agenda, and we are supported by a diverse set of expertise drawn from the different mandates and specializations of the 16 UN bodies backing U4SSC.

Our KPI project includes cities such as Dubai and Singapore, Switzerland’s Pully, Colombia’s Manizales, Italy’s Rimini, China’s Foshan, Uruguay’s Montevideo and Tunisia’s Kairouan and Bizerte. Participating cities represent the full spectrum of levels of infrastructure development.

In addition to the coordination of the KPI project, U4SSC issues expert guidance on the transition to more efficient, sustainable urban environments.

U4SSC has issued three reports providing case studies of smart city projects relevant to the UN SDGs, outlining e-governance initiatives, sustainability projects and smart-city financing models, and highlighting the impact of innovative public policy on urban planning. A fourth report guides the collection of core data and information necessary to cities’ use of the U4SSC KPI.

U4SSC is in the process of developing a range of new reports to provide guidelines on: blockchain applications relevant to smart cities; resource-efficient “circular economy”; financing of smart city projects; the value of artificial intelligence (AI) to the smart city vision; the impact of AI and cognitive computing in cities; the impact of data processing and computation in cities; and the impact of sensing technologies and IoT in cities.

We invite you to join our work.

U4SSC is open to all interested stakeholders promoting the transition to smart cities. It is important that we ensure that all views are represented in this multifaceted discussion.

The original version of this article first appeared in the SDG Knowledge Hub. Views expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect those of ITU.

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ITU is the United Nations' specialized agency for information and communication technology. Any opinions expressed and statistics presented by third parties do not necessarily reflect the views of ITU.

How ITU supports smart sustainable cities and the achievement of SDG 11

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