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Digital Transformation 2022

‘Smart’ city diplomacy can better connect global and local

iStock / Getty Images Plus / ChakisAtelier

Paola Deda

Director, Forests, Land and Housing Division, United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE)

City smartness cannot be measured only by the level of digitalisation of services.

As defined by UNECE, ‘people-smart’ cities are those providing the “necessary conditions and infrastructure to enhance the capabilities of their citizens to contribute to, and enjoy the benefits of, a more liveable, resilient and sustainable urban development.” In short, digital transformation is one of the means to help citizens, but clever solutions need to go well beyond IT.  

Developing policies 

UNECE is working with cities to reach this goal first with diagnostics. Our ‘Smart City Profiles’ use 92 Key Performance Indicators across the environmental, social and economic dimensions of sustainability.  

Based on these assessments and other monitoring tools and research, we develop tailored policies and guidance for cities. Evidence-based policy development is crucial for cities’ sustainable development, but of equal importance is the opportunity for cities to exchange views, share challenges and learn from others’ experiences. 

The Forum is a unique platform for city diplomacy where mayors meet to exchange their experiences.

City diplomacy 

It is from the realisation that many of the causes as well as the solutions to key challenges — from climate change to economic and social crises — are based in cities that UNECE convened the Forum of Mayors. The Forum is a unique platform for city diplomacy where mayors meet to exchange their experiences and make recommendations that feed into our intergovernmental cooperation. At the height of the pandemic in 2020, the first Forum adopted the Geneva Declaration of Mayors, translating their ambitions to build resilience into a common joint manifesto.  

As Architect Norman Foster put in his keynote, “Globalisation has lifted billions out of poverty but created local rust belt communities of despair. So, a better balance of local and global is on the way, and each city could play a part.” City diplomacy can pave the way for sustainable solutions, and the Forum of Mayors is the first crucial step towards having national and local actors at the same table. Today, we continue to put this vision into action as we prepare for the third Forum in 2023. 

Local efforts 

Being truly ‘smart’ also comes down to the built environment, which is why we are aiming to bolster the role of city practitioners through the Principles for Sustainable and Inclusive Urban Design and Architecture enshrined in the San Marino Declaration. 

Working with mayors and diverse city actors ensures that city smartness does not translate only into the digitalisation of the urban infrastructure but benefits from a larger spectrum of solutions.  

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