The role of smart cities to limit the COVID 19 crisis

Over half of the planet now lives in cities, and more than two-thirds of the world’s population will be urbanized by 2050. Cities are proactively working across borders to build coalition networks and resist nationalist policies. They contribute to four-fifths of global GDP, and are taking centerstage in securing an inclusive, safe, productive, sustainable, and resilient future for humanity.

Smart Cities have emerged as urban ecosystems that integrate digital technology, knowledge, and assets to become more responsive to users, improve city services, and make cities more lovable. Leading the development and re-invigoration of effective, high-performing cities is one of the grandest challenges of our time.

Much of the existing literature on smart cities focuses on how far each city has come and the resulting benefits. This may not offer adequate guidance to city leaders on what they should do, when each city operates in such a unique context. City planners require forward-looking and practical comparisons and guides, by understanding the budgets, infrastructure, policies, services, and innovative governance and resourcing models of different cities.

Throughout the ages, humanity has experienced many pandemics that annihilated large numbers of the population. These pandemics include the Marseille plague in 1720, the worldwide cholera pandemics between 1817 and 1923, the cholera pandemic of the Ganges River delta in India from 1817 to 1823, the Spanish flu between 1918 to 1919, the Asian flu in 1957, 1958, and 1968, the Hong Kong flu in 1968, and the 2009 (H1N1) Swine flu. At the end of 2019, a new pandemic emerged in Wuhan City in the Hubei Province of China, which has been named COVID-19.

In December 2019, the first case of COVID-19 was diagnosed in China. Humankind found itself suddenly facing the most significant challenge and a shakeup in its modern history, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, which caused the deaths of over seven million people worldwide—and all within a few months.

Thousands are still being afflicted every day. The Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) not only caused human deaths but also placed humankind in an unprecedented critical situation that affected all spheres of life. This situation is the result of the contradictions of what the world believed about the applicability of globalisation smart technology and multiculturalism in confronting the current COVID-19 adversity. Therefore, the embarrassment is what happened in the past and what is happening today is that these epidemics occurred during the time known as the era of big data, the technology revolution, and artificial intelligence. In earlier times, urban environments did not have vast economies or advanced digital technologies available today. Moreover, the idea of cities between inter-cultures and cross-cultures had not yet been extended.

This pandemic is a national emergency, and many countries proved that they have a very complex system of smart technologies. The example is given for instance to Great Britain within its regions of Scotland, England and Wales that deal with their measures and data, the cities including London plays no role in it regardless of its smartness and digital capacity. On the contrary, some cities in the Global South possess informational and smart systems, but they often do not have this degree similar to what is established in countries of the Global North. Going in depth, those cities do not have the useful applications of digital and smart technologies that depend on the big data, such as crowdsourcing approaches and internet of things.

Urban studies, urban planning, and design encompass a broad theoretical effort, which refers to more advanced approaches in the areas of high technology, smartness and multicultural cities that target well-being and sustainability. However, the current circumstances of coronavirus pandemic that invaded most of the urban environments show the importance of rethinking the praxis of current technology.

Hence, this deadly epidemic has opened an important debate about the failure of urban developers in implementing the ideas and opinions of scientists in the fields of urban planning and design. In the first six months of 2020, after the spread of the deadly virus, many countries and cities closed their borders and preventing entry and exit. Besides, all of the countries of the world announced the ban, either in full or in part. Moreover, in unprecedented measures, on the global north and south, some countries and cities even prevented their citizens from leaving their homes. People watched on the broadcast media as cities of the world became empty. The urban form of many cities has grown as an oil painting, showing natural and human products—from buildings, streets, and squares—all of which have no life. The activities that used to give a city its well-being, conviviality, and vitality of daily life, has disappeared.

In another vein, many cities around the world declared themselves on the brink of the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression. Business and finance professionals disappeared; stock exchanges, companies, and banks collapsed, substantial financial and investment entities began to lay off workers, and many small companies closed their doors. Cities that had a strong economy and global competitiveness have disappeared from a theoretical map. Many cities around the world became nearly bankrupt after the closure, leaving their street billboards blank, without publicity or advertisement. They were no longer able to advertise their products after the shutdown. Was this due to the massive financial losses or for other reasons?

Data show consistent evidence of a positive association between urban wealth and the presence of a vast number of creative professionals, a high score in a multimodal accessibility indicator, the quality of urban transportation networks, the diffusion of ICTs (most noticeably in the e-government industry), and, finally, the quality of human capital. These positive associations clearly define a policy agenda for smart cities, although clarity does not necessarily imply ease of implementation.

All variables shown to be positively associated with urban growth can be conceived of as stocks of capital; they are accumulated over time and are subject to decay processes. Hence, educating people is on average successful only when investment in education is carried out over a long period with a stable flow of resources; transportation networks must be constantly updated to keep up with other fast-growing cities, in order to keep attracting people and ideas; the fast pace of innovation in the ICT industry calls for a continuous and deep restructuring and rethinking of the communication infrastructure, to prevent European cities from losing ground to global competitors.