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Digital Transformation

You Asked Us: Towards more Intelligent Cities

Will the costs associated with digitalisation prove prohibitive in the post-pandemic economic environment? What are the main learnings so far from the EU Commission’s Intelligent Cities initiative? And are smart cities bad news for personal privacy? During our recent webinar on Intelligent Cities, you asked our experts; here they respond.

World Built Environment Forum
22 September 2021

Expert panellists:

Professor Sylvie Albert, Department of Business and Administration, University of Winnipeg

Saverio Romeo, Lead Expert – Derry/Londonderry, Intelligent Cities Challenge


As we move out of the pandemic, do you expect to see more initiatives like the Intelligent City Challenge (ICC), designed to rejuvenate affected regions? Or are fiscal restraints likely to limit such schemes?

Sylvie Albert: Yes, economic issues are likely to be the primary focus for city leaders over the short term. But concerns over global warming are growing, social unrest is spreading, and unhealthy local conditions continue to blight cities globally. These factors can motivate action and provide and an opportunity to engage stakeholders in sustainable, tech-led solutions.

Saverio Romeo: Even if financial resources are strained, cities need to get creative and pursue initiatives relating to the green economy and skills, and urban health and well-being. Collaboration with other cities is an important means of driving creativity and project delivery. In the EU, cities have plenty of opportunities – also financial and otherwise – to develop projects and such initiatives. The EU Next Generation program and the EU Recovery and Resilience Fund are fantastic tools with which cities and communities can rethink their future.

The Intelligent Cities Challenge

Participating cities promise to upskill workforces, create new businesses and use new technology to drive forward the sustainability and resilience agenda. In this webinar in partnership with Glodon, we will discuss is this the future of smart, sustainable urbanisation?

The smart city paradigm is very focussed on large cities. That has gone on for a long time and has caused a new digital divide. We have the opportunity to rethink our communities in a sort of continuum from cities to rural areas.

Saverio Romeo
Lead Expert – Derry/Londonderry, Intelligent Cities Challenge

What have you learned from your work on the ICC so far?

SR: Three things have come through clearly from my experience with ICC.

First, COVID-19 has raised the issue of smart and remote working. This has an impact on both cities and communities. Do we exploit the smart working experience and its consequences to rethink workplaces, business districts and other neighbourhoods? This is a common question among the 100+ cities in the ICC.

Second, collaboration among cities is a key aspect of the ICC. Derry/Londonderry collaborates with the Finnish city of Pori on upskilling initiatives in advanced technologies and with the Portuguese city of Guimarães on promoting tech skills among young people. The essence of the ICC is promoting collaboration among cities.

Finally, and this relates to my first point, COVID-19 has highlighted the need to redefine the relationship between the city, the urban fringe and rural areas. The smart city paradigm is very focussed on large cities. That has gone on for a long time and has caused a new digital divide. We have the opportunity to rethink our communities in a sort of continuum from cities to rural areas.

A criticism sometimes levelled at smart cities is concerns over data privacy, has this been an issue with the Intelligent City Challenge or similar projects?

SR: The issue of data privacy falls within the bigger issue of data management. This ranges from how we gather use data, to how we design access models (open versus closed) and ethical issues which include, but extend beyond, privacy. Ultimately, this is all about governance. There are exemplary cases such as Amsterdam; then there are cases in which the local authority does not have any sort of data management policy.

SA: Smart or intelligent projects use data to improve efficiency and decision making and that does give rise to concerns of misuse. The discussion needs to turn to open data and shared models of data governance. These are difficult to implement but achievable with partnerships and collaboration, public policies and managed procedures.