“Better City, Better Life” – World Cities Day, Guangzhou

Smart City Innovation

Ric Stephens, President
October 31, 2017, Guangzhou, China


Thank you for including me in this momentous event to celebrate “Better Cities for Better Lives.” It is an honor for me to represent the International Society of City and Regional Planners, a global organization with professional planners in more than 80 countries. We are affiliated with UN-Habitat, UNESCO, the Global Planners Network and many other multi-national organizations. ISOCARP also partners with the Urban Planning Society of China, and it has been my pleasure to work with UPSC Secretary General Shi Nan on a variety of international programs and projects. The general theme of World Cities Day is “Better City, Better Life.” This corresponds very well with ISOCARP’s mission, “Knowledge for Better Cities.” We promote successes of urbanization and address specific challenges resulting from urbanization. ISOCARP is currently promoting the New Urban Agenda, Sustainable Development Goals and smart sustainable cities. Simultaneously, we are addressing urban resiliency and regeneration, and—starting next year—we will focus on climate change action.

Innovative Governance, Open Cities

This year, the United Nations has selected the World Cities Day theme Innovative Governance, Open Cities to highlight the important role of urbanization as a source of global development and social inclusion. Smart sustainable cities are critical to implementing the goals of global development and social inclusion. A smart sustainable city is an innovative city that uses information and communication technologies (ICTs) and other means to improve quality of life, efficiency of urban operation and services, and competitiveness, while ensuring that it meets the needs of present and future generations with respect to economic, social and environmental aspects. Smart sustainable cities drive technology; they are not be driven by technology. Smart sustainable cities implement Sustainable Development Goal Number 11: Make cities inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable. Smart sustainable cities are within a larger context of smart urbanism. Smart urbanism merges information and communications technologies; energy, resource and infrastructure technologies into networks that create sustainable, resilient, regenerative, urban-rural ecosystems with vibrant communities, thriving economies and biodiverse environments. China and many other progressive nations are designing and constructing smart sustainable cities to achieve these goals. The complexity of governance, infrastructure, resource management, and increasing vulnerability to expanding environmental, social and economic disasters will require expanding information, communications, energy and other technologies. Smart sustainable cities are not only visionary; they are also inexorable. Thus far, the developed world has transitioned from an agricultural economy to an industrial economy to a post-industrial service sector economy to a knowledge economy. Smart sustainable cities advance urbanism towards a knowledge economy. The 4th Industrial Revolution is marked by emerging technology breakthroughs in a number of fields, including robotics, artificial intelligence, nanotechnology, quantum computing, biotechnology, The Internet of Things, 3D printing and autonomous vehicles. Smart sustainable cities embody the 4th Industrial Revolution. In relation to the theme of “Innovative Governance and Open Cities,” smart sustainable cities will include increased connectivity and inclusivity. We will have challenges in developing smart sustainable cities. These challenges include technological disasters, programming flaws, and cyber-attacks. We will also find a growing gap between technological capability and society’s ability to assimilate change. This “technological cultural gap” will increase dramatically; coincide with technological convergence; and ultimately become the technological singularity. We are seeing technological convergence today in numerous autonomous systems such as driverless cars and drones; big data applications, the Internet of things, open data, ubiquitous sensor networks, and many others. The technological singularity when artificial intelligence becomes universal, will generate unfathomable change.

What does this mean for city planning, development and administration? We know that we are on a path that cannot be followed indefinitely. Our current cities are not sustainable, and we should aspire to a higher quality of life. There is no clear blueprint or formula for creating smart sustainable cities, but they will become ubiquitous. We will need to navigate many obstacles to achieve a desirable balance between technological efficiency and optimum social, environmental and economic communities. This new balance, or equilibrium, will require innovative governance and open cities. A new equilibrium will need collaboration on a range of issues leading to broader global cooperation. It is our hope and commitment to pioneer these urban planning efforts to create this equilibrium as outlined by the “New Urban Agenda.”

We have extraordinary challenges and opportunities ahead that will require global action. I sincerely look forward to an alternative future world of fusion with Chinese technological expertise and vision.

Ric Stephens
President, International Society of City and Regional Planners

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