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    Where are we headed? The future smart cities and sustainable habitats

    The second and final day of Expo 2020 Dubai’s third pre-Expo thematic week brought together numerous members of the Expo family. They came together to share action-oriented solutions already making a positive impact in cities and communities across the globe, as well as innovative ideas and visions for a future where there is opportunity for all
    9 min read
    Expo 2020 Opportunity District

    Delivered in collaboration with the United Nations Human Settlement Programme (UN-Habitat) and Siemens, Expo’s Premier Infrastructure Digitalisation Partner, Urban and Rural Development Week examined how the world’s population will live and grow in harmony with our planet.


    World Majlis: Made for People – Making Liveable and Loveable Public Spaces: The concluding panel of Tuesday’s programme featured a lively discussion on the importance and evolution of public spaces in our urban areas. From the ancient agoras of Greece to The High Line park in New York, public space has always been an expression of how a society views itself, and serves a myriad of purposes from politics to commerce and social discourse. The iconic places that exist in our historic cities, and indeed in many of our contemporary ones, remain focal points of our cities, and are as popular today as they have always been.

    Dr Robert Platt, Vice President, Visitor Experience, Expo 2020 Dubai, said: "Public places are not defined entirely by their containers, whether physical or virtual, but rather by their activities and their events, and the opportunities they provide for community interaction. However, only spaces that are fully inclusive and truly public can continuously exhibit the qualities that contribute to the human desire for social interaction. These are the places that stand the test of time."

    Franco Atassi, CEO, Siemens Smart Infrastructure Middle East
    , said: “When it comes to smart cities, ‘smart’ means ‘listening’. It is listening to the people, to the occupants, to the designers, to the stakeholders on the intention of what they want to do. Based on that, we design innovative and digital technologies to enable them to do what is intended. But it’s not only that. In five years, there could be another trend, so do you build something that will sustain five to 10 years, or do you build it to accommodate decades of use? Flexibility is the core of what we do, and then you define what you want to accomplish and design such technologies. This is exactly what we are doing with smart cities all over the world, and in particular what we are doing for Expo 2020 Dubai.”

    Vilma Jurkute, Director, Alserkal Avenue, said: "One of the key things that young people have shared with me is that they just want a place where they can wander and where they can get lost in. A place where they can make mistakes, because they do not feel everything around them is so perfect that they are not allowed, as creative minds, to express themselves. So maybe, we should also be aware of this and allow some of our public spaces just to be what they are."

    Amin Gafaranga, Founder, Atelier, said: "People come first and their needs come first. But we have evolved from physical needs. On one side, there is comfort and safety, but on the other side, there is curiosity. We want to be wowed. We want to be surprised, we want to stumble upon things by accident. So how do you balance the two? If you make something too unpredictable, people feel it's a bit too much. But if you also try to accommodate every safety rule, based on someone's cultural background, it becomes an overdesign. Empathy is between two people – they can see a little bit of themselves, but you're also leaving a little room for wonder. When you see the otherness, it becomes more interesting if it's a question mark, as opposed to an exclamation mark."

    Dr Jennifer Camulli, Manager, People with Accessible Needs, Expo 2020 Dubai, said: “What should underpin all discussions on urban and rural development is the need to align with the Sustainable Development Goals – reducing poverty and inequities and encouraging sustainability. The notion of sustainability, like accessibility, is poorly understood. Accessibility is typically thought of as a proverbial dropped curb or a ramp for a wheelchair, but it’s so much broader than that. Sustainability, too, is not just about the environment. What does sustainability mean? Sustainability means to exist forever, and to continue to perpetuate. So the Sustainable Development Goals are essential to all the notions of urban and rural development, to align people’s needs from all of those perspectives. Without that, we are leaving various communities out.”

    Asif Khan MBE, Architect and Designer, UK, said: “Our public spaces are, at their best, reflections of our private spaces. They are at a different scale and have different actors within them, but essentially they are replicating these relationships. What’s particular about them is that they cater to the needs of all generations of people living in that city. That means that everyone from a child, to an octogenarian, all feel welcome there. By being together we can create an environment that fosters those people and the different kind of activities they want to do, and then magic happens in those spaces ...The simple recipe for a good public space is that we should create secure and comfortable environments where people want to be. Then society knows what to do when those ingredients are there.”

    Expo Family Updates: International Participants and Official Providers inspired audiences with creative solutions to support growing populations in a sustainable manner. This included a glimpse into Saudi Arabia’s NEOM, a region being built from the ground up as a living laboratory and new model for exceptional liveability; a case study of digital platforms leveraged to support the design of carbon-neutral cities being implemented in Lisbon, Portugal; insights into Slovenia’s capital, Ljubljana, which was declared European Green Capital of 2016; and a case study from Thailand of a ‘smart-enough’ city, which is sustainable, inclusive, and comprehensive for all citizens, and applicable to secondary cities across the globe. 

    Antoni Vives, Chief Urban Development Officer, NEOM, said: “How do you build a place that is for all and that changes the pace of things happening all over the Earth? NEOM is the place where we can really play with it and understand what ingredients we should use to yield a community, while generating the best liveable physical space. It is an engine for the progress of humanity in a moment in which major challenges have to be faced boldly. If we make it happen here, we will change the world.”

    Dr Paulo Ferrão, Full Professor at Instituto Superior Técnico – University of Lisbon, said: "Our work focuses on developing using urban digital twins in order to design carbon-neutral cities. Currently, carbon accounting in cities is focused on production-based emissions. However, fast-growing urban consumption is a key driver of climate change and carbon emissions. The importance of taking a consumption-based approach is critical work, as Europe prepares to be the first carbon-neutral continent by 2050."

    Ambassador Carmen Gisela Vergara, Executive Director of PROPANAMA, said: "We are trying to help people in the countryside connect to the main city of Panama and the maritime routes that are served through its ports. Projects include the improvement of transport infrastructure, such as roads, ports and bridges, to allow remote communities better access and increase the countryside's tourism potential."

    Andrej Kotar, Chair of Program Board, Strategic Research & Innovation Partnership – Smart Cities & Communities
    , said: "In Slovenia, we united behind a national declaration to boost the digital transformation of cities, communities and villages towards a sustainable, smart society. Based on this national declaration, there was strong cooperation from stakeholders, including national and local governments, the wider public sector, companies, universities, research institutions and NGOs. With such a strong commitment from all stakeholders, Slovenia is in a great position to become a reference as a smart-society country."

    Dr Passakon Prathombutr, Senior Executive Vice President and CTO, Digital Economy Promotion Agency (DEPA)
    , said: “Although the idea of a smart city, driven by cutting-edge technology, might be an ideal concept for leading cities in modern societies, we have also seen the growth of another more balanced concept – a 'smart-enough city,' which better fits the needs of the huge number of secondary cities across the globe. A 'smart-enough city' means that the city needs to be built as a home for everyone. It is a home designed for the good all of its citizens, leaving no one behind, through the synergy of three elements: technology, society and citizens, and city planners. By taking this point of view, we can focus on finding solutions that are smart enough to directly solve the root of any problem for each group of citizens.”

    UN-Habitat Spotlight: Reaching the Last Mile in Slums & Informal Settlements: One in eight people lives in slums and informal settlements, and this number is rising, just as the gap between rich and poor continues to widen. We must act now to stem increasing inequality and poverty. Facilitated by UN-Habitat, this session provided insight into solutions, already existing in slums and informal settlements in different parts of the world, that integrate basic services, public space and mobility.
    Mai Flor, Executive Director, WaterLinks, said: “Asia still has 30 per cent of its 4.5 billion population facing acute water shortages, and at least 1.5 billion without access to safe sanitation. Seventy million still practice open defecation, and 80 per cent of waste water is still left untreated. Asia makes up two thirds of the world’s population, so clearly there is a lot that needs to be done… With the support of the likes of the UN, US AID, the Asia Development Bank, we have been able to put together 80 partnerships and have improved and expanded access to water supply services by as many as 1.5 million customers.”

    Salma Mousallem, Mobility Programme Officer, UN-Habitat Egypt, said: "We need a paradigm shift within the mobility sector, where we shift from talking about transportation to talking about accessibility. If I’m a typical transportation planner, I will be thinking about how to connect neighbourhood A to neighbourhood B… But what if one of those neighbourhoods is an informal settlement? Then, we have a whole host of other questions, such as who is living there, what can the inhabitants afford, will services run at times that accommodate their needs, and I will also consider human culture and behaviour. If we focus on accessibility from the very start – when we are planning different mobility concepts – and look at the intersection of transport, urban and social policies, then that is the beginning of trying to create inclusion. The result is that we develop tools that residents in informal settlements can really use, afford and that will respond to their needs."

    Andrea Panizzo, Co-Founder EVA Studio (a research and design practice based in London, Haiti and Lebanon), said: “I like to think of public space as the backbone of our cities. Sometimes it is considered a luxury, a beautiful landscape that is a nice thing to have in an informal settlement. However, it is a pressing priority in any type of urban context. It is especially urgent in informal neighbourhoods that are growing fast, are densely populated and are also marginalised. Private space predominates and public spaces are reduced to only that which is necessary for circulation. In this informal context any available urban space and good design really can make a difference and matter.”