The fourth edition of the Smart Cities Study 2021 prepared by the UCLG “Community of Practice Digital Cities” focuses on the resilience of cities, and, especially, on analyzing how the covid-19 pandemic has induced cities to adopt “smart” measures to fight the negative effects that the pandemic has generated and that have contributed to the improvement of their resilience.

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The Study aims to understand the pre-pandemic situation of cities, identifying their level of digitization and the “Smart” resources and tools they had. It analyses what impact the pandemic had on the different areas of local governance and what new “Smart” measures or tools were used to combat the negative consequences that were generated. Finally, the study determines to what extent these types of actions have served to increase the resilience of cities, and to assess the usefulness of the new measures and tools for combating future crises.

In this edition, 35 cities from 20 countries in Europe, Latin America, Africa and Asia have participated.

The study focusses on the following six areas, where it is understood that the adoption of digital tools was a key component for providing an effective response to the impact of the pandemic, and served to increase resilience in the post-pandemic situation we now face.

  • Mobility and transport
  • Public services
  • Institutional operations
  • Relations with the people and public participation
  • Economy
  • Education and training

The Study allows us to know how COVID-19 pandemic had a medium, high or very high impact on all areas of governance, far above the impact on the rest of the economy. The use of Smart tools was present in all areas of governance. In addition, according to the participating cities, on the whole, already having Smart resources and tools allowed them to respond to the pandemic more effectively and efficiently.

The set of new measures adopted by the cities served to combat the negative impact of COVID-19 in all areas of governance, although with major variations among the different areas.

In the areas best able to fight off the impact of the pandemic, the positive impact of the new measures in the protection of Public Services and of Education and training are to be highlighted. In addition, some cities are unsure about the impact that measures focussed on coordination with institutions and on the economic area may have had on mitigating the effects of COVID-19.

In any case, there are numerous tools and good practices in each of the areas of governance of the Smart Cities. The cities have used a range of new tools, and there is no reason why their usage should not continue after the post-pandemic recovery.

The use of data has also been cross-cutting in decision-making, and it is hoped that discussions on the ethical ways of using personal data will continue to take place.

The process of transformation into a Smart City is considered an essential tool for building resilience against future crises. This process should consider the whole population, trying to prevent the digital transformation of public policies making them inaccessible to the vulnerable parts of the city’s population, in particular, and of society, in general.

This process should consider digital rights, which are vital for an inclusive and resilient recovery from COVID-19, and which must also form part of the renewal of the social contract in the Pact for the Future that UCLG seeks to establish for people, the planet and governments.

The cities participating in the study consider that the measures adopted, in general, have served to very much or sufficiently improve the resilience of the different areas of governance, which also strengthens the desire to implement deep changes for use in future scenarios.