Rising case numbers in Europe, a highly infectious delta variant, and vaccination fatigue: looking at all this, it seems fair to say that the pandemic is far from over. In one of my latest LinkedIn articles, I talked about how the healthcare challenges of the pandemic highlight our need for smarter hospitals. But there is another area in which smart technologies can help combat the spread of the virus: cities.
The recent surge of cases in neighboring European countries and the dominance of a virus variant that is 60 percent more infectious and 137 percent more lethal than its predecessors, makes clear: the threat of a fourth wave is very real. And while vaccinations remain the key ingredient in battling the pandemic, it cannot be the only one. Managing the new normal is going to remain a challenge. But where to start?
Making cities more resilient
Over 90 percent of COVID-19 cases occur in urban areas, which doesn’t come as a surprise. The modern city dweller meets more people on their way to the office than the average person in the Middle Ages met in their entire life. People in cities are simply more exposed – through crowded streets, public transport or (pandemic permitting) more social interaction. So how do we make cities more resilient in the face of changing requirements and challenges? How can we make our cities sustainable and pandemic-proof?
With population growth, urbanization and global warming on the rise, smart technologies have often been proclaimed as one of the game changers in making cities more sustainable. And rightly so. But it’s not just how well we adapt to climate change that will ultimately be decided within cities, it’s also the fight against the pandemic.
Smart technologies don’t just make our cities greener and more energy-efficient – a topic I covered in my LinkedIn article on “How to vaccinate against climate change” – they also make cities safer from COVID. Smart technologies allow us to keep our distance by assigning desks in the office, by predicting peak loads on public transport, and ensuring safe levels of building occupancy. And they can play a key role in reaching several of the United Nations’ 17 Sustainable Development Goals, including sustainable cities and communities, climate action and good health and well-being.
Yet their potential is greater still. Today, the number of connected devices is more than three times higher than the world’s population. Communication is not only key for human interaction. The more our infrastructure and devices communicate, the more they can analyze, preempt and adjust – making cities smarter, more efficient and safer.
Today, less than 10% of the world’s buildings are smart. Imagine the potential we can unlock as we find new ways to shape urban growth – to create sustainable communities. Smart technologies are the key to making cities more sustainable and infrastructure more adaptable to changing requirements – such as the pandemic. We already have the technology today; we just need to act.