Cities today are called upon to deploy the potential of smart city policies. To guide municipal action, several international standards for smart cities have emerged. Nevertheless, the sheer number of players on the scene makes a unifying effort increasingly necessary.
By Emanuele Sala
The United States Conference of Mayors claims that no fully developed and executed smart city exists anywhere today. The definition of the concept itself is still evolving, and financing strategies and models are unclear. In this general setting, many local leaders are feeling smart city fatigue, as they are trying to make sense of the barrage of pitches from vendors and private consultants now populating this field.
The only way out of this effort seems to be the use of standards for smart cities, which should ease the work at the local level and make solutions more interoperable and marketable. However, the reality is somewhat different. Multiple actors crowd the stage of smart cities’ standards, making a single codification more difficult. Some valuable experiences emerge from intermediary actors ready to support the implementation of smart cities. However, to achieve consistency in standardization and measurement, the path of cooperation needs to be seriously explored.
The evolving concept of smart city
The International Telecommunication Unit (ITU) defined the smart city as “an innovative city that uses information and communication technologies (ICTs) and other means to improve quality of life, the 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” . This definition, adopted by the United Nations, emphasizes the ultimate goal of smart cities policies, namely improving quality of life. But it also reveals the breadth of issues that smart cities policies address. Therefore, the implementation is incremental and involves many public and private actors, infrastructure providers, product vendors, or policy-makers in constant communication and exchange. The exchange occurs only on the condition that the actors speak a common language. In other words, they must use the same consistent technical rules stipulated by technical standards. Cities need to refer to international standards to adapt to novel technologies or comply with international requirements.
A technical standard is an established requirement to repeat common tasks, providing regulations and conditions to adapt to the bespoke needs of the implementation. The International Organisation for Standardisation (ISO) describes standards for smart cities as “the first step towards the holy grail of an interoperable, plug-and-play world where cities can mix and match solutions from different vendors without fear of lock-in or obsolescence or dead-end initiatives” . Suppose a city has the tools to develop a technical architecture or procure it through a specific vendor. In that case, it might become dependent on a technology that is not shared or bound to a sole vendor, with all the risks that could follow. Smart cities need a common language, and international organizations for the standardizations are there to codify this common language.
A composite picture of the international standardization for smart cities
The International Organisation for Standardisation (ISO), the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC), the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), and the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) are the four most widely recognized international standard organizations. They each produce thousands of standards based on the technical features of currently available technologies. They address multiple urban domains: energy, economy, environment and climate change, finance, governance, health, housing, population and social conditions, telecommunication, transportation, urban planning, water, etc.
However, as Attour et Aller refer, standardization is a necessary, but not sufficient, condition for service interoperability. A functional application of standards implies cooperative solutions from the major business players and industrial players from different sectors (IT, telecoms, energy household appliances, mass retailing, etc.) under the strong incentive of political authorities.
The role of two regional networks in the implementation of smart cities projects
The essential cooperation between suppliers and city administration is facilitated by an ever-growing number of city networks that try to make solutions interoperable and scalable. In particular, two of them, the World Smart Sustainable Cities Organization (WeGO), based in Seul, and Open and Agile Smart Cities (OASC), based in Brussels, have developed original instruments to help cities apply the fittest solutions. The first one is mainly present in Asia and Africa and features 158 members, while the second one’s 150 members concentrate in Europe and South America.
WeGO promotes the Smart City Driver, a framework conceived to help cities plan, finance, and deploy smart city projects. The framework includes three interconnected tools (Activator, Solution Finder, Project Implementer). The Activator allows to discover, plan and exchange smart initiatives. The Solution Finder is used to obtain a bespoke diagnosis of urban challenges and match cities’ needs with the solutions available for export by smart city strategic partners worldwide. The Project Implementer provides financial support and technical assistance for the transformation. These tools aim to create a junction to exchange the needed basics in setting up smart cities projects.
OASC proposes to its members the Minimal Interoperability Mechanism (MIMs), tools based on open technical specifications (a specific level of standardization that covers the technicalities needed to implement products and services), allowing cities to replicate and scale solutions everywhere. MIMs unlock the benefits of interoperability by taking minimal common ground to implement the smart cities standards. The further implementation can be different, but the basic interoperability points use the same interoperability mechanism. OASC also established a marketplace where solutions come together, providing the instruments for procurement and deployment to businesses and local governments.
These organizations connect cities and businesses with the world of standards, making them accessible and more immediately applicable to smart cities projects. Nonetheless, interoperability and scalability are desirable only if it is possible to benchmark different solutions and evaluate their actual impact through measurement indicators.
Key performance indicators to measure smart cities’ initiatives
With increasing budget restrictions, knowing the best opportunities to achieve specific objectives is paramount. Many different measurement frameworks exist to make solutions more quantifiable and adaptable. According to the OECD report on measuring smart cities’ performance, many institutions and organizations, even cities, developed their measurement frameworks and reported more than 1152 indicators of measurement.
Amongst them, the ISO has developed measurement frameworks for sustainable, resilient, and smart cities and smart infrastructures indicators. The ITU has developed a framework for KPIs, thanks to the project United for Smart Sustainable Cities (U4SSC), a UN initiative supported by ITU, the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE), and the UN-Habitat. CityKeys is an initiative for the measurement promoted by Eurocities, addressing only the European dimension differently from the counterparts ISO and U4SSC.
We see many indicators covering many different dimensions and different reaches. This variety of indicators raises a problem for the uniqueness of the language: too many regulators make a unified understanding more complex. A single measurement system is the first step in enabling exchange between cities and creating a single market for solutions.
Cooperation as a means of achieving unity in standards for smart cities
The amount of activity in smart city standardization is overwhelming. That is for the breadth and scope of smart city activities and because standards bodies are still trying to understand how they can best operate. Another reason for the equivocal nature of standardization is that each stakeholder wants to have a voice in defining standards, their implementation, and their measurement. Standards for smart cities describe today’s technologies and dictate the direction for future developments. Organizations that engage in standards applicability and facilitate their adoption, as OASC and WeGO, might also want to lobby in standards-setting. The same local governments, which are often disadvantaged in relation to the national scale, see in these organizations useful means to gather consensus around some standards and make them accepted.
Such multilevel governance made by local governments, intermediary organizations, and international organizations is beneficial if it first ensures the funding and tools necessary without imposing inappropriate priorities or redundancies. In this connection, the duplication of indicators remains a severe obstacle to a unique implementation of smart cities tools.
The only path to obtain a unified, fungible language and then relieve the pressure on mayors seems to be cooperation amongst standardization bodies and cities, with the involvement of the latter’s globally recognized institutional channels.
 ITU, 2014. Smart sustainable cities: An analysis of definitions. Focus Group Technical Report.
 Attour, A. and Rallet, A., 2014. Le rôle des territoires dans le développement des systèmes trans-sectoriels d’innovation locaux : le cas des smart cities. Innovations, 43(1), p.253.
A new platform for exchanging good urban practices and improving the governance of the cities across the globe. The Mayors’ Action Platform was launched last September by the Geneva Cities Hub.
By Emanuele Sala
The Geneva Cities Hub (GCH) introduced the Mayors’ Action Platform (MAP) in September 2021 to ensure continuity to the Geneva Declaration of Mayors. The platform aspires to be an operational tool for mayors and city policymakers to peer exchange and share solutions and best practices addressed by the Declaration of Mayors’ principles themselves. In line with the SDGs and the New Urban Agenda, the Declaration covers themes as the construction of resilient cities, the promotion of environmental, energy, transport sustainability, and the reduction of urban inequalities. It was adopted by the mayors of the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) during the first Forum of Mayors in 2020.
One of the specific objectives of the Geneva Declaration of Mayors is to establish a tool to turn its principles into reality through ongoing exchange and mutual learning. The MAP joins other similar platforms in establishing a polycentric model of governance for cities. Such participatory frameworks emphasize a shift in city policymaking based on the action of urban platforms and best practices. Despite the greater flexibility and the undeniable benefits of these institutional frameworks, more incentives to foster participation should be considered.
Benefitting from the exchange of best practices
The exchange of best practices is a fundamental means of city diplomacy and accrues benefits both locally and internationally. The exchange of knowledge between mayors has shown to be particularly effective, as municipalities learn from each other more than any other single source. Eddy Adams, Thematic Pole Manager from the European knowledge-exchange program URBACT, reports that the exchange of best practices at the international level results in greater prestige, raising the city’s profile and showcasing the successful initiatives to potential partnering actors. Even the most reticent local stakeholder is more persuaded at the local level when a good practice is recognized internationally. Thus, external recognition can result in internal credit. Among the technical advantages, the codification needed to share best practices is of high value to understand even internally, dynamics that might be overlooked. Accordingly, codification makes the trajectory of the implementation clearer for everyone.
This last point highlights that the pure exchange of good practices is only a starting point for an effective policy transfer: it is paramount to make them interoperable and adaptable in different contexts and conditions. For this reason, to become an effective tool for urban development, such platforms should be equipped with precise internal systems to assess the relevance of the proposed practices, both for the specific objectives and the effectiveness of the results. Every shared practice should make a clear link with the issues it tries to resolve and the outcomes it intends to reach, based on quantifiable and identifiable outcomes. Moreover, to facilitate transferability, they should support local governments in codifying best practices to identify a transfer potential that other stakeholders can exploit.
In this respect, the Mayor’s Action Platform sets few limits concerning the rules of acceptance of shared practices due to the broad extent of the themes included in the Declaration. The inclusiveness of the platform is thus favored over a strict selection of the practices. However, the platform offers a form for codifying best practices, making shared practices readable and uniform, and clarifying effects and outcomes. The form requires cities to identify which principle of the Declaration they are addressing with a specific policy and how citizens’ participation shaped the different phases of its implementation. A final evaluation of the impact and the effectiveness of the practices closes the form.
The value of urban platforms for city governance
The Mayor’s Action Platform is a tool that can be ascribed to the logic of polycentric governance instruments. The political economist Vincent Ostrom defines these instruments as governance arrangements regulated by patterns of interaction amongst independent units operating at different geographical scopes. These actors mutually monitor, learn, and adapt strategies with reciprocity and trust. In recent research focused on the Covenant of Mayors, Ekaterina Domorenok points out how the logic of “governing through enabling” municipalities with mutual knowledge and reciprocal links often results in collaborative networks.
The voluntary commitment of the members highlights the shift from city policymaking in a command and control style to a policy change driven by networking, coordination, and peer learning. On the one hand, such institutional shapes ensure great flexibility, light structures, and high interoperability, and here lies part of the success of platforms and networks for urban practitioners. On the other hand, more substantial incentives for a sound policy codification and implementation and more explicit tie-in dynamics might be desirable in the next future. Providing support in best practice codification and establishing contacts among city experts and administration is a good basis for instruments that could evolve to become fundamental hinge points in city diplomacy.
In this connection, the MAP shows potential key success factors, particularly its proximity to the United Nations institutions. The European members, for example, that may be targeting more intensively their continental dimension than the wider international one, could benefit from the contacts that the MAP could provide with other cities worldwide and with the international institutions based in Geneva. Conversely, other UNECE and non-UNECE cities could establish connections with European cities and the international institutions based in the Swiss city, with its historical presence of influential global actors.
 The Geneva’s Cities Hub is the primary promoter of the platform. It was created by the City of Geneva and the Canton of Geneva, with the support of the Swiss Confederation, the UNECE and the UN-Habitat. The specific objective of the GCH is to offer support to cities and city networks by connecting them together and with the international institutions hosted in Geneva.
 Campbell, T. (2001). Innovation and Risk-taking: Urban Governance in Latin America. In A. J. Scott (Ed.), Global City-Regions. Trends, Theory, Policy (pp. 214–235). Oxford University Press.
 Adams, E. (2019). It is time for cities to share their good practices now, more than ever. Retrieved 22 January 2022, from https://urbact.eu/it-time-cities-share-their-good-practices-now-more-ever
 Ostrom in Domorenok, E. (2019). Voluntary instruments for ambitious objectives? The experience of the EU Covenant of Mayors. Environmental Politics, 28(2), 293-314.
Domorenok, E. (2019). Voluntary instruments for ambitious objectives? The experience of the EU Covenant of Mayors. Environmental Politics, 28(2), 293-314.
“What kind of cities are needed to support the future of humanity? How do we envisage and reimagine the future of cities? What do we want our cities to look like?”
By Emanuele Sala
The World Urban Forum, the main global conference about the future of urban governance, will try to address these questions in Katowice, Poland, from 26-30 June 2022. The 11th edition, titled “Transforming our Cities for a Better Urban Future,” will focus on tools and policies to pursue sustainable urbanization, counting on the expected presence of thousands of representatives of national, regional, and local governments, academics, business people, community leaders, urban planners.
This global event aims at providing participants with an opportunity to share experiences, create networks, and hold debates about pressing issues facing cities and communities in the light of the 2030’s Sustainable Development Goals and the New Urban Agenda. Through high-profile debates, roundtables, assemblies, and informal meeting opportunities, the 11th WUF links the theme of urban sustainability to the growing role of cities in providing solutions to deal with pandemics and the environmental crisis.
Twenty years of World Urban Forums
The WUF has operated since 2001, under the aegis of the United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UN-Habitat), holding biannual conferences hosted by diverse cities. An overview of the past editions, host cities, themes, and participants can give an idea of the commitment of the institution, which has become “a platform to capture knowledge, innovation, and creativity for sustainable urban development” . The primary outcome of the conference is a final declaration, providing general recommendations around which a substantial consensus was reached during conferences and debates.
From the data of the last five editions, there is a good gender balance in all the conferences, as well as a wide variety of functions covered, including academics, public administrators, and private sector operators. However, a large gap can be observed between the number of participants from the host countries and the rest of the world. This ratio, in some cases, reaches the figure of 1:1. The differentiation in the choice of the host cities counterbalances this predictable dynamic, ensuring a high level of representation from all continents throughout the various editions.
The choice of Katowice: global issues meet local solutions
The choice of the Polish city, which hosted in 2018 the UN Climate Change Conference COP24, is relevant. The city is a pole of coal extraction and steel production in a region where the carbon economy is still a strong reality. By contrast, the city administration and the community itself are incrementally transforming the city to make it greener and more sustainable. The choice to hold this event in Katowice gives value to and to learn from the city’s good practices.
This choice is part of a trend that can also be observed in previous conferences: it is the case for WUF7 on urban inequalities and divided cities, held in Medellin, a city that has developed original experiences in urban safety policies. WUF5, in Rio de Janeiro, focused on the idea of the “right to the city,” widely studied and promoted in Brazilian cities.
The idea of drawing a link between the theme addressed and the host city reflects the principles at the heart of the conference. It emphasizes an awareness of the uniqueness of each city, together with a recognition of the value of sharing good practices and exchanging knowledge. To ensure that this exchange is accessible to all stakeholders, UN-Habitat publishes a detailed report of the event to account for the outcome of the proceedings.
The value of cooperation to face an uncertain urban future
The event, which has seen the number and the profile of participants grow over the years, was born and thrives on the assumption that the future will be increasingly urban. However, the coronavirus pandemic is a stark reminder that this urban future is uncertain. Hence, cities should be prepared and equipped for it. City professionals’ discussion and mutual learning can point to this direction, and the World Urban Forum is establishing itself as a valuable space for it, as a hub of ideas, policies, and improvements for urban governments.
 UN Habitat, 2020. Report of the Tenth Session of the World Urban Forum. Abu Dhabi, p. 130.
 UN Habitat, 2020. Report of the Tenth Session of the World Urban Forum. Abu Dhabi, p. 33 – 35.
The Forum of Mayors is a platform for ongoing exchange and mutual learning where Mayors will present their efforts to tackle challenges in their cities. Cities will learn from each other’s best practices in the areas of housing and climate-neutral buildings, green cities and nature-based solutions, sustainable urban transport and safer roads, and smart urban development solutions.
The United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE), the host institution of the Forum, commissioned Dr. Lorenzo Kihlgren Grandi, director of the City Diplomacy Lab, to write a policy paper on the impact of the Forum containing concrete proposals for its evolution.
From New York to Melbourne, from Paris to Cape Town, a growing number of cities worldwide are taking part in a global reflection on the future of local food and agriculture.
The impact of climate change and rising socioeconomic inequalities is forcing municipalities to design their food systems around sustainability and solidarity. Additionally, the world trade disruption caused by the pandemic painfully revealed a heavy dependence on international food supply chains, underscoring the need for local food production.
Held on December 14th, 2021, the first webinar in the New Utopias series explored major trends in local food systems, the social, economic, and environmental challenges to consider, and the concept of “cities as laboratories of innovation,” foregrounding their impact on the present and future of urban life.
- Liliana Annovazzi-Jakab, Chief of Section, UNECE/FAO Forestry and Timber Section – Forests, Land and Housing Division, United Nations Economic Commission for Europe
- Pamela Ann Koch, Mary Swartz Rose Associate Professor of Nutrition Education; Executive Director, Laurie M. Tisch Center for Food, Education & Policy, Teachers College, Columbia University
- Filippo Gavazzeni, Head of Milan Urban Food Policy Pact Secretariat, Municipality of Milan
- Lorenzo Kihlgren Grandi, Director of the City Diplomacy Lab (Columbia Global Centers | Paris) (Chair).
Q&A session facilitated by: Aliénor de Thoisy, Sciences Po graduate student.
The City Diplomacy Lab organized this event in partnership with the Alliance Program, Columbia Global Centers | Paris, and the European Institute. Co-sponsors include Columbia Maison Française and the Institute for Ideas and Imagination.
The Metropolitan Municipality of Izmir and the International Observatory of Mayors on Living Together hosted the 3rd Mayors Summit on Living Together, which took place on December 7 and 8 (online), as well as on December 10 (on-site, in Izmir), at the occasion of the International Human Rights Day.
City Diplomacy Lab‘s director Lorenzo Kihlgren Grandi delivered the keynote speech at the Interactive City Dialogue on Living Together: lessons learned and perspectives for cities in the future, on Tuesday, December 7 at 15h45 CET.
Hit hard by what was revealed to be primarily an urban pandemic, cities across the world have been harnessing the potential of their proximity with residents, the private sector, and civil society to deploy rapid, innovative, and cost-effective solutions. Most of this innovation is likely to continue as part of a broader movement led by numerous mayors committed to boldly re-directing urban development towards environmental sustainability, social equality, and resilience.
Designed by Dr. Lorenzo Kihlgren Grandi, chair of Urban Flag and instructor of City Diplomacy at Sciences Po – PSIA, the École Polytechnique, and Columbia in Paris, this conference series aims to engage distinguished mayors, scholars, practitioners, and students in a global discussion on the future of urban life in a post-pandemic world.
The five 90-minute conferences will take place on Zoom, with recordings made available after the event. Free participation upon registration.
- March 16, 2021 | 6 pm (Paris): The rise of city diplomats [recording]
- April 8, 2021 | 5 pm (Paris) | 11 am (New York): Nations talk, cities act? How the pandemic enhanced the international role of cities [recording]
- May 4, 2021 | 6 pm (Paris) | 12 pm (New York): Reimagining urban diversity. The impact of the urban intercultural approach during and after the outbreak [recording]
- June 8, 2021 | 6 pm (Paris) | 12 pm (New York): Reimagining urban sustainability. The future of urban environmentalism [recording]
- July 8, 2021 | 6 pm (Paris) | 12 pm (New York): Reimagining smart cities. The value of smart technologies in a pandemic and post-pandemic city [recording]
The series is co-organized with Paris School of International Affairs Sciences Po, Columbia Undergraduate Programs in Paris,and Columbia Global Centers | Paris. Co-sponsored by the Alliance Program and Urban Flag.
This seminar examines the growing importance of neoliberal pivot within the emergence of city diplomacy, from Europe and North America.
About this event
This research seminar will examine the recent trend of city administrations as international actors of growing importance and thus the emergence city diplomacy. Using their expertise from Europe and North America, Amiri and Kihlgren Grandi will examine the neoliberal pivot within city diplomacy over the last thirty years arguing that, while opportunities for networking and investment may have improved, the ability of the city to act as an independent unit of foreign policy distinct from its parent state has been compromised. This is particularly important when it comes to the likelihood of cities to act morally on the international stage or simply to include moral principle within their outputs.
Sohaela Amiri – University of Southern California
Sohaela Amiri is Research Associate at the University of Southern California’s Center on Public Diplomacy (CPD) and a PRGS Fellow at the RAND Corporation. Dr. Amiri’s research focuses on US city diplomacy as a contributor to US statecraft. She is the co-editor (with Efe Sevin) of the book City Diplomacy: Current Trends and Future Prospects (2020).
Lorenzo Kihlgren Grandi – Urban Flag and Sciences Po, Paris
Dr. Lorenzo Kihlgren Grandi is the director of the City Diplomacy Lab at Columbia Global Centers | Paris and a lecturer in City Diplomacy at Sciences Po – PSIA and École Polytechnique. He chairs Urban Flag and the Working Group on Globalization, Territories, and Integration at the International Association of Schools and Institutes of Administration (IASIA). Author of City Diplomacy (Palgrave Macmillan, 2020), he holds a dual Ph.D. in Political Theory from École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales (EHESS) and Libera Università Internazionale degli Studi Sociali (LUISS).
Colin Alexander – Nottingham Trent University
Colin Alexander is Senior Lecturer in Political Communications at Nottingham Trent University, UK. His expertise surrounds the historical and contemporary international communications of Asian governments, with a particular interest in imperialism and north-south issues. He is the author of two monograph books: ‘China and Taiwan in Central America: Engaging Foreign Publics in Diplomacy’ (2014) and ‘Administering Colonialism and War’ (2019) and is the editor of The Frontiers of Public Diplomacy (2021).
BOOK PRESENTATION AND ROUND TABLE | IN ITALIAN
Organized by Bocconi University + Milano UNESCO Creative City of Literature + Egea
The role of cities on the world stage is changing, with more and more urban centers capable of asserting themselves as engines of change inside and outside their borders. In a context characterized by extreme volatility and controversies, the ability of municipalities to build profitable international dialogues between a multiplicity of local identities is fundamental today. And culture, which has always been an integral part of urban identity, is a key element in the framework of the international strategies of municipalities.
The UNESCO Creative Cities Network is one of the most important instances of structured collaboration between international organizations and municipal governments. Born to foster cooperation between cities for which creativity is a strategic element in sustainable urban development, the network allows its members to exchange innovative practices to make creativity and cultural industries crucial drivers of their development plans.
Cristiano Casa Deputy Mayor, City of Parma (UNESCO Creative City of Gastronomy)
Francesco De Biase City of Torino (UNESCO Creative City of Design)
Paola Dubini Bocconi University
Federica Forti Deputy Mayor, City of Carrara (UNESCO Creative City of Crafts and Folk Art)
Lorenzo Kihlgren Grandi Author, Diplomazia delle città. Strumenti e pratiche per una centralità strategica internazionale (Egea) and Director, City Diplomacy Lab
Stefano Parise Director, Area Biblioteche, City of Milano (UNESCO Creative City of Literature)
Vittorio Salmoni National coordinator, UNESCO network of Italian Creative Cities
Monica Sciajno City of Torino (UNESCO Creative City of Design)
Gianmario Verona Rector, Bocconi University