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Science, technology and innovation for sustainable urban development in a post-pandemic world


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This report focuses on the contribution that Science, Technology and Innovation (STI) practices make towards mitigating some of the most pressing sustainability challenges facing the urban sociotechnical systems in a post-COVID-19 world. The report also assesses the urbanization trends and the impact of the pandemic on sustainable urban development.
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Science, technology
and innovation
for sustainable
urban development
in a post-pandemic
Current Studies
Geneva, 2022
Science, technology and innovation for sustainable urban development in a post-pandemic world
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Science, technology and innovation for sustainable urban development in a post-pandemic world
This study was prepared by an UNCTAD team comprised of Liping Zhang (team leader), Luca
Mora (consultant and professor of Urban Innovation at Edinburgh Napier University and Tallinn
University of Technology) and Zenathan Hasannudin. Emine Akgun (Edinburgh Napier University),
inputs. The authors worked under the guidance of Angel González Sanz, Head of the Science,
Technology and ICT Branch, and with the overall direction of Shamika N. Sirimanne, Director of the
Division on Technology and Logistics, UNCTAD.
UNCTAD appreciates valuable inputs provided by the Governments of Belarus, Belgium,
Brazil, the Dominican Republic, Egypt, the Islamic Republic of Iran, Kenya, Latvia, Peru, the
Philippines, Romania, the Russian Federation, South Africa, Switzerland, Thailand, Türkiye and
the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, as well as from the Economic and
Social Commission for Western Asia of the United Nations, Food and Agriculture Organization of
the United Nations, International Telecommunication Union, United Nations Human Settlements
Programme, United Nations Industrial Development Organization, United Nations Ofce for Outer
Space Affairs and World Tourism Organization. (Detailed inputs are available at
The publication beneted signicantly from discussions and inputs during the 2021–2022
intersessional panel of the United Nations Commission on Science and Technology for Development
(17 to 19 November 2021) and the twenty-fth session of the Commission on Science and
Technology for Development (28 March to 1 April 2022).
Cover design by Magali Studer, while editorial and administrative support are provided by John
Chua and Malou Pasinos of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development.
Jun Zhang (Edinburgh Napier University), and Maria Godunova (UNCTAD) provided substantive
Science, technology and innovation for sustainable urban development in a post-pandemic world
The United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) serves as the lead entity
within the United Nations Secretariat for matters related to science and technology as part of its
work on the integrated treatment of trade and development, investment and nance. The current
UNCTAD work programme is based on the mandates set at quadrennial conferences, as well as
on the decisions of the General Assembly of the United Nations and the United Nations Economic
and Social Council that draw upon the recommendations of the United Nations Commission
on Science and Technology for Development, which is served by the UNCTAD secretariat. The
UNCTAD work programme is built on its three pillars of research analysis, consensus-building and
technical cooperation, and is carried out through intergovernmental deliberations, research and
analysis, technical assistance activities, seminars, workshops and conferences.
This series of publications seeks to contribute to exploring current issues in science, technology,
and innovation, with particular emphasis on their impact on developing countries.
The term “country” as used in this study also refers, as appropriate, to territories or areas. In addition,
the designations of country groups are intended solely for statistical or analytical convenience and
do not necessarily express a judgment about the stage of development reached by a particular
country or area.
Science, technology and innovation for sustainable urban development in a post-pandemic world
1. Introduction ............................................................................................... 1
2. Challenges of sustainable urban development ......................................... 2
3. Applying science, technology and innovation for sustainable urban
development ............................................................................................ 10
3.1 Energy ................................................................................................................ 11
3.2 Circularity ........................................................................................................... 14
3.3 Water ................................................................................................................. 17
3.4 Mobility ............................................................................................................... 19
3.5 Economic prosperity and decent job .................................................................. 22
3.6 Housing .............................................................................................................. 26
3.7 Gender-related empowerment and equality ........................................................ 28
3.8 Urban planning ................................................................................................... 29
3.9 Safety and security ............................................................................................. 31
4. Conclusions and policy recommendations ............................................ 34
References ..................................................................................................... 41
Box 1 The COVID-19 pandemic and sustainable urban development ................... 3
Box 2 Promoting urban policy as part of national development:
Lesson from Romania ................................................................................. 14
Box 3 Bioeconomy, circular and green economy policy model in Thailand ........ 15
Box 4 Sensing technology for ensuring ground and surface water quality ......... 18
Box 5 An electric scooter sharing service for sustainable urban mobility ........... 20
Box 6 EcoSUN Green Village, a village for the future ........................................... 27
Box 7 CITInova project to improve national capacities
for sustainable urban development ............................................................ 30
Table 1 Global urban sustainability challenges: A brief summary ............................ 4
Table 2 Summary of science, technology and innovation solutions
to urban sustainability challenges .............................................................. 10
Science, technology and innovation for sustainable urban development in a post-pandemic world
1. Introduction
The world is far from attaining resource-efcient, safe and inclusive urban areas,
where anyone can
benet from environmentally friendly and prosperous economies and high-quality public goods and
services. At its sixteenth session, in 2013, the United Nations Commission on Science and Technology for
Development examined the theme of science, technology and innovation (STI) for sustainable cities and
peri-urban communities, including environmental sustainability. Since then, accelerating technological
change in renewable energy, articial intelligence, machine learning and big data have opened new
possibilities for addressing urban problems innovatively, at a lower cost and more sustainably.
The international landscape in which STI and urban development policies interact has also changed
since 2013, with the adoption of the following: Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015–
2030; Addis Ababa Action Agenda of the Third International Conference on Financing for Development;
2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, in particular Sustainable Development Goal 11; Paris
Agreement under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change; and New Urban
Agenda adopted by the United Nations Conference on Housing and Sustainable Urban Development
(Habitat III).
Sustainable urban development, as framed by Sustainable Development Goal 11, invites
the international community to rethink urban development patterns and to make urban settlements
more inclusive, productive and environmentally friendly.
In addition to accelerating technological change and a new international landscape, the coronavirus
disease (COVID-19) pandemic and its effects on urban life provide a third strong reason for the
Commission to take a fresh look at the issue of urban development and its social, economic, and
environmental dimensions. Accounting for an estimated 90 per cent of all reported COVID-19 cases,
urban areas have become the epicentre of the pandemic (United Nations, 2020a), and this can have
signicant negative effects along all dimensions of sustainable development.
On the other hand, the pandemic has shown the importance of STI systems in contributing to equipping
society with the instruments and capabilities required to direct innovation efforts towards improving
sustainable urban development and the resilience of urban systems. Scientic knowledge production
processes, digital technology adoption and innovations in organizational and institutional settings have
contributed to mitigating the impact of the pandemic, helping many urban socio-technical systems to
continue to function during the crisis.
As a result, the world has gained access to a rich variety of STI solutions, both technological and non-
technological, to urban sustainability issues. These innovative solutions help shape the evolutionary
patterns of urban socio-technical systems and contribute to xing unsustainable urban operations,
including economic activities.
The publication is structured around four chapters. Chapter 2 presents the most pressing challenges to
sustainable urban development in a post pandemic world. Chapter 3 discusses in depth the contribution
that STI practices make towards mitigating these challenges. Chapter 4 presents conclusions and
policy recommendations.
1 Denitions of urban, peri-urban, and rural areas differ signicantly in the literature and among countries. These
differences usually relate to minimum population sizes and density, and they make it difcult to agree on universal
denitions. In this paper, the terms urban area and its synonyms – such as urban environments, urban settlements,
urban communities, urban systems, urban regions and urban territories – are used interchangeably, and they cover
all degree of urbanization and types of urbanized territories, from the more densely populated urban areas of cities
and towns to the intermediate and less dense urban areas that create the urban–rural continuum of peri-urban
spaces. Peri-urban spaces are composed of both urban and rural areas; they form urban–rural interfaces and
may gradually evolve into fully urban territories, but their growth is fragmented and involves relatively sparse and
discontinuous land use patterns.
2 See, respectively, United Nations General Assembly resolutions 69/283, annex; 69/313, annex; and 70/1, annex;
United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, FCCC/CP/2015/10/Add.1, annex; and General
Assembly resolution 71/256, annex.
Science, technology and innovation for sustainable urban development in a post-pandemic world
2. Challenges of sustainable urban
People live in a highly urbanized world. In 2017, urban areas were home to more than 4 billion
people,3 and this event has become an important milestone in the history of humanity; for the
rst time, the worldwide share of urban population has outnumbered the rural population (United
Nations, Department of Economic and Social Affairs, 2019a). The urbanization process is
considered as one of the main demographic trends, alongside with population growth, population
aging and international migration.
During the last two centuries, an overall reduction in human fertility levels has been registered almost
worldwide. As a result of this trend, the absolute size of the world’s population is expected to grow
continuously over the next decades, but at a slower pace compared to the pre-1950 scenario,
moving from the 7.7 billion recorded in mid-2019 to 8.5 billion in 2030 and almost 10 billion in
2050 (United Nations, Department of Economic and Social Affairs, 2019b). Notwithstanding
the reduced growth pace, urban areas will continue to expand and absorb most of this future
population growth.
Two thirds of the worldwide population are expected to live in urban areas by 2050 (World Bank,
2021). In 2020, most of the population was still rural only in a few low-income and lower-middle-
income countries – mainly located in Central Africa and South Asia. In many middle-income
countries across Eastern Europe, East Asia, Africa and South America, between 50 per cent and
80 per cent of the population was already living in urban environments, and the percentage went
above 80 per cent in most high-income countries across Australia, Japan, the Americas, the Middle
East and Western Europe (Ritchie and Roser, 2019). Moreover, in addition to being among the
most highly urbanized regions in the world, Asia and Africa are also expected to urbanize fastest in
the coming decade and to accommodate the largest numbers of new urban dwellers (World Bank,
2021). As a result of these variations within and across regions, dissimilarities appear in urban
sustainability implications, which expose the coexistence between local and global dimensions of
sustainable urban development.
Moreover, while the populations of many urban areas continue to expand, other urban areas are
affected by urban shrinkage, a phenomenon that has become global. However, because urban
shrinkage and urban population growth are two very localized events, they can manifest together
within the same town, city, or macro-region. For example, the most notable and rapid increase
in urban population is expected in Africa and Asia, but cases of urban shrinkage have been
spotted in some macro regions of China, India, Japan and the Republic of Korea (Pallagst et al.,
2021; Richardson and Nam, 2014). Shrinking towns and cities – and sometimes neighbourhoods
(Schenkel, 2015) – are also appearing in Europe and North America (Gao and Ryan, 2020;
Richardson and Nam, 2014). For example, urban shrinkage has affected the structural conguration
of cities such as Schwedt and Dresden in Germany, Glasgow in Scotland (United Kingdom), and
Buffalo and Pittsburgh in the United States of America.
Regionally differentiated patterns also appear when observing the dynamics of population aging.
The share of older population – individuals aged 65 years or more – has increased globally over
the last three decades, and it is expected to double by 2050 (United Nations, Department of
Economic and Social Affairs, 2019c). However, global aging remains a more local issue. The
uneven distribution of elderly populations causes variations in this general prediction; more impact
is forecasted in regions such as sub-Saharan Africa, whereas only relatively modest changes are
expected in European cities (Sivaramakrishnan, 2018).
3 In producing this estimate, the Department of Economic and Social Affairs of the United Nations examined
urbanization trends in 1,900 urban settlements with 300,000 inhabitants or more.
Science, technology and innovation for sustainable urban development in a post-pandemic world
The global scale and the pace of urbanization trends bring unprecedented challenges, whose
implications deeply affect the conguration of urban systems and their functioning. The COVID-19
pandemic has also highlighted the challenges facing urban areas, which have become the locus
of crucial urban sustainability lessons that country leaders, local authorities, and other urban
development actors should take into consideration.
Box 1
The COVID-19 pandemic and sustainable urban development
Urban areas have become the epicentre of the COVID-19 pandemic, where the quality of life has
been severely damaged by the devastating effects that the pandemic has caused. For many cities the
COVID-19 pandemic has started as a health crisis but has subsequently expanded into “a crisis of urban
access, urban equity, urban nance, safety, joblessness, public services, infrastructure and transport”
(United Nations, 2020a). Urban areas have become the physical space in which COVID-19 has worsened
existing deep-rooted inequalities caused by gender, age and place of residence. Meanwhile, social care
systems have left older individuals and those affected by mobility issues isolated, with no opportunities
for social interaction, and housing systems with informal settlements have left their residents exposed to
a higher risk of virus transmission due to overcrowded and unhealthy leaving conditions.
The responses of government leaders to the pandemic have introduced drastic social distancing and
lockdown measures, which have modied patterns of energy and transport demand worldwide. Although
only temporarily, these measures have led to a signicant reduction of greenhouse gas emissions (Le
Quéré et al., 2020) and some air pollutants (Streiff, 2020) in many urban areas. These indirect effects of the
COVID-19 pandemic have demonstrated that a greener urban future is possible. However, other pressing
environmental challenges have been exacerbated, showing the need for more innovation in urban socio-
technical systems. For example, the intense use of disposable plastics has led to a signicant increase of
urban plastic pollution and inappropriate waste management practices (Adyel, 2020).
The devastating impact of COVID-19 on economy has generated business closures and jobs losses
worldwide, especially in least developed and developing countries. As a result, existing economic
inequalities have been exacerbated and the level of poverty has increased, especially for families relying
on informal economic activities. For example, the economic hardship has pushed millions of informal
workers in developing countries out of urban areas due to their impossibility to afford the prevision of
basic urban services, including housing (United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UN-Habitat),
2020). Moreover, populations who are affected by a higher incidence of extreme poverty will also be the
most exposed to the long economic fallout of the pandemic.
The pandemic has exposed the incapability of many urban settings to deliver on the expectations
of disaster and risk management for urban resilience and sustainability. Many urban socio-technical
systems have fallen under the pressure, leaving people and places behind, and this result clashes with
the core principles of inclusivity and social justice that urban sustainable development champion.
Source: UNCTAD.
The main global challenges facing urban socio-technical systems are summarized in table 1, which
is complemented by a detailed overview of these challenges that takes into consideration the
effects that the COVID-19 pandemic has brought on urban systems. The challenges cover key
areas of the green–productive–inclusive triad of sustainable urban development. Health is not
covered in this paper, as it has been extensively analysed in an issues paper prepared for the
intersessional panel,4 held in January 2021, ahead of the twenty-fourth session of the Commission
on Science and Technology for Development, as well as in the United Nations Secretary-General’s
report presented to the Commission at its twenty-fourth session in May 2021.5
4 For more information, seeles/information-document/CSTD2020-2021_Issues01_
5 For more information, see
Note: all websites in references were accessed in April 2022.
Science, technology and innovation for sustainable urban development in a post-pandemic world
Table 1
Global urban sustainability challenges: A brief summary
Urban sustainability challenges Urban sustainability dimensions
Green Productive Inclusive
Inefcient and polluting urban energy systems
Unsustainable urban production and consumption patterns
Urban water scarcity
Urban traf c congestion and vehicle emissions
Limited access to decent urban employment
opportunities and growing inequalities
Unaffordable and poor-quality housing
Gender-based inequalities and violence
against women and girls
Defective urban planning practices
Urban violence and insecurity
Vulnerability to natural disasters
Inefficient and polluting urban energy systems
Urban systems consume up to 75 per cent of the world’s energy. They are responsible for
producing over 50 per cent of the overall greenhouse gases, which increases to approximately
80 per cent when indirect greenhouse gas emissions are taken into account (UN-Habitat, 2021b).
These harmful levels of emissions are correlated with urban energy production and consumption
processes, which are highly dependent on fossil fuels. When coal, natural gas and oil are burned,
they release carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases, which are one of the prime causes of
global warming and climate change.
It is important to note that public nancial ows for renewable energy continue to be concentrated
in a few countries, making it difcult for many developing countries and least developed countries to
sustain urban energy transitions. Sub-Saharan Africa and Latin America have attracted most of the
international investments since 2010. However, national-level data shows signicant inequalities;
between 2010 and 2018, developing countries such as Argentina, India, Nigeria, Pakistan and
Türkiye received 30 per cent of the total investments, whereas only 20 per cent was directed to
the 46 least developed countries (United Nations, 2021). In addition, the COVID-19 pandemic has
caused substantial decline in renewable energy investments – a 34 per cent decrease in the rst
half of 2020 compared to 2019 (International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), 2020).
Unsustainable urban production and consumption patterns
In 2020, most of the global material footprint – which refers to the raw materials extracted to
meet the existing consumption demand – is generated in urban areas, exceeded the growth in
population and economic. Should the world continue to follow this consumption trend, by 2050,
the equivalent of almost three planets will be required to provide the natural resources needed
to sustain current lifestyles (United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), 2019). In many
Mediterranean countries, for instance, a few major urban systems are sufcient to consume the
vast majority of the biocapacity of their nation – in some cases, even all of it. Examples of cities
include Rome and Naples in Italy, Barcelona and Valencia in Spain, Tunis in Tunisia, Cairo in Egypt,
and Athens and Thessaloniki in Greece (Global Footprint Network, 2015).
Excluding Australia, New Zealand, Europe and North America, all regions of the world experienced
a signicant rise in domestic material consumption rates over the past two decades, and the
material consumption of urban systems is expected to grow from 40 billion tonnes in 2010 to 90
Science, technology and innovation for sustainable urban development in a post-pandemic world
billion tonnes by 2050 (UNEP, 2018). In developing and least developed regions, this increase is
mainly due to late industrialization processes and the outsourcing of material-intensive production.
In developed countries, the rise is driven by unsustainable lifestyles (United Nations, 2021).
Plastic waste has been emphasized in urban-related material consumption debates. Cities are
responsible for producing an estimated 60 per cent of the plastic that reaches marine waters.
However, the global recycling rate remains between 14 and 18 per cent (Organization for Economic
Co-operation and Development (OECD), 2018a). This recycling issue has also been exacerbated
by the COVID-19 pandemic, which has caused a heavy use of plastic goods, especially single-use
plastics, such as face masks, personal protective equipment kits and sanitizer bottles.
The food waste challenge is as critical as the issue of the accumulation of plastic waste. Food waste
represents 44 per cent of the global waste and more than 17 per cent of the global food production
may be lost annually (UNEP, 2021). Electronic waste is an additional challenge, which continues
to expand. Despite highly hazardous substances, which contaminates soil and groundwater, less
than 20 per cent of electronic waste is formally recycled and 80 per cent ends in landll site or is
informally recycled (World Economic Forum, 2019).
Urban water scarcity
Population growth and urbanization are increasing the demand for resources, amplifying levels
of water stress. Poorest countries are suffering the most, as they also have a lower coverage of
freshwater bodies: 1.4 per cent of land compared to the overall 3.5 per cent of developed countries
(Favre and Oksen, 2020).
For example, more than 60 per cent of urban areas in sub-Saharan Africa do not have access
to water and sanitation services (Mitlin et al., 2019). Moreover, most households connected to
municipal piped networks receive water intermittently, and residents that cannot access public
supply are forced to rely on costly alternative of self-provision or private vendors.
Recent studies estimate that the global urban population facing water scarcity will drastically
increase. Hence, between 1.7 and 2.4 billion people will live in water-scarce regions by 2050 (He
et al., 2021). Moreover, 292 out of 526 large cities worldwide and 19 megacities are expected to
experience perennial or seasonal water scarcity issues by 2050.6
Droughts, climate change, and pollution are among the most critical events that inuence the
availability of water resources – and hence, it is giving impacts to the adequacy of the supply
of clean water for drinking and sanitation purposes (European Environment Agency, 2011).
Addressing urban water scarcity is a key societal challenge. The control and movement of water
resources require several core activities to be conducted, which include the replenishment of water
reserves, extraction, transport, distribution, and safely treatment and disposal of wastewater. Each
activity involves a combination of technologies, management techniques, and human and nancial
resources whose absence threaten the sustainable and stable supply of clean and fresh water to
urban populations (Favre and Oksen, 2020).
6 In this study, large cities are urban areas with more than 1 million inhabitants, whereas megacities have a
population of more than 10 million inhabitants. The megacities are located in Bangladesh, Brazil, China, Egypt,
India, Indonesia, Mexico, Pakistan, Peru, the Philippines, the Russian Federation, Türkiye and the United States.
Science, technology and innovation for sustainable urban development in a post-pandemic world
Urban traffic congestion and vehicle emissions
Although transport systems offer numerous benets to societies, urban mobility has brought about
some of the greatest obstacles to urban sustainable development. Air pollution, congestion, and
limited access to public transport have become prominent challenges facing many urban areas
in developing and developed countries. Among the most relevant causes are the presence of
many transport vehicles that still heavily depend on fossil fuels; rising private ownership of polluting
vehicles; road congestion due to limited urban space unable to accommodate growing levels of
urban trafc; and access to public transport that is increasingly unaffordable for poorest groups of
urban populations. Road congestion is particularly common in high-density urban systems, where
the presence of vehicles on urban streets is increasing while the physical space to support their
movement remains insufcient. This urban challenge inuences the effectiveness and efciency of
transport systems and road usage; urban economies deteriorate due to limited accessibility, and
it creates parking difculties, longer commuting times, limited mobility of non-motorized transport
modes and pedestrians, lower quality of public spaces, higher environmental degradation and
higher levels of stress for drivers and urban residents.
Transport activities are responsible for generating approximately 25 per cent of energy-related
carbon emissions from fuel combustion worldwide (International Energy Agency, 2019), and most
of this pollution comes from urban areas. For example, in European cities, road transport is by far
the biggest emitter accounting for more than 70 per cent of all greenhouse gas emissions from
transport (European Commission, 2014). These high levels of harmful emissions have severe health
implications on urban residents; they are directly associated with increasing mortality rates and
respiratory and cardiovascular diseases (World Health Organization, 2005).
Limited access to decent urban employment opportunities and growing inequalities
Urbanization and economic development go hand in hand. Overall, countries with a higher per
capita gross domestic product (GDP) tend to be more urbanized, especially in terms of metropolitan
populations. The share of the population living in metropolitan areas of above 1 million people is
roughly four times greater in high-income countries, at 47 per cent, than in low-income countries, at
12 per cent. In middle-income countries, GDP per capita in the most metropolitan regions is twice
as great as per capita income in the least metropolitan regions (OECD/European Commission,
2020). As a result, urban areas contributed about 80 per cent of global GDP before the pandemic
(Estrada et al., 2017). They are expected to become the main driving force of the post-pandemic
economic recovery.
Due to substantial differences in the roll-out of vaccinations and in the distribution of State aid,
urban areas in developed countries have tended to recover faster than those in developing
countries and the least developed countries. Urban unemployment rates in Latin America and the
Caribbean reached an average of 10 per cent in 2017, but in January 2021 the gure doubled in
some countries.7 In South Africa, the unemployment rate was at 46.3 per cent, a steep increase
during the pandemic especially because of youth unemployment.8
The global decline in job opportunities in urban areas indicates a fragile economic system with
a low level of resistance to exogenous shocks. One of the main causes of this weakness is the
widespread presence of informal working conditions; 1.6 billion informal workers worldwide
have little or no social protection (Codd and Ferguson, 2020). Informal economies have been
signicantly impacted during the pandemic. For example, millions of informal urban workers in India
had to move back to rural settlements after losing their jobs. Similarly, in Peru, over 170,000 urban
dwellers in poor conditions transferred to the countryside in 2020. While the global unemployment
7 See
young people-school and
8 Contribution from the Government of South Africa.
Science, technology and innovation for sustainable urban development in a post-pandemic world
rate has grown, existing gender and age discrepancies in job opportunities have worsened. In
North America and Western Asian, for instance, approximately 11 per cent of the labour force was
without a job in 2019, but the unemployment rate of female workers was 6 per cent higher than
male workers.9 Moreover, with a level of unemployment that was 18 per cent higher than adults
(United Nations, 2020b), young people are required to confront higher degrees of uncertainty, as
well as the likelihood of greater labour market disruption.
Forced labour, child labour, modern slavery, human trafcking and high numbers of workplace
fatalities and injuries are additional challenges that prevent many urban areas from being places
of inclusive and equitable economic growth. For example, over one million work-related fatalities
are reported every year in rural and urban areas – which is equivalent to 5.7 per cent per
100,000 workers – and millions of workers suffer from occupational injuries (International Labour
Organization, 2019).
Unaffordable and poor-quality housing
Because of existing poverty rates, around a billion urban dwellers are forced to live in informal
settlements, which enhance peri-urbanization processes and are mainly located in regions of
developing countries. Available statistics show that Eastern and South-Eastern, Central and
Southern Asia, and sub-Saharan Africa account for 80 per cent of the worldwide population living in
informal settlements, where residents experience overcrowded and low-quality housing conditions.
Considering current urbanization trends, approximately 3 billion people may require quality and
affordable housing by 2030 (United Nations, 2021), augmenting an existing housing decit that the
building sector is incapable to overcome.
However, this affordable housing crisis extends beyond developing countries. It also aficts
housing markets in developed countries. House prices are currently three times higher than the
median family income in almost all international cities, and the most unaffordable housing markets
worldwide are spread across all developed countries.
To increase infrastructure resilience and improve the sustainability and efciency of industrial
sector activities, including the housing sector, signicant global investments have already been
made in research and development – US$1.7 trillion in 2020. However, when comparing country-
level nancial capacity for research and development efforts, a signicant gap emerges between
developed and developing countries (UNCTAD, 2020).
Gender-based inequalities and violence against women and girls
Women and girls who live in urban areas are subject to inequalities and their economic position is
signicantly disadvantaged compared to men. Despite more substantial working effort, women are
subject to occupational segregation, which prevent them for accessing many urban employment
opportunities, including managerial jobs. For example, in 2019, only 28 per cent of managerial
positions worldwide were occupied by women and, when compared with the situation in 2000, this
gure only shows a 3 per cent increase in a 19-year time frame (United Nations, 2020b). In certain
occupations predominated by women, wages are often lower than occupations predominated by
men. Legal barriers and gaps are among the main cause of this economic inequality, and they are
also instrumental in creating occupational segregation and preventing girls and women from having
equal participation in decision-making processes within workplaces (Hyland et al., 2019; OECD,
Urban areas are the spaces in which most technological advancements are produced and
implemented. Gender inequality has also appeared in the form of a technology-related bias. This
resulted from design processes that have failed to sufciently incorporate the perspectives of
women. For example, evidence that proves the presence of gender biases in articial intelligence
9 See and
Science, technology and innovation for sustainable urban development in a post-pandemic world
and emerging technologies is growing. Facial recognition technologies, web searches, and the
speech recognition software enabling articial intelligence bots and voice assistants are examples
of technological solutions whose levels of performance have been evaluated as higher for men than
women (Chin and Robison, 2020; Bajorek, 2019). This phenomenon is observed by the European
Union Agency for Fundamental Rights, in a report that examines discrimination in data-supported
decision-making. The report indicates that these different levels of performance could be the result
of technology design processes that have been developed without giving equal representation to
both genders (European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights, 2018).
Moreover, cases have been reported of gender biases in urban planning practices (Pojani et
al., 2018), which tend to overlook how girls and women experience the urban environment.
Consequently, their needs are not addressed. According to the Handbook for Gender-Inclusive
Urban Planning and Design that the World Bank has recently released, most cities in the developed
and developing world have been planned by and for men (World Bank, 2020a).
Finally, a strong correlation exists between urbanization and gender-based violence and abuse
against women and girls. Moreover, the data collected after the COVID-19 outbreak conrms
that, during the pandemic, all acts of violence against women and girls have intensied in many
countries, especially domestic violence cases.
Inadequate urban planning practices
Urban planning practices have exposed difculties in regulating the growing demand for land that
a fast-urbanizing world is posing – a demand that creates urban sprawl and uncontrolled peri-
urbanization processes. In developing and developed countries, many large urban areas have
expanded their boundaries and economic activities by taking possession of surrounding rural
areas, where unregulated patterns of informal settlements and small towns – some of which are
newly developed – have rapidly densied. Fragmented around existing urban areas, these new
urban entities are regulated by growth dynamics and generate peri-urban spaces that many local
authorities have largely overlooked.
A common reaction among municipal governments has been the attempt to regulate peri-urban
areas with traditional urban planning instruments. However, these tools have proven incapable of
successfully dealing with the complexity due to fragmented space distribution processes, which in
turn affected socioeconomic and environmental sustainability. The result is an uneven development
between centrally located urban spaces and urban spaces positioned in peri-urban interfaces.
Compared to populations living in urban centres, many peri-urban residents are exposed to higher
levels of vulnerability and poverty. They have reduced accessibility to jobs, housing and other
socioeconomic opportunities and services that central urban areas can offer.
Local planners and authorities struggle to cope with the complexity of peri-urbanization expansions,
as documented in many studies. There is a need for alternative urban planning tools and strategies
and innovative land use governance systems and policies.
Pursuing sustainable urban development also requires disability inclusion in urban planning
practices. Estimates suggest that one billion people worldwide are living with a disability, however,
planning processes often fail to consider the barriers – physical but also technical, environmental and
social – that design choices create for urban residents with disabilities (United Nations, Department
of Economic and Social Affairs, 2015 and 2016). As a result of this neglected perspective, the
capability of persons with disabilities to access urban spaces, their services and their facilities
is severely undermined. Poor planning poses a signicant threat to the inclusion of people with
disabilities in urban life, leading to increased inequalities, marginalization and an accentuated risk
of poverty.
Science, technology and innovation for sustainable urban development in a post-pandemic world
Urban violence and insecurity
About 83 million people in urban areas worldwide have to live with the consequences of armed
conicts, crime and violence (United Nations, 2020b). For example, murders related to armed
conicts in urban settings caused more than 20,000 deaths between 2015 and 2017 and they
were more than tripled between 2018 and 2020 (United Nations, 2020b). In addition, in 2017,
approximately 500,000 urban residents were murdered worldwide as a result of other types of
crimes (United Nations, 2020c). Recent statistics show that approximately 54 per cent of urban
resident’s homicides are carried out with rearms, many of which are entering urban spaces due
to illicit trafcking (United Nations Ofce on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), 2020a). Armed conicts in
cities generally are the consequence of social unrest and unstable political conditions, which pose
a substantial threat to urban livelihood.
Over 150 million urban citizens are also confronted with forced evictions (Farha, 2020), involuntary
removal from their homes or land without having access to legal and judicial processes. This
problem has been amplied by COVID-19, during which signicantly impoverished living conditions
have left millions of urban households unable to escape their insecure housing arrangements.
Vulnerability to natural disasters
The sustainable development of many urban areas in developed and developing countries is also
constantly threatened by natural disasters; not only pandemics, but also adverse events such as
hurricanes, urban oods, earthquakes and landslides. The direct losses from natural disasters in
urban spaces was $2.9 billion during the period between 1998 and 2017 (Wallemacq and House,
Beyond economic damages, natural disasters also wreak havoc with urban social stability and
dramatically affect people livelihoods in urban areas. In China, for example, extreme seasonal
weather displaced 744,000 people across 26 provinces and cities in 2020 (Lew, 2020). Meanwhile
in Peru, people are displaced and lose their job in areas at risk of mudslides and ash oods
caused by torrential rains occurring high in the Andean mountains.10
10 Contribution from the Government of Peru.
Science, technology and innovation for sustainable urban development in a post-pandemic world
3. Applying science, technology and
innovation for sustainable urban
STI solutions can mitigate the most pressing urban sustainability challenges, harnessing the value
embedded in global population growth while facilitating sustainable urbanization processes. Both
technological and non-technological innovations have been introduced in developed, developing
and least developed countries to sustain positive change in urban socio-technical systems.11 The
COVID-19 pandemic has showcased the pivotal importance that STI systems play in contributing
to equip society with the instruments and capabilities required to direct innovation efforts
towards improving sustainable urban development and the resilience of urban systems. Scientic
knowledge production processes, digital technology adoption, and innovations in organizational
and institutional settings have contributed to mitigating the impact of COVID-19, helping many
urban socio-technical systems to continue to function during the crisis.
Table 2
Summary of science, technology and innovation solutions to urban sustainability
Urban sustainability challenges Category Science, technology and innovation solutions
Inefcient and polluting
urban energy systems
Energy Biomass energy systems; solar energy systems; hydropower energy
system; geothermal energy systems; wind energy systems; green
hydrogen technology; energy efciency in the construction sector
Unsustainable urban
production and
consumption patterns
Circularity Product-service systems; matchmaking platforms for exchanging
resources; environmental labelling; food traceability systems;
food sharing networks and technology; pay-as-you-throw pricing
models; smart bin solutions; single-use plastic ban; circular
economy for plastic; cup-as-a-service subscription models;
data platforms for plastic waste mapping; digital systems for
automatic hazardous waste detection; robotic systems for waste
management; right-to-repair standards; urban mining techniques
Urban water scarcity Water Smart metering infrastructures; nanotechnological applications
for desalination processes; sensor-based water protection
systems; portable testing kits for real-time quality control;
satellite technology; mobile applications for waste monitoring
Urban trafc congestion
and vehicle emissions
Mobility Low-emission vehicles; journey planner applications; real-time
trafc management systems; mobile ticketing; mobility as a
service; bike sharing systems; cycle-to-work schemes
Limited access to decent urban
employment opportunities
and growing inequalities
prosperity and
nancial stability
Dedicated urban zones for STI development; digital nance;
e-commerce platforms; ICT-related education and
training programmes; innovative data management
systems; cash transfer schemes and programmes; smart
technologies to ght forced labour and modern slavery
Unaffordable and poor-
quality housing
Housing Digitalization of construction operations and
manufacturing processes; digital twin technology in
construction; predictive analytics; environmentally
sound technologies; smart building solutions
11 Please note that the analysis does not aim to cover all possible STI solutions to urban sustainability challenges. The
objective is to select a comprehensive number of most notable technological and non-technological innovation
cases whose collective examination is required to form a sufciently robust and data-rich environment for
supporting: (a) the identication of relevant lessons and practical implications; and (b) the subsequent formulation
of policy measures that can maximize existing potentials. In the framework of this analysis, more than 100 STI-
related initiatives have been examined. Moreover, these STI solutions need to be viewed as an interdependences
effort to address challenges of sustainable urban development.
Science, technology and innovation for sustainable urban development in a post-pandemic world
Urban sustainability challenges Category Science, technology and innovation solutions
Gender-based inequalities
and violence against
women and girls
and equality
Gender-pay-gap regulations; compensation
management platforms; anti-violence online services;
awareness-raising measures and education
Defective urban
planning practices
Urban planning Spatial group model building; gamication for digital
participation; digital twin technology for urban
planning; online crowdsourcing platforms
Urban violence and insecurity Safety and security Crime prevention policy; gunshot detection technology;
crime mapping tools; predictive proling technology
Vulnerability to
natural disasters
Protection from
natural disasters
Disaster data infrastructure; nature-based solutions
3.1 Energy
Urban socio-technical systems for energy production and distribution are highly dependent on fossil
fuel combustion. A transition to low carbon and sustainable renewable sources is urgently needed,
especially considering the steep increase in urban energy demand that an expanding population
will progressively cause. The use of renewable sources to produce energy gained momentum
during the last two decades. However, their share in the energy mix has always remained limited
in comparison to fossil fuels. This gap has triggered signicant investments in research and
development activities, which have resulted in notable technological and non-technological STI
solutions to address the unsustainable urban energy system.
Solar photovoltaic systems
Technologies using solar photovoltaic systems to produce urban energy are used in many different
application contexts, such as buildings and waste management systems. Moreover, ground
mounted panels are among the most common applications, together with rooftop and oating
Aside from most common ground mounted application, rooftop solar photovoltaic installations have
increased signicantly in recent years. These can easily sustain energy production in urbanized
territories where energy is not available, or where power interruptions and outages occur regularly.
For example, in Zambia and Zimbabwe, the United Nations Development Programme has worked
with various stakeholders to install rooftop solar panels on national medical warehouses and
health-care facilities, giving them the capability to autonomously produce green energy (Burton
and Alers, 2019).
Compared to ground mounted and rooftop installations, oating solar photovoltaic power
represents a more recent technology power industry. The implementation of oating solar
photovoltaic systems emerged in 2008, mainly in response to increasing competition for land use
due to an expanding population and a growing demand for agricultural and industrial services. For
example, in the city of Suzhou, in the Anhui Province of China, the China Energy Conservation and
Environment Protection Group has partnered with Ciel and Terre – a French company specialized
in oating solar photovoltaic panels – to generate approximately 70,000 MWh of green electricity
annually, equivalent to the power consumption of 21,000 households (Sustainable Water and
Energy Solutions Network (SWESN), 2021a).
To eliminate gaps in electricity provision, solar photovoltaic systems have been extensively used in
Africa. For example, as part of the sustainable energy strategy 2035 of the Government of Egypt,
the Government is currently constructing 26 new electricity stations near the city of Aswan, with a
total capacity of 26,000 MW. Electricity produced throughsolar energyincreased from 0.529 billion
kW to 1.465 billion kW between 2018 and 2019 (increasing by 177 per cent) as Egypt inaugurated
the Benban Solar Park, the world’s largest solar park.12
12 Contribution from the Government of Egypt.
Science, technology and innovation for sustainable urban development in a post-pandemic world
To address the energy affordability challenge facing many urban residents, the African company
SolarWorks is providing solar home systems and energy services on a pay-as-you-go basis
to urban populations in Malawi and Mozambique. The company operates using an innovative
business model; customers pay small amounts every month using mobile money until they reach
the necessary expenditure to own the appliance model (Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale
Zusammenarbeit, 2021).
Hydropower energy system
Hydropower is an old technological solution, but under the right conditions, it can still provide
urban areas with cost-effective and green electricity. As of 2021, for example, Norway produces 99
per cent of electricity from hydropower, while China has the largest hydropower plant in the world,
producing 80 to 100 terawatt-hours per year.
Examples from various countries show that cities can enhance their existing hydropower
infrastructure to produce more emission-free energy. For example, the hydropower station on the
River Danube in Pfaffenstein, Germany, produces about 40 million kilowatt-hours of green electricity
for the City of Regensburg. This amount of energy is sufcient to serve 11,000 households and
the electric buses of the city. In Australia, Melbourne is another city where the authority has been
introducing mini plants in different parts of the city since 2008. These plants generate approximately
69,500 megawatt-hour of power per year, and they save about 75,800 tonnes of carbon emissions
(Melbourne Water, 2017; SWESN, 2021b).
Small-scale micro-hydropower solutions have also spread, making a notable difference to urban
and rural communities in remote locations. For instance, kinetic hydropower systems have been
introduced in canals in Germany, India, South Africa and the United States.
Geothermal energy systems
Geothermal power plants produce electricity by converting heat sourced from geothermal uid. High
or medium temperature resources of better efciency are located closely to regions, such as El
Salvador, Iceland, Kenya, New Zealand and the Philippines. Leveraging the predisposition of their
natural environments, all these regions are currently using geothermal energy to produce a share of
the electricity demand generated by their urban and rural areas. For example, geothermal resources
account for nearly 40 per cent of the power-generating capacity of Kenya (SWESN, 2021c).
Geothermal energy is also used in European cities. As part of the project Decarb City Pipes
2050, for example, the European cities of Bilbao (Spain), Bratislava, Dublin, Munich (Germany),
Rotterdam (Netherlands), Vienna and Winterthur (Switzerland) are coordinating their work in this
green energy domain by exchanging experiences and lessons on how geothermal energy can be
used to decarbonize building heating systems.
Wind energy systems
Wind power is one of the most rapidly accelerating technologies amongst all renewable energy
systems. In 20 years, the combination of onshore and offshore wind generation capacity has
increased worldwide, from 7.5 gigawatts (GW) to some 564 GW. The United Kingdom was the
third largest generator of wind powered electricity among OECD European countries in 2018, after
Germany and Spain. Other pioneering countries in the use of wind power for energy production
include China and the United States. In the meantime, France, the Republic of Korea and Viet Nam
are increasing their investments (IRENA, 2020).
Land-based wind sites are often located in remote locations, but small wind turbines can also enter
into urban areas, for example, on the roofs of residential and commercial buildings. However, the
efciency and environmental sustainability of these roof-mounted turbines is still highly debated.
This is mainly due to the presence of multifaced technical challenges – for example, wind in urban
areas is irregular and severely affected by the presence of buildings and other obstacles.
Science, technology and innovation for sustainable urban development in a post-pandemic world
Green hydrogen technology
Green hydrogen is becoming a new alternative energy source to fossil fuel. Several countries
have launched programmes to investigate how to benet from green hydrogen production and to
develop the technologies required to transform hydrogen into a source of clean power. Australia,
Chile, Germany, Japan, Portugal, Saudi Arabia and Europe are some of the countries and areas
that are planning extensive investments in green hydrogen technologies (European Commission,
Studies on green hydrogen show that it may enable the development of low- and zero-emission
heavy vehicles including trains and hydrogen-powered aerial vehicles, as well as decarbonizing
industries such as cement and steelmaking. Additionally, electricity can be converted into hydrogen
by electrolysis, providing an innovative way to store and transport renewable energy generated
by other means when batteries or other modes of storage and transport are not practical or
Biomass energy systems
Anaerobic digestion technologies or biomass that convert biodegradable waste into methane-rich
biogas are commonly deployed worldwide. For example, urban areas in Guatemala use electricity
generated from sugarcane biomass – also known as bagasse – which has been an established
practice amongst sugarcane producers since 1990. During the 2017–2018 harvest season, bagasse
made it possible to save approximately 4 million tons of carbon emissions (SWESN, 2021d).
In Manouba, a city in north-eastern Tunisia, a family-managed agricultural enterprise developed in
2015 an innovative form of biofuel, using pear and olive tree waste. In Brazil, Rio de Janeiro piloted
the rst biomethanization system in Latin America. This system processes the organic fraction of
urban solid waste via anaerobic digestion to generate energy and to produce organic compost.
The systems tested in Rio de Janeiro could provide meet the daily need for green energy of an
urban area with 70,000 inhabitants (Yeung, 2020; Rajab, 2018).
Energy efficiency in the construction sector
In recent years, many developing and developed countries have introduced new regulatory systems
or modied their existing schemes. For example, in Romania, new building energy codes have
been introduced in 2017, which require new construction and renovations to comply with minimum
energy performance standards. Similar restrictions have also been introduced in Brazil, where some
types of incandescent bulbs have been banned, and the National Institute for Standardization of
Brazil has made mandatory the certication of public lighting using LEDs and other efcient lamps
(UNEP, 2017a).
Meanwhile, other countries are experimenting with solar thermal ordinances (STOs), which are
applied as a part of municipal regulations regarding building technologies. STOs are legal provisions
that require a building’s minimum share of heating demand to be covered through the installation
of solar thermal systems.
Energy efcient buildings also require investments in innovative materials that offer adequate
thermal performance. On this matter, the Government of Ukraine launched a State Programme
on Energy Efciency in 2016. The programme provides loans to nance the costs for a variety of
energy efcient materials and equipment. The total amount of loans issued as of the end of 2017
was over €150 million for 373,000 households, saving 6 billion m3 of natural gas (United Nations
Economic Commission for Europe, 2019).
Thermal insulation is key to attain energy-efcient buildings, as heating and cooling operations
account for approximately 50–60 per cent of their total energy consumption (IRENA, 2021). Digital
solutions can be used to track these inefciencies, by monitoring the overall energy performance
of buildings and evaluating the performance of single building component.
Science, technology and innovation for sustainable urban development in a post-pandemic world
3.2 Circularity
Production and consumption patterns have become key priorities for many urban regions of the
developed world because they are putting a serious strain on the limited natural resources that the
world has to offer. In the last decade, local and national governments, consumers, and producers
started to take conscious actions that attempt to integrate circularity and behavioural change into
urban areas. The STI solutions resulting from these actions mainly focus on decreasing material
footprint per capita, preventing excessive waste production, and increasing the recycling and
reusing of different types of waste.
Box 2
Promoting urban policy as part of national development: Lesson from Romania
Product-service systems to reduce footprints
To reduce the ecological footprint of urban environments and their residents, many companies are
spending signicant resources on the development of innovative business models. Product-service
systems, for example, are circular business models that enable producers to retain the ownership
of their products even as they are sold to customers for temporary use. Producers also remain
responsible for undertaking maintenance service and repairs. For example, CECOLAB in Portugal
is working to develop sustainable market solutions in a model of circular economy for strategic
value chains on the national level.13
Matchmaking platforms for exchanging resources
In addition to product-service systems, companies are also adopting business-to-business
matchmaking platforms for exchanging resources. These platforms allow companies to put their
unused products, materials, and waste back into the market and help other companies to nd
resources while reducing waste. Excess Materials Exchange is an example of a business-to-
business matchmaking platform that enables users to nd reuse options for unused materials and
waste. During the pilot study, the platform has circulated 18 different materials back to markets,
enabling exchanges of excess resource ows between different industries and sectors, and saving
signicant amount of carbon emissions and energy (Excess Material Exchange, 2019).
Environmental labelling
Another way to decelerate the consumption of materials and goods in urban areas is to make
customers aware of the environmental cost of their buying habits, by providing them with detailed
information about this. This can be achieved with environmental labelling and information schemes,
which are voluntary methods of environmental performance certication.
13 Contribution from the Government of Portugal.
The Ministry of Development, Public Works and Administration is currently setting up the rst Urban
Policy of Romania. The Urban Policy represents an essential framework for establishing the connection
between the dynamics of urbanization, demographic changes and the overall process of national
development. A broad array of policy objectives and associated measures were identied for the
effective attainment of (a) green and resilient, (b) competitive and productive, (c) just and inclusive, and
(d) well-governed cities.
Building on the logic of the resilient recovery, the Urban Policy of Romania promotes the reconsideration
of policy choices that address inequalities and local capacities while emphasizing a green, inclusive
recovery. Key concepts, such as the “circular economy”, the “localization of the Sustainable Development
Goals”, “tactical urbanism” and “the 15-minute city”, are all taken into consideration in the rst Urban
Policy of Romania, to help achieve better quality of life by enhancing economic activity, providing quality
living environments, improving job opportunities and having well-serviced business locations.
Source: Contribution from the Government of Romania.
Science, technology and innovation for sustainable urban development in a post-pandemic world
Eco-labels can be effective tools for communicating and marketing environmental credentials
of products, and they are often used in sustainable public procurement to ensure that public
organizations purchase best-standard products. Examples of where this has been done include
Brazil, Colombia, India and Viet Nam (UNEP, 2017b). However, it is important to note that eco-labels
may also be misused to convey inauthentic information about environmental impacts. This practice
is known as greenwashing.
Food traceability systems
Food that should feed urban and rural population can easily become waste along its production
and distribution journey. Digital traceability and tracking systems can enable earlier detection of
inefciencies along food supply chains. For example, the improvement of locally produced food
safety and traceability measures is the core focus of the AMBROSIA project, whose main output is a
digital system that helps municipalities tracks points of origin and shipping processes. It also records
all transactions, the status of foods during transportation and environmental conditions (European
Space Agency, 2018).
Food sharing networks and technology
Food waste is a growing concern on a global scale. In response to this challenge, innovative solutions
have been introduced in urban areas not only to improve the food supply chain but also to convert
the waste it produces in other products. Food waste from companies, supermarkets, and hospitality
facilities, can be reintroduced as organic waste in other processes. For example, online food sharing
services, such as Ollio and FoodCloudhelp, to collect food that can be redistributed among urban
and rural residents in need. Moreover, unused food can also be managed through redistribution
organizations. With the support of the United Kingdom Food Reduction Fund, eight redistribution
organizations have been able to save 2500 tonnes of food and redirect it to people in need – food that
would have ended up in landlls (Harvey et al., 2020; United Kingdom, Department for Environment,
Food, and Rural Affairs, 2018).
Pay-as-you-throw pricing models
The COVID-19 pandemic has caused increasing amount of mixed waste, a suspension of
recycling activities and lack of proper equipment for waste collectors, including personal protective
The bioeconomy, circular and green economy policy model is an economic model towards sustainability
that combines bioeconomy with circular economy and green economy.
Bioeconomy focuses on efcient utilization of natural resources along with natural balance protection,
by using technological advancement in various disciplinary to increase efciency and innovation.
Circular economy is an economic system that all resources can be restored and re-utilized to avoid
resource scarcity.
Green economy is an economic development model that concerned balanced development
between economy, society, and environment.
This development model emphasizes inclusive and sustainable development focusing on food and
agriculture, health and medicine, bioenergy, biomaterials and biochemicals, and tourism and the creative
economy. The bioeconomy, circular and green economy policy model will help Thailand to overcome
the middle-income trap and the effects of COVID-19 pandemic, to improve social inequality by linking
knowledge on STI to biodiversity and cultural diversity to build the internal strength of the country and
distribute benets to community equally.
Source: Contribution from the Government of Thailand.
Box 3
Bioeconomy, circular and green economy policy model in Thailand
Science, technology and innovation for sustainable urban development in a post-pandemic world
equipment. In the Philippines, results of the survey conducted by the Technical Working Group on
Anticipatory and Forward Planning, showed that in the rst month of pandemic, 35 per cent of the
respondents were not able to sell their product which led to wastage of produce and losses for the
farmers. Although the Government is assuring the people that there is enough food supply, bringing
them to the consumers becomes a problem during the early stage of the COVID-19 pandemic.14
In urban areas, to facilitate the process, some local authorities have introduced pay-as-you-throw
pricing models. The objective is to improve municipal waste management by encouraging waste
reduction and separation before disposal and making waste producers responsible for collection
and treatment. In Bergen, Norway, the combination of the digital platform with data collection
processes and new economic incentives has resulted in a 10 per cent reduction of the general
waste level (Circit Norden, 2020).
Smart bin solutions
Municipal waste management can also be improved by introducing networks of compacting
bins with built-in sensor solutions, which are connected through a digital platform. The bins
automatically upload data on lling levels on the platform, which helps determine when and where
waste collection services are needed.
For example, the Selçuklu Municipality of Konya in Türkiye, started to monitor the garbage
containers instantly with the Waste Scada System. The system uses energy from the sun and
does not need extra wiring. The technology can be easily installed on used containers, vehicles and
other elements without the need to change the existing infrastructure.15
Circular economy for plastics
To accelerate the transition to zero-plastic waste, countries and industrial sectors have introduced
changes in policy, regulatory, and business settings. These changes are helping urban areas to
decrease plastic waste production by modifying the consumption patterns of single-use plastics
and reducing their usage. For example, single-user plastic bags have been widely removed in
small-scale markets and supermarket chains, where many retailers have introduced biodegradable
bags. Plastic shrinks’ wrappers have also been replaced with alternative options such as reusable
pallet wrappers.
Other initiatives include deposit return schemes and reward mechanisms that encourage customers
to bring back plastic containers, such as bottles and cans, and innovative cross-sector alliances
which provide policy direction. The United Kingdom, for example, is advocating green production
and consumption through the United Kingdom Plastics Pact initiative – a cross-sector alliance
whose objective is to create a circular system that keeps plastic out of the natural environment.
Cup-as-a-service subscription models
Another stream of innovative solutions to plastic pollution includes technology-based platforms
and new business models that are helping urban areas to establish stronger collaborations
between actors along the supply chain, ranging from consumers, food retailers, utility companies,
and recyclers. These solutions act as an intermediate agent between the public and private sector,
and they facilitate the creation of sustainable waste management ecosystems for plastic products.
For example, cUPcircle is an award-winning circular economy service that has been piloted in the
hospitality sector. cUPcircle introduces a cup-as-a-service subscription model for cafes and their
customers, providing them continuously with reusable cups in place of disposable cups. The cups
are equipped with barcodes. Customers who subscribe to this service receive their beverages in
reusable cups in exchange for a deposit. After being used, the cups are collected in smart bins,
which recognize the digital prole of customers and refund the deposit (UNLEASH, 2018).
14 Contribution from the Government of the Philippines.
15 Contribution from the Government of Türkiye.
Science, technology and innovation for sustainable urban development in a post-pandemic world
Data platforms for plastic waste mapping
Moving to a more international level, in 2019, about 50 major global companies forged the Alliance
to End Plastic Waste (AEPW), a non-prot organization whose objective is to reduce the pressure
that plastic waste is creating on society. This commitment of tackling plastic pollution is bolstered
by the implementation of a new data platform. Supported by a technological partner, research and
development efforts are being made to establish a digital platform solution that can aggerate and
scale the different streams of data that the actors operating in the plastics value chain possess.
Digital systems for automatic hazardous waste detection
STI solutions can also help detect and manage hazardous waste. The ARCtic Sea-ice and CleAN
(ARC-SCAN system), for example, can automatically detect oil spills in open waters, enabling a
prompt response. The system represents an advanced technological solution that combines nautical
navigation systems, satellite imagery, and machine learning (European Space Agency, 2019).
Robotic systems for waste management
Additional advanced technologies are also entering into waste sorting operations, with robotics
and articial intelligence that can be used to support hazardous waste identication processes and
to improve waste disposal operations.
For example, robot technology and recycling specialists in Denmark and Sweden have been
experimenting with new robotic solutions that use vision systems and deep learning to identify
items that contain batteries but may pass unnoticed when electronic waste is sorted. Research
and development in robotics are also producing new generations of robotic systems for locating
chemical leaks in industrial sites and cleaning machines powered with articial intelligence.
Electronic waste recycle management
The recycling process of electronic waste is extremely complex and poses a serious threat to
urban life. Electronic objects are composed of an untangled mix of different materials, which are
difcult to separate for reuse purposes. Changes in international regulations, for example, have
been introduced in Europe, where an eco-design law including right-to-repair standards has been
recently enforced. This new legislation forces manufacturers to ensure the longer-lasting life of their
appliances, so that the production of electronic waste can be reduced.
Responsible production principles for extending the lifespan of electronic products can also be
complemented with new recycling techniques. These include urban mining, the extraction of the
nanometals embedded in discarded electronic applications – largely found in urban settlements
– which are in turn reused in manufacturing processes of new products. China has been
experimenting with urban mining techniques and technologies for many years, where the volume
of material recovered and reused has been growing signicantly since 2006. Moreover, the practice
is becoming signicantly cost efcient (Zeng et al., 2018).
To monitor this electronic waste, the International Telecommunication Union published the Global
E-waste Monitor 2020, which assessed the quantitative, ows and the circular economy potential
of e-waste. The International Telecommunication Union has also published a toolkit on policy
practices for e-waste management which presents tools for fair and economically viable and
extended producer responsibility in the management of e-waste.16
3.3 Water
Access to clean water in urban areas is hindered by multiple factors, such as the lack of adequate
infrastructure, limited water resources, global warming, pollution in water sources, high-water stress
due to excessive extraction, and wasteful behaviour. Many technologies and innovative practices
are currently available that can help tackle urban water scarcity challenges. In addition to manual
16 Contributions from the International Telecommunication Union.
Science, technology and innovation for sustainable urban development in a post-pandemic world
drilling, more advanced solutions include smart water infrastructures, nanotechnological applications,
sensor-based water protection systems, portable testing kits for real-time quality control, satellite
technology and mobile applications.
Smart metering infrastructures
Improving water-use efciency, demand management, and leakage control is one of the most
urgent actions in urban contexts. Smart technologies can provide the necessary support. They can
trigger behavioural change of urban households by providing them with real-time information and
customized feedback. For example, Smarter Homes is a company that produces smart metering
and automated leakage prevention systems. Their devices have been installed in 40,000 households
in India, and they have helped save approximately 35 per cent of water consumption on average
(Viola et al., 2020).
Nanotechnological applications for desalination processes
In response to growing demands for clean water in urban system, several countries are producing
additional drinking water by using desalination technologies, the process of removing salt from
seawater and then ltering it to obtain drinking quality water. As of 2018, there were 16,000
desalination plants in 177 countries.
Nanotechnological applications have been introduced. These have proved to be more sustainable
than reverse osmosis, one of the most common methods used in water desalination that results in
pollution of sea waters. For example, the European project NAWADES has developed since 2016
nanotechnology-based, self-cleaning membranes for water desalination at a plant located in the
metropolitan areas of Barcelona, Spain (European Commission, 2017).
Sensor-based water protection systems
Digital solutions for water protection can help increase the efciency and effectiveness of water
treatments, enabling real-time water monitoring and the more rapid detection of possible pollutants.
The project Fiware4Water, for example, has been developing a smart solution platform in European
cities. It builds upon distributed intelligence and combines different types of sensing devices, such
as smart meters and water quality sensors, to monitor water quality parameters and enable real-time
monitoring (European Commission, 2022).
Keeping the quality of ground and surface waters under control by using sensing technology is the
primary purpose of GEMStat. Included in the GEMS/Water Programme of UNEP, GEMStat is a free,
global water quality information system that contains millions of data entries sourced from water
stations worldwide. The system relies on a voluntary submission scheme that invites countries and their
local organizations to share the data that they capture with monitoring networks. GEMStat is currently
combining data from water stations positioned in more than 80 countries and covers a timeframe of
93 years, from 1906 to 2020. In addition to storing the data in the same database, GEMStat produces
statistical and graphical analysis of water quality data at different levels of aggregation.
However, for crowdsourcing platforms such as GEMStat to be functional and maximize the potential
benets they can produce, innovative training and supportive policy frameworks are required to build
capacity. Not all countries can access these online services, mainly due to the lack of adequate
systems for gathering water quality data and lack of appropriate knowledge and skills.
Source: UNEP, The global water quality database GEMStat (see
Box 4
Sensing technology for ensuring ground and surface water quality
Science, technology and innovation for sustainable urban development in a post-pandemic world
Portable testing kits for real-time quality control
To address water contamination issues, the British Geological Survey has developed an innovative
approach to the assessment of microbial risksin drinking water. Their methodology introduces a real-
time assessment that works faster than traditional methods based on faecal indicator organisms.
The British Geological Survey implements on-site testing using portable tryptophan-like uorescence
sensors, which provide instantaneous readings. In 2020, this new assessment was tested in Africa.
The results of the test show that tryptophan-like uorescence has proved to be a more stable and
precautionary indicator of microbial risk than faecal indicator organisms (Sorensen, 2020).
Satellite technology
When visible, pollution and contamination in water sources can also be detected by using satellite
technology and drones. This approach might constitute an economically feasible solution for
obtaining high-resolution images. Sentinel-2, for example, is an Earth observation mission launched
by the European Space Agency. Its objective is to monitor variability in land surface conditions
using two polar-orbiting satellites. Due to its public-domain nature, Sentinel-2 is an open-data
project, and its satellites can provide free images (Favre and Oksen, 2020).
Mobile applications for waste monitoring
Images are also the main medium for protecting land and water from pollution in the form of
free, easily accessible, and user-friendly mobile services that are emerging in many countries.
For example, a project of the Environmental Protection Agency has resulted in a new application
that can be downloaded on mobile phones. The service enables citizens to report water and
land pollution when they spot it; by taking and sending a photo of the polluted area, citizens can
make authorities aware of environmental problems. The application also uses an embedded Global
Positioning System that helps authorities locate and investigate the reported areas (European
Commission, 2021a).
3.4 Mobility
Congestion and air pollution are some of most signicant mobility-related problems in urban areas
globally, where state- and municipal-level interventions are urgently needed. STI solutions to these
urban sustainability challenges can be grouped in three main categories: low-emission vehicles;
policy, regulations, and nancial schemes to incentivize the use of more sustainable transport
solutions, and intelligent transportation systems.
Low-emission vehicles
Electric cars are among the most common examples of low-emission vehicles. The electrication
of urban transportation system is growing in both developed and developing countries as a result
of combined forces, such as more favourable policy settings, nancial incentives, and continuous
research and development efforts that are increasing the performance of vehicles while reducing
their overall costs.
For example, Basel Agency for Sustainable Energy (BASE), has supported an effort to electrify the
transport system in helping Bogota, Colombia to gain access to nearly 1,500 hybrid busses. This
is in line with government strategies to cap the surge of fossil-fuel-based vehicles since hybrid
buses were found to save 35 per cent fuel vis-à-vis diesel buses. Since 2013, BASE has supported
similar initiatives in Argentina, Costa Rica and Peru for technical, nancial and operational analysis
and modelling.17
17 For more information, see
Science, technology and innovation for sustainable urban development in a post-pandemic world
Box 5
An electric scooter sharing service for sustainable urban mobility
In Belarus, the National Academy of Sciences, together with other stakeholders, has developed
a comprehensive programme for the expansion of electric transport between 2021 and 2025. It
includes more than 40 interrelated activities that range from research and development to work
on the development of charging infrastructure. Under the Electromobility Europe Programme,
the National Academy of Sciences also supports planning processes and tools for the step-by-
step conversion of the conventional or mixed bus eet to a hundred percent electric bus eet.18
Intelligent fast-charging solutions are emerging in cities to tackle the issues of congestion in
recharging stations and slow charging rates. For example, in the Netherlands, Amsterdam has
been equipped with Flexpower, the largest public smart charging network for electric vehicles in
the city.19 This technology combines faster charging with the use of locally generated renewable
electricity and ensures a more efcient use of the electric grid capacity. A total of approximately
500 charging stations have been upgraded and connected to the Flexpower network –
approximately 30 per cent of all charging stations for electric cars in the urban area (Bons et al.,
Journey planner applications
Journey planner applications enhance urban mobility by providing real-time information. Urban
mobility users can use these mobile applications to plan their journey, receiving continuous up-
to-date information and advice about the level of trafc in different areas of the city and availability
of public transport options at specic times.
Aberdeen City Council, in Scotland (United Kingdom), launched a journey planner application
called GoAbz in late 2020. GoAbz assists citizens and tourists in planning their journeys around
the city Aberdeen. The application provides information on journey times and costs, and it also
enables users to receive suggestions on alternative transport modes – cycling, walking, buses
and trains (Aberdeen City Council, 2020).
Real-time traffic management systems
In Bengaluru, India, the Electronics City Township Authority (ELCITA) and Siemens have
developed and tested a real-time trafc management solution that fully automates trafc control
and monitoring operations. The system automates operations such as vehicle detection,
18 Contributions from the Government of Belarus.
19 Seeexpower-amsterdam/.
Vehicle sharing services benet from Global Navigation Satellite System information in order to track the
vehicles, which are widely distributed across the city. In the case of “oating sharing”, where vehicles are
not parked in specic stations, the Global Navigation Satellite System is the main source of information
for users to locate the vehicle. It also enhances security of the system by alerting about unexpected
movements and tracking a vehicle in the event of theft.
Adopting this technology, G-MOTIT is a European-funded project that has developed an electric
scooter sharing service in order to solve urban mobility problems potentially in major metropolitan areas
in Europe.a It allows users to reserve a scooter with their smartphone, receive a notication with the
position of the assigned vehicle, drive it and drop it off wherever they want. The service aims to enhance
vehicle positioning performance by developing and integrating Global Navigation Satellite System-based
location technology, which is key for the success of the service.
Source: Contribution from the United Nations Ofce for Outer Space Affairs.
a For more information, see
Science, technology and innovation for sustainable urban development in a post-pandemic world
trafc density estimation, identication of trafc accidents and trafc light control (Chandran,
2018). In the Philippines, the government has developed Local Trafc Simulator (LOCALSIM), a
microscopic trafc simulation software, designed to be used by road and trafc engineers as a
decision support system for trafc management.20
Mobile ticketing
Mobile e-ticketing solutions have the potential to boost active travel – cycling – and public
transport usage. For example, Oyster is a pay-as-you card developed by Transport for London.
Citizens and tourists can top up their cards at kiosks and online. The cards can be used to travel
on buses, subway, trams, and many other transport solutions. Moreover, as part of their pay-as-
you-go scheme, Transport for London also allows city users to pay tickets with contactless credit
and debit cards or mobile devices on all transport services in London (Transport for London,
Similarly, in 1997, Hong Kong (China) has introduced the Octopus smart card system, the rst
integrated contactless ticketing system for public transport in the world. The Octopus card
can be used for travelling and shopping and on electronic government platforms. The card
has achieved wide circulation within the city and can also be linked to other devices, such as
smartphones and smart watches.21
Finally, an e-ticketing system has also been introduced in Amsterdam. The service is called
iAmsterdam and provides visitors with the access to public transports, bike sharing schemes,
and the main attractions in the city. The iAmsterdam card is also available as a mobile application,
which provides information on activities and touristic attractions (Puhe et al., 2014).
Mobility as a Service
The multimodal approach to urban mobility is called Mobility as a Service (MaaS), a system
which helps users pay for tickets for a wide range of public and private transport options and
obtain real-time information on their functioning. MaaS Madrid is one of the earlier examples of
integrated digital transport service platforms, and it was launched by Madrid City Council. This
technology combines bus services, cableways, and BiciMAD – the bike-share system of the city
– in a dedicated mobile application (Arias-Molinares and García-Palomares, 2020).
A similar MaaS platform, which is called Whim, is also used in Finland by the city of Helsinki. Whim
integrates information on bike sharing systems, taxis, car sharing services and conventional rental
cars, together with public transport data. The MaaS solution of Helsinki also allows payments
to be processed through the mobile application (Centre for Studies on Risks, the Environment,
Mobility and Urban Planning, 2019).
Bike sharing systems
Bike sharing systems generally combine the use of smart cards, mobile applications, automatic
docks and stations, and platforms for sourcing real-time information on where bikes can be
borrowed or left after being used. As of 2019, 18 million bikes have been shared in urban areas
worldwide through 1600 bike sharing systems (Hyatt, 2019), which are becoming increasingly
Cities such as Edinburgh (United Kingdom), Bogota, Mexico City, Berlin, Lille (France), Prague
have been using bike sharing schemes for many years and have achieved notable benets. For
example, the bike sharing system in Mexico City has reduced taxi use and private car use of
8 and 5 per cent, respectively, and it has made it possible to save approximately 500 tons of
carbon emissions, while helping users to save more than 2,000 days in aggregated travel time
(Figueres, 2017).
20 Contributions from the Government of the Philippines.
21 For more information, see:
Science, technology and innovation for sustainable urban development in a post-pandemic world
Cycle-to-work schemes
During the COVID-19 pandemic, many Governments have incentivized cycling to reduce infection
rates in urban areas, where bikes have become one of the preferred urban transport solutions.
Meanwhile, many municipal governments, such as in Peru that of Lima, have started to redesign
their urban infrastructure by expanding routes for cyclists to improve urban mobility,22 an approach
that, in many cases, has been largely overlooked for years.
In many countries, national Governments have activated Cycle-to-Work schemes. In the United
Kingdom, for example, this scheme allows employees to buy commuter bikes and cycling
equipment through their employers, by means of an advantageous loan. After making their
purchase, employees repay all costs in small instalments, which are automatically deducted from
their monthly salaries. After 12 months the employer will have recovered their costs, while the
employee will maintain the ownership of the bike and equipment (United Kingdom, Department for
Transport, 2019).
Another example is that of World Bicycle Relief, an international non-prot organization which has
introduced Employee Purchase Programmes in developing regions, allowing their essential workers
to buy a bicycle over a few months. Employee Purchase Programmes have helped purchase more
than 600 bikes in Colombia, about 150 in Kenya, and almost 800 for employees located in the
peri-urban areas around major cities in Zimbabwe (World Bicycle Relief, 2020).
3.5 Economic prosperity and decent job
Limited access to decent work opportunities, growing economic-related inequalities, nancial
instability among urban populations, forced labour, and modern slavery are pervasive issues facing
urban economies across the globe. Implementing solutions through science, technology, and
innovation could help policymakers to foster entrepreneurship, promote economic prosperity, and
support nancial stability for urban residents. Under the inuence of COVID-19, these solutions
have become imperatives for the recovery of urban economies, where an urgent call for smart,
sustainable and human-centric economic prosperity has been raised worldwide.
Dedicated urban zones for STI development
Dedicated zones or areas have been developed in the urban areas of several countries to nurture
the sustainable development of science, technology, and innovation that promote job creation
and advance industrialization. These are an effort from the government to support the local urban
innovation ecosystem in facilitating ease of business, providing access in nancing and tax support,
and to create more demand for new job opportunities.
In Türkiye, the Government established Technology Development Zones to provide job opportunities
and accelerate the entry of foreign capital into the country that makes advanced technology
investments. They accomplish this goal by increasing the competitiveness of the industry, providing
signicant contributions to the development of the cities.23 Furthermore, many support and tax
incentives are provided to entrepreneurs in Technology Development Zones, which make signicant
contributions to sustainable urban development.
In the Dominican Republic, another example is from the city of Santo Domingo, with the establishment
of Technological Hub Value Proposition.24 The hub is pivotal to support capacity-building, as well
as guided spaces that facilitate the creation, incubation and acceleration of technology-based
ventures that make intensive use of knowledge. This hub also incubates companies pursuing
cutting edge products in 3D printing, virtual reality, drones, blockchain and biotechnology, among
22 Contribution from the Government of Peru.
23 Contribution from the Government of Türkiye.
24 Contribution from the Government of Dominican Republic.
Science, technology and innovation for sustainable urban development in a post-pandemic world
A similar concept has been developed in the city of Nyeri, Kenya with the establishment of a
Science and Technology Park, in collaboration with Dedan Kimathi University. The STP encourage
cooperation and synergies between universities, research institutions and the private sectors to
create a favourable environment for innovation, renovation and training.25
In Latvia, the Government has established three innovation zones in Riga. The creation of these
innovation zones aims to help companies, researchers as well as start-ups to test their innovative
smart city products in real-life settings and to cut unnecessary steps in approval procedures
necessary for implementation of new products.26
Another example is the creation of hubs of innovation and entrepreneurship for the transformation
of historic urban areas in Lisbon.27 The Hub is part of a European Commission programme that
aims to promote the urban transformation and regeneration of historic urban areas, using as the
main catalyst innovation and entrepreneurship, while preserving their unique social and cultural
identity and the environment.
A different approach under the dedicated zone concept has also been developed in Russia through
their single industry cities or monocity. Togliatti (or Tolyatti) is a prime example of a monocity,
where innovative activities have received active support. It is the place where one of the Russia’s
largest high technology parks (technopark) is located, the Zhiguly Valley. Technopark’s residents
enjoy support at all stages of their innovative activities – from idea generation and prototype
development through to the commercialization of the product. The cities of Cherepovets, Norilsk
and Magnitogorsk provide further examples of successful dedicated zones or areas that bring
forward comprehensive plans for socio-technical development to facilitate industry and promote
job creation for their citizens.28
Digital finance
Digital nance has emerged as a nancial initiative to support urban lifestyle in providing electronic
nancial products and services, ranging from digital banking, peer-to-peer lending, e-trading
platform, and digital payment services. Local authorities can leverage digital nance to overcome
barriers to economic productivity, entrepreneurship, and employment, and support the nancial
inclusion of low-income groups that experience nancial instability. This technology can enable the
distribution of critical nancial ows and targeted funds to local companies, supporting stabilization
and recovery in emergency situations such as the COVID-19 pandemic.
Another good example is demonstrated by the CloQ application, targeting the unbanked population
which has access to mobile platforms in urban areas. Launched in 2018, CloQ is a microcredit mobile
application for people whose income is below minimum wage. The application has started by focusing
its operations on Brazilian territories and, in the rst two years of activity, it has provided access to
credit for urban entrepreneurs (United Nations, Department of Economic and Social Affairs, 2021).
E-commerce platforms
E-commerce platform is a technology that has been proved important for business in boosting
sustainable development urban area. In particular, e-commerce platforms have been helping
micro, small and medium-sized enterprises by providing online spaces to sell products or services,
expanding their market opportunities beyond their geographic boundaries. Additionally, given that
demand trafc in e-commerce platforms come from urban areas, labour force absorption occurs
to support the logistics sector to cope with the surging demand. This relation was amplied during
the COVID-19 pandemic era when people switched to e-platform in buying their daily needs due to
public health-related mobility restrictions.
25 Contribution from the Government of Kenya
26 Contribution from the Government of Latvia.
27 Contribution from the Government of Portugal.
28 Contribution from the Government of Russian Federation.
Science, technology and innovation for sustainable urban development in a post-pandemic world
For example, in Uganda, UNCDF is collaborating with the main ride-hailing company in Kampala,
to launch a digital platform called SafeBoda (United Nations Capital Development Fund, 2020). The
e-commerce platform for home deliveries has, during the lockdown, helped 18,000 people to keep
their jobs, 800 vendors to maintain their revenue streams, and thousands of customers to continue
to receive deliveries of food and other essential goods.
ICT-related education and training programmes
In addition to data-driven decision-making and predictive analytics, which are becoming increasingly
common, industrial sectors have also been experimenting with technological advancements that
are leading to higher degrees of automation, such as robotic technologies. Although in certain
sectors automation processes may cause a reduction of workers, this technology unleashes
productivity gains and can help reduce occupational injuries and fatalities in dangerous urban
occupations – for example, construction jobs.
In response to risk of displacing humans with machines in some professions, many national and
local authorities have reacted by promoting innovative education and training programmes that
target young people and aim to increase their ICT skills. These upskilling opportunities are offered
to ensure a better alignment between growing markets and education systems: an alignment
which is indispensable to leave no one behind and drive sustainability-oriented system change in
urban areas.
For example, European countries can rely on the Digital Opportunity traineeships, a training initiative
funded by the European Commission. Between 2018 and 2020, this initiative provided more than
6,000 students with the opportunity to boost their digital skills in elds with high market demand.
Examples of knowledge areas include cybersecurity, big data, quantum technology, machine
learning, web design, digital marketing, and software development (European Commission, 2021b).
Similarly, in South Africa, the Oliver Tambo Research Chairs initiative builds on existing continental
frameworks and interventions geared towards the development of high-end skills, the recruitment
and retention of excellent researchers and the provision of incentives to support research that
contributes to socioeconomic and transformative development in Africa.29
Innovative data management systems
Providing nancial support and access to job market to people in need requires scoring and assessment
tools that ensure nancial inclusion. However, many local authorities are experiencing difculties in
developing effective systems. To overcome this challenge, urban areas can benet from the use of
data management solutions, which can help eliminate silos effects and lack of interoperability while
providing advanced data visualization tools, the use of articial intelligence for predictive analysis, big
data analytics capability and more transparent and accountable reporting systems.
In Costa Rica, for example, the national government has developed a data-integrated, cross-
agency platform that contains data of potential beneciaries of all social protection programmes
nanced by the state – more than 3.5 million individuals and approximately 1.2 million households
(United Nations Development Programme, 2021). To develop the platform, information modules
and data infrastructures have been standardized to facilitate data integration after collection
processes, which are undertaken simultaneously in different public agencies in rural and urban
In the Islamic Republic of Iran, STI policymakers have developed an innovative platform to help
match private sectors with the city administration to provide services and products for people in
urban areas. The aim of this platform is to disentangle the complexity of agreement and provide
incentives for the private sector in supporting the transition toward urban sustainable development.
For example, the platform has been implemented as part of Smart Waste Management Systems
29 Contribution from the Government of Kenya.
Science, technology and innovation for sustainable urban development in a post-pandemic world
in the Islamic Republic of Iran, to make the outsourcing process more transparent and encourage
start-ups and entrepreneurs to cooperate with the municipality administration.30
Another example is articial intelligence-powered Jobs Factory of the World Tourism Organization, a
platform that supports and improves competitiveness regarding job creation and helps to leverage
human capital development in cities that rely on the tourism sectors. The joint initiative between
the World Tourism Organization and Hosco, the professional network specially designed for the
hospitality industry, allows monitoring current and future skills development, facilitating intelligent
labour market data collection, insights and forecasting to access jobs opportunities.31
Cash transfer schemes and programmes
Many national and local authorities are also supporting the nancial inclusion of urban populations
by means of innovative cash transfer schemes that do not leverage technological solutions but still
ease the nancial burden of poorer workers and help them access secure nancial services, limiting
the widespread adoption of informal loans.
To nudge behavioural change in low-income populations and improve the sustainability of their
nancial situation, local authorities can also initiate conditional cash transfer programmes. These
programmes help provide poor people with money in return for fullling specic behavioural conditions.
For example, compulsory attendance of children to school, mandatory visits to health centres, and
up-to-date vaccination are among the conditions in the Brazilian experience of Bolsa Família (World
Bank, 2020), a conditional cash transfer programme activated in Brazilian municipalities.
Another example comes from the city of Sabang, in Indonesia which piloted a similar locally
funded cash transfer program called Geunaseh. The objective of this social protection program
is to provide poor households with the monthly-based cash assistance they need to meet the
health and nutritional needs of children. The program has been written in law, dening provision
and governance mechanisms and the role of the local stakeholders involved in the delivery (United
Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), 2021).
Smart technologies to fight forced labour and modern slavery
STI solutions also offer effective technological means to ght against child labour – whose rate has
increased from 8.4 million in 2016 to 160 million in 2021 – but also modern slavery, human trafcking
and migrant smuggling, which are crucial urban-related phenomena. Remote monitoring tools
addressing forced and child labour, for example, use mobile-phone-based technologies, real-time
tracking systems, and other networked technologies to determine the presence of illegal working
conditions in a workplace. Some of these real-time monitoring tools also use satellite imagery to
oversee the movements and loads of boats and web scraping to search for child abuse data that can
lead law enforcement agencies to children in need for help. This technology can also be used to stop
human trafcking operations (UNICEF, 2020).
Smart technologies for preventing forced labour can also leverage predictive proling, facial
recognition, and blockchain technology. Predictive proling via natural language processing and
articial intelligence can be used to evaluate the probability of having messages associated with forced
labour that travel across the Internet. Facial recognition algorithms are adopted by law enforcement
authorities during web crawling operations, to scan online advertisements and attempt to prevent or
stop forced labour crimes. Finally, blockchain technology enables the constant monitoring of global
supply chains to identify the presence of illegal operations involving illicit trafc of goods and modern
slavery. Nevertheless, the application of these technologies requires strong cross-sector coordination,
revised institutional arrangements, and new regulatory frameworks that ensure privacy and data are
rmly protected (Inter-agency Coordination Group Against Trafcking in Persons, 2019).
30 Contribution from the Government of the Islamic Republic of Iran.
31 Contribution from the World Tourism Organization. For more information on Job Factory, see: https://www.unwto.
Science, technology and innovation for sustainable urban development in a post-pandemic world
3.6 Housing
The housing construction sector is responsible for the development of one of the most crucial urban
infrastructure assets, but it is severely lagging behind. The “Industry 4.0” vision is crucial to ensuring
the improved efciency and sustainability of the sector and the development of more affordable
and quality housing solutions. The progress of this vision is highly dependent on STI efforts. Many
countries have positioned the framing of cross-sector partnerships and industrial alliances for
research and development at the centre of their national development agenda for the housing
construction sector, alongside establishing international standards to facilitate collaborations.
Digitalization of construction operations and manufacturing processes
STI solutions for supporting sustainable development in the housing construction sector strongly
focus on the digitalization of operations and manufacturing processes. A wider use of digital
fabrication techniques, which rely on IT-controlled production environments, can help improve
efciency while increasing production rates. For example, by capitalizing on digital fabrication
technologies and offsite manufacturing techniques, a 30-storey hotel and a 57-oor skyscraper
have been built in China in less than 20 days. The use of traditional building techniques would have
required more than one-year of on-site construction activities to deliver the same building (Chang
et al., 2018).
A growing number of factories have been equipped with additive manufacturing technologies – 3D
printing. This technology is used frequently during prototype phases, but it can also help build new
houses. This is the case of the non-prot organization New Story, which is introducing 3D-printed
homes in the slum areas of the Plurinational State of Bolivia, Haiti and Mexico. Using 3D-printing
technology, New Story can produce a 600-square-feet (about 56 square meters) home in only one
day, and with an overall cost of $4,000 (Altman and Pompei, 2018).
The digitalization of the housing construction sector and actualization of the “Industry 4.0” vision
can truly push sustainable urban development. However, it also exposes digital skills gaps that
may prevent these technological developments from taking place and being effective. For example,
approximately 70 per cent of the population living in lower-income economies do not possess
basic digital skills (UN-Habitat, 2021a). The COVID-19 pandemic has clearly exposed this skills gap
and showcased the magnitude of the effects that they have on sustainable urban development,
especially in a moment of crisis.
Digital twin technology in construction
By using digital twin technology, virtual models can be created to predict the functioning of an
object. This insight can be used to inform decision-making processes in the housing construction
sector (Arup, 2019). Engineers and designers across manufacturing industries are increasingly
using this technology to experiment with different design solutions, whereas civil engineers are
using digital twins as a supporting tool during the design, construction, and monitoring processes of
transport infrastructure assets (OECD, 2020). Moreover, in housing construction, digital twins allow
the collection of information during the entire life cycle of a building and help improve maintenance
operations, while facilitating data sharing operations.
Predictive analytics
Big data analytics makes it possible to obtain a greater level of product differentiation, which is
driven by intelligence, and can better align productive systems with the request of users. For
example, in South Africa, under the Innovation and Transformative Technologies Framework, the
Government is working to enable big data in analysing areas of urgent housing needs; areas
that need subsidized housing; areas requiring improved access to infrastructure, amenities and
services, and areas that support the integration of different housing typologies, land uses and
economic development.32
32 Contribution from the Government of South Africa.
Science, technology and innovation for sustainable urban development in a post-pandemic world
Offering a diverse housing stock requires governments and stakeholders in the construction and
real estate sectors to better understand the varied housing needs of heterogeneous residents,
using such a knowledge to design affordable housing solutions which are tailored to meet their
expectations (Pimentel Walker, 2016). Affordable housing provision should be diversied in terms
of types and tenure, hence providing accommodation options to a broader number of residents
while creating diverse and vital neighbourhoods.
Machine learning models that transform big data in predictive analytics are already in use in the
construction sector. For example, they are used to forecast the potential demand for new homes
or uctuations in market values, and the deployment of this technology can be extended to cover
additional functions (Grybauskas et al., 2021).
Environmentally sound technologies and smart building solutions
Housing construction actors in developing and developed countries are increasingly harnessing
environmentally sound technologies and smart technologies in new-built and retrotting operations.
In many cases, environmentally sound technologies measures and smart technologies have been
adopted to address climate and environmental issues by increasing the use of renewable energy
and recycled materials, reducing waste productions and implementing water-efciency schemes.
One example is the creation of EcoSUN Green Village, a pilot project in South Africa which
implements environmentally sound technologies and smart technologies to address challenges in
human settlement (see box 5).
As another example, the World Bank Group has developed a knowledge platform on eco-friendly
infrastructure construction to help govern infrastructure projects across countries in Latin America
and the Caribbean (Montgomery, 2015). The idea behind the initiative is to have a one-stop shop
that calls up technical specialists with different types of expertise to design and plan for sustainable
buildings, roads, bridges, ports, power plants and water supply systems.
The EcoSUN Green Village, located in the Eastern Cape province of South Africa, is a collaborative
pilot project between the Department of Science and Innovation, Ndlambe Local Municipality, Nelson
Mandela University, Eastern Cape Department of Human Settlement and the Ministry of Education and
Research of Germany.
The objective of the project is to implement innovative technologies to address challenges faced by the
human settlement sector, such as water and energy resource scarcity as well as unemployment. The
innovative technologies include the application of water recycling (grey water technology), water ltration,
renewable energy (solar technology), innovative building materials and sustainable water drainage.
The 1-hectare village includes 10 houses, Multi-purpose Centre, landscaping for recreational activities,
a vegetable garden and a waste management facility. The intention is to make a village that operates
independently of the municipal services, a village that supports the community and generates jobs.
The EcoSUN Green Village to date has created employment for 22 youth from the area, in the
construction of the Multi-purpose Centre, and has attracted donors eager to support local economic
development. Further collaborations are to be forged with in the upcoming construction of a sustainable
urban drainage system and landscaping for the village.
This pilot project has proven that innovative building materials and technology can be implemented
within a limited time and accepted by communities, even under the challenging conditions brought
about by COVID-19.
Source: Contribution from the Government of South Africa.
Box 6
EcoSUN Green Village, a village for the future
Science, technology and innovation for sustainable urban development in a post-pandemic world
3.7 Gender-related empowerment and equality
The value of sustainable urbanization cannot be realized without introducing safeguards against the
existing gender-based gaps, prejudice and discrimination that have spread in urban environments
worldwide. STI solutions in this application area range from new digital tools to non-technological
interventions which aim to support awareness-raising activities, community mobilization actions,
educational programmes, legal and policy reforms, and changes in institutional settings.
Gender-pay-gap regulations
Wage disparities differ across countries and strongly depend upon local circumstances. No
disaggregated data is currently available to determine the global urban–rural spatial variation in the
gender wage gap. However, many cities worldwide remain plagued by gender-unequal economies.
The relevance of the problem has been recently underscored by a recent joint initiative in London,
Los Angeles (United States), Barcelona (Spain), Freetown, Mexico City and Tokyo, where the
municipal administrations have decided to launch the rst-of-its-kind network of cities in support
of gender equity.33
Recognizing the relevance of gender-based economics issues, to ensure that men and women
receive equal pay for equal work, some Governments have implemented innovative adjustments
to their existing policy and regulatory frameworks which impact urban workplaces. For example,
a legislative framework – the Equality Act 2010, amended in 2017 – has been introduced, in the
United Kingdom, in England and Scotland to improve the transparency of wages. The act requires
public, private and voluntary-sector organizations with 250 or more employees to annually publish
a series of pay gap metrics on their own websites and on a dedicated reporting service website
created by the central government (Equal Pay Portal, 2019).34
However, when examining the effectiveness of these new regulatory reforms, the scientic
community offers inconclusive evidence of their effectiveness. For example, on the one hand, the
pay transparency laws in Denmark, the United Kingdom and United States have been correlated
with a reduction of the gender pay gap (Kim, 2015; United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and
the Empowerment of Women (UN-Women), 2017a). On the other hand, statistical analyses of the
impact of the Austrian Pay Transparency Law on individual salaries and the gender pay gap have
not evidenced discernible effects (Böheim and Gust, 2021).
Compensation management platforms
Making information on gender-friendliness more accessible requires companies that manage
urban workplaces to discover pay gaps and nd possible solutions. This discovery process
depends upon the capability to aggregate the statistics needed for complying with transparency
laws. To facilitate this analytical process, digital services have been developed. These include
articial intelligence-powered budgeting and forecasting tools that provide estimates of gender-
based gaps in remuneration processes, and the voluntarily tracking of salaries across demographic
Anti-violence online services
In many cities around the world, women and girls do not have the required level of safety. Violence
makes up at least 25 to 30 per cent of urban crime and women, especially in developing countries,
are twice as likely to be victims of violent aggression (including domestic violence) as men (UN-
Habitat, 2007).
In response to this lack of safety in public and private urban spaces, technological-related
grassroots innovations are spreading, some of which aim to enhance the capability of women,
girls, and other city users to report abuses and help ignite the reaction of public authorities and the
33 See
34 Gender pay gap reporting system (see
Science, technology and innovation for sustainable urban development in a post-pandemic world
public. For example, by leveraging online messaging systems and social media, the crisis-mapping
platform designed by the Nairobi-based company Ushahidi has helped to monitor election-related
violence in Kenya and many other reports of gender-based violence across the world. Ushahidi
collects reports of violence submitted by eyewitnesses and, after checking their validity, it maps
them out, making all data publicly available.35
Awareness-raising measures and education
Innovative gender-equality measures are also urgently needed to rethink urban safety, whose
improvement can drastically change the lives of women and girls and their relationship with urban
environments. For example, with sexual harassment in Moroccan public transports and streets not
yet legally recognized, introducing a training module on prevention methods for ALSA Marrakech
drivers – a large network of buses which serve the entire city – has created a possible safeguard.
The training has informed more than 1,500 bus drivers about the procedures that can be adopted
to take action against sexual harassment episodes, should they witness abuses in buses and
around bus stops. Similarly, taxi drivers have been made aware about sexual harassment and
mobilized to take action (UN-Women, 2017a).
Similarly, in Rwanda, a citywide campaign has been launched to prevent sexual harassment on
public transportation, and actions have been taken to enhance the capacities of public transport
workers to prevent sexual harassment in public spaces. Meanwhile, in Ecuador, education material
on gender discrimination and stereotypes has been piloted in some schools of Quito, whereas
public service announcements in Indian metro lines and open discussions have been introduced
to raise awareness. Finally, Papua New Guinea has launched a multi-channel campaign that has
reached thousands of urban residents by combining social media and television networks, radios
and social interactions in schools, churches and public spaces (UN-Women, 2017b).36
3.8 Urban planning
To ensure that central urban areas and their peri-urban interfaces provide all residents with equal
access to urban services, facilities, and opportunities, local authorities and urban planners can
rely on different STI solutions that upgrade urban planning procedures. Their adoption leads to a
more detailed understanding of sustainable development issues and more efcient and inclusive
decision-making processes. These technologies help leverage collective intelligence and create
the open, inclusive, and highly collaborative environments that are required to ensure that urban
planning processes take control of peri-urbanization processes and make urban spaces accessible
to all people, regardless of gender, age, disability, or any other factors.
Spatial Group Model Building
To ensure the synergetic growth of interconnected urban, peri-urban, and rural areas, some local
authorities are replacing siloed approaches to urban planning with more integrated practices that
use system thinking to better address the spatial complexity of urban–rural linkages and maximize
existing interdependences. Achieving this objective, however, requires urban analysts and planners
to trigger processes of co-design and participatory decision-making that ensure vertical and
horizontal coordination, ensuring that excepted benets reach all parties and resource conicts
are minimized.
Studies on peri-urban planning and management have led to the denition of new approaches
that respond to the specic needs of peri-urban interfaces. For example, the city of Christchurch,
New Zealand, has contributed to piloting an innovative participatory process called Spatial Group
Model Building (SGMB). SGMB helps combine the expectations and knowledge of a wide range of
35 See
36 UN-Women, 2017b. Buy from Women, United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment
of Women, New York. See
Science, technology and innovation for sustainable urban development in a post-pandemic world
actors into a peri-urban planning processes by inviting them to co-design a group model building
– a model that connects the ows, processes, and collaborative relationships among actors within
a complex system.
The participatory process is supported with Geographic Information System (GIS) technology,
which helps stakeholders visualize the physical space and connect the information of the group
model building on digital maps. The towns of Lundazi and Monze, Zambia, have adopted SGMB
to investigate how East Coast Fever – a disease of cattle and buffalo – oscillate over time and
determine context-specic interventions that can mitigate the impact on the local economy (Mumba
et al., 2017). SGMB has also been applied in the Indian state of Bihar, the district of Jessore in
Bangladesh, and the Tanintharyi region, in Myanmar (Rich et al., 2018).
Gamification for digital participation
Different digital support tools that local authorities, urban planners, and other participants of
collaborative urban planning processes can use to jointly develop and assess alternative sustainable
development strategies are currently available. For example, as part of the Block-by-Block
initiative, UN-Habitat has introduced Minecraft in the framework of public space planning, where
the videogame has become a participatory tool for simulating the co-production of regeneration
projects for neglected public spaces. This Minecraft-based methodology is freely available to
all and provide residents of urban areas with access to a virtual environment in which they can
collaboratively design, build, and discuss virtual urban landscapes and architectural models that
have the potential to improve the quality of existing urban spaces.
After being piloted in Nairobi and Mumbai, the Block by Block methodology for co-created public
spaces have been used extensively in urban areas across the world, in particular developing regions,
where it has shown a good capability to mobilize community engagement (Imam and Lahoud,
2021). A few years after starting the initiative, in an effort to improve the current methodology, UN-
Habitat introduced a mixed-reality tool which has been tested in Stockholm and Johannesburg
(South Africa). This enhanced version of the Block by Block methodology uses virtual reality to
provide users with a lifelike experience (UN-Habitat, 2019).
The CITinova project is a good example of a project aimed at improving national capacities in urban
planning for the sustainable development of Brazilian cities. The specic objectives of the project are to:
(a) accelerate the transition of cities towards sustainable urbanization; (b) use technology and innovation
to improve the quality of life and well-being of citizens; and (c) avoid the direct emission of 3.8 million
tons of CO2.
Funded by Global Environment Facility, implemented by UNEP and executed by the Ministry of Science
and Innovation of Brazil in partnership with the Brazilian cities of Brasilia and Recife, the project brings
many success stories in developing innovative technological solutions and offers methodologies and
tools for integrated urban planning and more sustainable cities. One success story is the public and free
District Environmental Information System Platform, which provides climate projections for the Federal
District and Integrated Development Region of the Federal District and Surroundings.
Another success story is the revitalization and urbanization of Capibaribe Park in the city of Recife.
The project covers 30 km of the riverbanks, focusing on public spaces for people on cycle paths and
pavements, leisure and contemplation areas. This is helpful to Recife, which aims at increasing the public
green area index from 1.2 m2 per inhabitant to 20 m2 by 2037.
Source: Contribution from the Government of Brazil.
Box 7
CITInova project to improve national capacities for sustainable urban development
Science, technology and innovation for sustainable urban development in a post-pandemic world
Digital twin technology for urban planning
Virtual reality can also be used to create urban digital twins – virtual models of entire urban systems
– as in the case of Herrenberg, a small city in Germany. The digital twin has been used to collect
data describing the emotional responses of citizens that local authorities are collecting to inform
decision-making (Dembski et al., 2020). Similarly, Buildmedia – a company specialized in 3D
visualizations of urban infrastructure – has created a digital twin of Wellington City. The digital twin
builds on a combination of smart city technologies that connects streams of urban mobility data.
This data describes the real-time functioning of the urban infrastructure and provides different
types of urban mobility and transportation statistics, including air trafc data. By using the digital
twin, local authorities can acquire data for supporting decision marking and collaboratively work on
unbuilt developments, which can be integrated as virtual models in the existing built environment
of the city (Frearson, 2021).
Online crowdsourcing platforms
Local authorities and planners can also use a low-tech apparatus, such as social media channels
and online platforms, which can help stimulate inclusive discussions on planning ideas and better
understand the preferences of key actors that are affected by urban planning decisions, including
citizens (Afzalan and Muller, 2018). Online platforms that pool crowd-generated data can help
generate collective knowledge and awareness around urban planning challenges, and they can
also be used to increase the accessibility of urban spaces.
For example, the German non-prot organization Sozialhelden has developed Wheelmap, an
online map for wheelchair accessible places identication. Wheelmap provides information that is
generated with a Wikipedia-approach; anyone can access the online map – which is generated by
using OpenStreetMap data – and share knowledge on the wheelchair accessibility of the locations
they have visited. Users can pick any public place around the world, rate their level of accessibility
for individuals with mobility impairments, and upload photographs. As of today, Wheelmap provides
data on more than 1.5 million public places and is available in 33 languages. This data helps people
with reduced mobility to make informed travel plans and contributes to making owners of wheelchair-
inaccessible public places and local authorities aware of existing barriers (Mobasheri et al., 2017).
3.9 Safety and security
Worldwide efforts have been made to sustain urban safety and security, which are primarily based on
the use of innovative policy interventions and research and development efforts that are increasing
the availability and performance of technological STI solutions. Examples of technologies for urban
safety and security enhancement include gunshot detection systems, crime mapping tools and
predictive proling technology.
Crime prevention policy
To reduce youth homicide, a key issue in Doha, Qatar, the local government launched the policy
program ‘Line Up, Live Up’, in collaboration with UNODC and sports organizations (UNODC,
2020b) . This program aimed to break the chain of violence by inducing behavioural change in new
generations. Sports were promoted among at-risk youths to provide them with a means to learn
tolerance and respect and to develop the positive behaviour that can help them avoid criminal
activates and violence in the future.
Gunshot detection technology
Technological solutions for crime prevention have also been implemented. For example, different
variations of gunshot detection technology – an audio-based analytical tool – are sprouting up.
gunshot detection technology offers automated analyses of urban soundscapes and build upon
a network of acoustic sensors to identify the sound of urban gunshots. Data generated from
gunshot detection technologies becomes a source of information on rearm-related crimes, and
this information can be relayed to context-aware emergency services (Irvin-Erickson et al., 2017).
Science, technology and innovation for sustainable urban development in a post-pandemic world
Moreover, this knowledge can also support police forces to determine the position of gunshots
in real-time. Gunshot detection technology uses algorithms that identify particular acoustic
frequencies at different points of public transport networks (such as underground routes or bus
lanes). This differentiation helps to timely distinguish gunshots from other noises and to compute
the spatial coordinates of the location where the crime is taking place (ACOEM, 2020).37
Crime mapping tools
To enhance the capacity of gunshot detection technology in crime prevention, visualization of
crimes is also required. Technologies that are used for spatial identication of crime hotspots have
been implemented in cities worldwide. Crime mapping via GIS analysis, for instance, is an effective
measure that local police forces can adopt in urban areas to develop timelines and map locations
of crime events.
In central London, police forces use crime mapping to analyse vehicle crime patterns, understand
routines and behaviours of criminals, and determine the most probable location where these
crimes take place and could happen in the future (Braga et al., 2019). Similar practices are also
implemented in cities of the Global South, such as Mexico City wherein heat maps are created by
local authorities to identify hotspots prone to violence against women (Garas Royo et al., 2020).
Moreover, researchers at University of Pretoria have showcased the usefulness of crime mapping
in the context of African cities by developing a robbery risk model for the city of Tshwane, South
Africa. The model is based on a geospatial analysis in which commuter nodes and urban public
facilities become points of interest (Kemp et al., 2021).
Predictive profiling technology
Some innovative solutions for addressing forced evictions in urban areas rely on predictive proling
techniques, in which machine learning algorithms are a key component. A variety of machine
learning models can be used to identify city buildings in which tenants are at risk of landlord
harassment. New York City is an example of good practice wherein data scientists have developed
an-hoc machine learning model. Their model analyses historical canvass data to predict landlord
harassment and create risk scores. Local government agencies harness this intelligence to prioritize
inspections to high-risk buildings and better organize outreach activates to vulnerable tenants (Ye
et al., 2019).
Protection from natural disasters
STI solutions contribute to protecting urban areas and their populations from natural disasters
by empowering and giving a voice to people, including the most vulnerable; extending access to
education services, making possible the monitoring of environmental risks, connecting people, and
enabling the development of early warning systems.38
Disaster data infrastructure
Data analytics capability is also of the utmost importance for urban regions that are facing natural
disasters. To develop this capability, many national and local governments are increasing efforts
towards building integrated data management systems that pool critical information on urban
infrastructure assets. For example, after experiencing a series of natural disasters, Latin America and
Caribbean cities have decided to invest in developing the capacity for building a data management
platform for supporting disaster management, by conducting activities that are helping to connect
heterogeneous data on critical infrastructures. This integration process is already helping local
37 ACOEM, 2020. Brochure: Gunshot and Acoustic Threat Detection: Hear Danger before you See Danger, ACOEM,
Richmond, Virginia, United States.
38 To obtain a more comprehensive understanding of this theme, please see the UNCTAD issues paper on “The role
of science, technology and innovation in building resilient communities, including through the contribution of citizen
Science, technology and innovation for sustainable urban development in a post-pandemic world
governments to model risk in infrastructures such as mobility and transportation (Jorisch et al.,
2018). In Türkiye, the Disaster Management and Decision Support System was developed in order
to monitor and manage disaster and emergency processes electronically and to provide decision
support to managers.39
Examples of integrated disaster data management systems are also emerging from private sector
organizations. For instance, the Portuguese company Tecmic and the private non-prot association
INOV – Instituto de Novas Tecnologias – have developed the 4Forces platform, which has been
tested by using data from the city of Lisbon. The 4Forces platform simulation process aims at
ensuring rapid decision-making on resource allocation in case of disasters.
Nature-based solutions
When developing disaster risk reduction schemes and practices, city governments can also
implement nature-based solutions. “Nature-based solution” is an umbrella term that groups different
types of ecology-based technical solutions, innovative actions, and policies whose objective is to
help protect, govern, and recover urban ecosystems, build up their resilience to natural disasters,
and protect biodiversity (United Nations Ofce for Disaster Risk Reduction, 2020).
For example, the uMngeni Infrastructure Partnership in KwaZulu-Natal province, South Africa,
has utilized nature-based solutions to rehabilitate natural ecosystems, such as river areas and
the Midmar Dam, which serve the urban population in the province (Youth4Nature, 2021). In
Switzerland, the Government spent 0.6 per cent of its GDP on protection against natural hazards,
including the construction of elaborate protective structures to prevent damage. Knowledge
regarding the continual intensication of land use is a key prerequisite for minimizing risk, which is
why work on analysing land use risk is currently ongoing.40
A similar practice in Lahore, Pakistan shows the Government that is committed to remedying to the
challenges that high-rate air pollution and heat. An urban forest named Liberty Market was planted
in the city in 2019. Acting as a nature-based solution, the forest combined ecological engineering
and active policymaking to ensure the exclusive use of native species of vegetation for restoring
urban forested areas (Arif, 2021).
39 Contribution from the Government of Türkiye.
40 Contribution from the Government of Switzerland.
Science, technology and innovation for sustainable urban development in a post-pandemic world
4. Conclusions and policy recommendations
The COVID-19 pandemic has enabled many new forms of innovation for sustainable cities and
communities. It has also triggered a level of research, development and experimentation that
countries had previously struggled to implement during non-crisis conditions. The pace at which
local and national leaders and stakeholders have reorganized urban socio-technical systems in many
regions, by introducing innovative STI solutions to the challenges imposed by the crisis, has been
signicant. It is now necessary to seize this innovation momentum, using its transformative power,
to ensure that urban areas can deliver on their commitment to sustainable urban development.
The following recommendations are therefore presented, making a distinction between the
considerations that apply to national Governments and those that would be more pertinent for
international action.
Adjust pre-COVID priorities and resource allocation strategies
The uncertain investment climate and fragile nancial situation of public and private organizations
could severely undermine the capability of countries to sustain the innovation momentum and
the scope and scale of STI actions for uplifting urban sustainability. Considering only the period
between 2020 and 2030, it is estimated that more than $40 trillion will be required to provide
funding for the urban infrastructure developments that are needed to enhance the sustainability of
cities and towns worldwide and harness the value of sustainable urbanization (UN-Habitat, 2020c).
The negative economic effects of the COVID-19 pandemic have reached public sector organizations;
the overall revenue of local authorities is expected to decline between 15 per cent and 25 per
cent in 2021, with more drastic effects on developing countries. For example, the revenue losses
of African local governments could go up to 60 per cent (United Nations, 2020d). With such
a massive shortfall in public and private budgets, fewer funds will be available for STI activities
oriented towards enhancing urban sustainability.
Considerations for Governments:
Redene sustainable urban development priorities in the aftermath
of the pandemic – in particular, the urgent need to invest in STI solutions that can alleviate
unemployment and the nancial issues of low-income households and smaller rms.
Ensure that priority is given to the STI actions that can create value for money and more
efcient spending, with a particular focus on activities that can boost urban resilience.
Considerations for the international community:
Introduce nancial measures that can help reinstate the nancial stability of private-
and public-sector organizations, especially in developing economies.
Find and share STI solutions for sustainable urban environments
The analysis has uncovered an incredibly data-rich but fragmented knowledge environment. The
application of STI in urban contexts has led to the development of many experiences, solutions and
practical knowledge whose potential for innovation is not fully enacted. Cross-country collaborative
research efforts are needed to pool and formalize this knowledge and to ensure knowledge transfer.
In addition, the sharing of STI practices will also help to raise awareness of the many innovations
which are already available and to forge new local and international collaborations, strengthening
urban innovation ecosystems worldwide.
Science, technology and innovation for sustainable urban development in a post-pandemic world
Consideration for Governments:
Capture, formalize, and share positive and negative practices
at different stages of development and experience on the use of STI solutions
for urban sustainability enhancement.
Considerations for the international community:
Support cross-country collaborative research efforts by establishing common strategies
for data collection and analysis that can facilitate benchmarking
Establish a virtual environment to facilitate international knowledge transfer and ensure
that an international basis of experience is available for all
Cultivate and empower local ecosystems for urban innovation
Developing, testing and scaling STI solution to urban sustainability challenges requires a cross-
sector and multi-stakeholder effort, with strong collaboration among heterogeneous actors and
across scales – national Governments, local public sector organizations, businesses, third sector
organizations, nancial institutions, universities and research centres, and civil society. When all
these actors operate in concert, urban innovation can ourish.
Governance frameworks supporting local innovation ecosystems for urban innovation are also
required to facilitate open innovation processes, international cooperation, and the scaling up
of collaborative dynamics, the three elements whose combination has proven indispensable in
the ght against COVID-19 (Klingler-Vidra et al., 2021; Park et al., 2021). In this instance, local
governments need to adapt swiftly to digital solutions, particularly to step up their efforts and
develop new ways to communicate with their citizens in supporting the ecosystem for urban
innovation, for example by facilitating citizen participation through online platforms.41
Considerations for Governments:
Frame an enabling institutional, policy, and regulatory environment
that promotes the development of an open innovation culture in urban spaces
and facilitates cross-sector and multi-stakeholder collaboration.
Expand incubation services to facilitate the transformation of business-sector research
in science, technology, and innovation that actively contribute to solving urban
development challenges (e.g. housing, job creation, waste management, etc.)
Considerations for the international community:
Assist countries, especially in developing regions, in structuring long-term collaborative
efforts that extend beyond single projects and look at multi-year developments.
Enhance capacity-building support to increase the availability of resources
for scaling up research development capacity in response to emergency condition.
41 Contribution from the Government of Belgium.
Science, technology and innovation for sustainable urban development in a post-pandemic world
Protect against the unperceived complexity of urban digital transformations
In building capacity for local urban innovation, actions should also be taken to raise the awareness
of the challenges that the unperceived complexity of technology-related development can generate
in urban sustainability actions. For example, in leveraging smart cities technologies to improve
urban service delivery, a wrongful conceptualization of smart city development processes has led
to faulty implementation in both developed countries (Martin et al., 2019) and emerging economies
(Fromhold-Eisebith and Eisebith, 2019).
As a result, urban digital transformations can be erroneously conceived of as ready-to-implement
technological upgrades, rather than an ongoing socio-technical change process that is rmly
anchored to spatial and temporal dimensions and existing socio-technical arrangements. In this
context, preliminary work through feasibility studies to analyse citizen security, mobility ows, risk
management, and allocating economic resources would be important before developing the smart
city processes.42 To enhance urban sustainability, technological solutions are more effective when
they are conceived taking into account local conditions and supported with complementary changes
in existing institutional settings and a people-centred focus. Otherwise, negative externalities and
inefcacies may appear.
Considerations for Governments:
Provide local actors with the knowledge resources necessary
to familiarize them with sustainable urban digital transformations
and help them develop policy and governance capacity.
Raise awareness among municipal governments and other local stakeholders on the
unperceived complexity of technology-related urban development strategies (e.g. smart
city) and the importance of integrating local context conditions with a people-centred
focus in urban sustainability actions.
Consideration for the international community:
Mobilize resources for supporting more research exploring the non-technological change
dimensions of urban digital transformations for urban sustainability.
Develop operational tools that consider the place-based and socio-technical nature
component of technology-related sustainability transitions, to stop the spread of one-size-
ts-all mentalities.
Introduce new and more equitable financing mechanisms
More efcient spending is necessary but insufcient in ensuring that the research and development
efforts for sustainable urban development receive adequate nancial support. The size of the
investments requires countries to establish new international mechanisms to support the nancing
of STI solutions for urban sustainability challenges. These mechanisms are required to overcome
existing inequalities in funding provision and ensure the activation of collaborative ventures with
heterogenous actors. Without cross-sector collaborative efforts, nancing urban development
initiatives involving STI solutions has proven complex, especially when they are technology-related.
In addition, to optimize revenue mobilization, countries should strengthen their institutional settings
to ensure that public investment management in cities and communities is supported by policy
coherence across multiple levels of governance.
42 For example, the feasibility study of a smart city in Piura, Peru.
Science, technology and innovation for sustainable urban development in a post-pandemic world
Considerations for Governments:
Facilitate cross-sector collaborative ventures with heterogenous
actors to increase the nancial capacity of cities and urban communities to support
the research and development actions required to embrace STI solutions.
Optimize revenue mobilization by prioritizing STI measures that can ensure value for
money and more efcient spending.
Strengthen institutional settings to ensure that public investment management in cities and
communities is supported by policy coherence across multiple levels of governance.
Considerations for the international community:
Enhance international support by mobilizing additional nancial resources for developing
countries from multiple sources.
Ensure that research and development efforts for sustainable urban development receive
adequate nancial support in all regions, especially those with the highest need.
Rethink urban areas as data infrastructures
The COVID-19 pandemic has put signicant attention on the value of data and the important role this
resource plays in fostering urban sustainability. Lessons from the pandemic have led to important
considerations for future STI policy and practice. First, the pandemic has exposed a critical gap
in urban disaggregated data, whose elaboration is crucial to obtain localized knowledge on the
functioning of urban socio-technical systems and prepare appropriate STI solutions. Second, the
pandemic has further demonstrated that data fuel STI and, if correctly deployed, data can help
increase urban resilience.
In this regard, the rapid and widespread diffusion of smart city technologies and other digital
solutions has augmented this potential, by facilitating the continuous creation of massive amounts
of new data at unprecedented speed. This data can be used to create fertile environments for STI
activities oriented towards delivering sustainable value for cities and urban communities.
Considerations for Governments:
Transform existing data governance structures to ensure a more systemic,
human-centric, cross-collaborative and privacy-preserving approach to
the management and development of urban data infrastructures.
Ensure that data governance structures are supported by cross-sector and
multi-stakeholder collaborative ecosystems.
Considerations for the international community:
Mobilize the resources required to increase the international availability of urban
disaggregated data to obtain localized knowledge on the functioning of urban
socio-technical systems and prepare appropriate STI solutions.
Provide countries with guidance on how to best develop effective local and national
regulatory frameworks.
Science, technology and innovation for sustainable urban development in a post-pandemic world
Integrate policy settings for sustainable urban development
The complexity of urban sustainability challenges requires multi-sector and multi-level investments
and efforts, which build the foundations of the integrated approach to urban sustainability
enhancement that the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the New Urban Agenda
champion. STI measures have proved effective in supporting integrated sustainable urban
development; many solutions can address multiple sustainable urban development goals
simultaneously, and they impact on multiple policy sectors. However, to maximize synergies
and minimize trade-offs, coordination is needed among policy settings. When sustainable urban
development policy is fragmented among policy areas, their functional logics and actors lack the
coordination that is required to acquire a comprehensive understanding of urban sustainability
issues – for example, technological upgrades that lack interoperability.
Considerations for Governments:
Help local development actors to embrace the integrated
approach to urban sustainability enhancement that the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable
Development and the New Urban Agenda champion.
Adjust institutional frameworks to integrate urban sustainability policy settings, horizontally
and vertically, and ensure the coordination needed to maximize synergies among STI
actions and minimize fragmentation and trade-offs.
Considerations for the international community:
Ensure a cross-sectoral harmonization of urban sustainability policies across governmental
levels, from local to global.
Boost scale-up and spreading of operations
The COVID-19 pandemic has demonstrated that organizations need to accelerate the digitalization
of urban socio-technical systems, especially where the delivery of basic services require more
resilient operational modes. Cities and urban communities have been experimenting with a growing
number of STI measures for increasing this resiliency, to the extent that many urban areas have
become living laboratories for the testing and experimentation of urban innovations.
Despite the progress, in many cases, government leaders and other stakeholders struggle to
move beyond local pilot phases and ensure that the benets of a solution – together with the
lessons learned during the testing – can be scaled to reach a wider audience. STI studies can
help overcome this critical challenge. More research efforts and resources should be allocated to
determine the barriers that are inhibiting scale-up, to develop viable strategies that can ensure the
mobility of solutions and, when needed, to achieve the necessary economies of scale and return
of investments.
Science, technology and innovation for sustainable urban development in a post-pandemic world
Considerations for Governments:
Assess the socio-technical factors that hinder or accelerate local scale-up and spreading
Develop evidence-based strategies that can help ensure the mobility of STI solutions
within national boundaries.
Encourage local actors to join national and international networks of cooperation in
which they can develop deeper insight into how to manage scale-up and spreading of
Considerations for the international community:
Compile and disseminate good practice on the framing of business models that support
the scaling up and replicability of STI measures with potential for urban sustainability
Introduce measures that can help ensure the mobility of STI solutions across regions.
Building capacity around digital mindsets, skills and technology acceptance
During the COVID-19 pandemic, many have been left behind because existing inequalities have
been entrenched and amplied. Among these inequalities are digital divides – especially skills and
digital literacy – which have prevented many individuals from accessing the digital services that
have replaced ordinary delivery methods. Digital divides also hinder the engagement of citizens
who are not connected (e.g. older generations, deprived communities, etc.), as these people are
not sure of what the benets are for them in engaging with these technologies.43
Closing these digital skills and knowledge gaps should be a central theme in all efforts to foster
truly inclusive sustainable urban development. Measures to increase digital literacy and human
skills development are equally important as those to boost access to infrastructure or the Internet.
Considerations for Governments:
Build consensus and strengthen collaboration in the eld
of digital education strategies, including by developing national strategic plans.
Increase innovation and investment in digital technology for learning and teaching.
Introduce the training measures required to provide all children, young adults and adults
with a sufcient level of digital literacy and vital digital skills.
Enhance the digital skills of educators by providing them with the knowledge required to
effectively introduce digital technologies in learning environments.
Increase access to digital devices and infrastructure for all teaching staff and learners,
while ensuring that the use of this technology is embedded in their teaching and learning
Consideration for the international community:
Strengthen scientic cooperation in the eld of digitally enhanced teaching and learning, to
provide government leaders and local authorities with more guidance.
Encourage the reframing of national education systems to ensure that digital literacy and
digital technologies become a central component of existing and future school curricula,
at all levels, from pre-primary schools to universities.
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Science, technology
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As the COVID-19 pandemic came unexpectedly, many real estate experts claimed that the property values would fall like the 2007 crash. However, this study raises the question of what attributes of an apartment are most likely to influence a price revision during the pandemic. The findings in prior studies have lacked consensus, especially regarding the time-on-the-market variable, which exhibits an omnidirectional effect. However, with the rise of Big Data, this study used a web-scraping algorithm and collected a total of 18,992 property listings in the city of Vilnius during the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic. Afterwards, 15 different machine learning models were applied to forecast apartment revisions, and the SHAP values for interpretability were used. The findings in this study coincide with the previous literature results, affirming that real estate is quite resilient to pandemics, as the price drops were not as dramatic as first believed. Out of the 15 different models tested, extreme gradient boosting was the most accurate, although the difference was negligible. The retrieved SHAP values conclude that the time-on-the-market variable was by far the most dominant and consistent variable for price revision forecasting. Additionally, the time-on-the-market variable exhibited an inverse U-shaped behaviour.
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Urbanization and climate change are together exacerbating water scarcity—where water demand exceeds availability—for the world’s cities. We quantify global urban water scarcity in 2016 and 2050 under four socioeconomic and climate change scenarios, and explored potential solutions. Here we show the global urban population facing water scarcity is projected to increase from 933 million (one third of global urban population) in 2016 to 1.693–2.373 billion people (one third to nearly half of global urban population) in 2050, with India projected to be most severely affected in terms of growth in water-scarce urban population (increase of 153–422 million people). The number of large cities exposed to water scarcity is projected to increase from 193 to 193–284, including 10–20 megacities. More than two thirds of water-scarce cities can relieve water scarcity by infrastructure investment, but the potentially significant environmental trade-offs associated with large-scale water scarcity solutions must be guarded against.
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The lack of accessible crime data, especially geolocations, in developing countries often acts as a barrier to identifying environmental or situational factors in high crime areas that might contribute to the facilitation of those crimes. This paper presents a methodology for conducting fieldwork for creating heat maps to identify areas prone to violence against women (VAW) in Corregidora, Mexico. Heat maps were produced based on household survey data. The results were used to select specific high concentration locations to conduct structured observations and inductive visual analysis at street level in order to identify if and what situational factors might influence the perpetration of VAW in those locations. Four broad features were identified in the urban built environment during the site visits linked to the facilitation of opportunities for the commission of VAW: (1) lacking infrastructure, (2) presence of physical obstacles , (3) poor visibility and (4) restricted pedestrian mobility. The paper demonstrates the utility of this method for aiding situational crime prevention strategies in areas where official spatial crime data is unavailable or lacking. This study presents a relatively low cost (although labour intensive) and independent method of aiding crime prevention strategies, which will hopefully be of practical value for organisations in areas with poor crime recording practices and limited access to expensive mapping technologies.
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In order to implement Mobility as a Service (MaaS), two main conditions are required: a consolidated public transport system and a varied shared mobility offer. Our study explores the latter condition in the case of Madrid. Through the Multi-Level Perspective framework, emerging shared mobility operators and their service characteristics are diagnosed, in order to explore how this is influencing MaaS developments at the niche level. Our findings show that Madrid has more than 30 services available and an approximate total fleet of almost 30 thousand vehicles, managed by 29 different operators. This dynamic ecosystem of mobility options is facilitating MaaS, as users begin to find it difficult when navigating through all the different applications raising users’ and authorities’ interest on the subject. However, although there are at least three ongoing MaaS initiatives in the city, there is no collaboration between them. The current state of cooperation supports what other authors have established as one of the main challenges to MaaS’ feasibility: poor governance frameworks for MaaS.
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*** Open access article: *** Cities are complex systems connected to economic, ecological, and demographic conditions and change. They are also characterized by diverging perceptions and interests of citizens and stakeholders. Thus, in the arena of urban planning, we are in need of approaches that are able to cope not only with urban complexity but also allow for participatory and collaborative processes to empower citizens. This to create democratic cities. Connected to the field of smart cities and citizens, we present in this paper, the prototype of an urban digital twin for the 30,000-people town of Herrenberg in Germany. Urban digital twins are sophisticated data models allowing for collaborative processes. The herein presented prototype comprises (1) a 3D model of the built environment, (2) a street network model using the theory and method of space syntax, (3) an urban mobility simulation, (4) a wind flow simulation, and (5) a number of empirical quantitative and qualitative data using volunteered geographic information (VGI). In addition, the urban digital twin was implemented in a visualization platform for virtual reality and was presented to the general public during diverse public participatory processes, as well as in the framework of the “Morgenstadt Werkstatt” (Tomorrow’s Cities Workshop). The results of a survey indicated that this method and technology could significantly aid in participatory and collaborative processes. Further understanding of how urban digital twins support urban planners, urban designers, and the general public as a collaboration and communication tool and for decision support allows us to be more intentional when creating smart cities and sustainable cities with the help of digital twins. We conclude the paper with a discussion of the presented results and further research directions.
This is global cooperation among many scientists, partners, networks in UN Habitat flag publication in 2020. Abstract below: The world we live in has been transformed in a manner not witnessed in recent times. The coronavirus pandemic has triggered what arguably is the worst public health crisis in a century and the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression. In a rapidly urbanizing and globalized world, cities have been the epicentres of COVID-19. The virus has spread to virtually all parts of the world; first, among globally connected cities, and now, through community transmission and from the city to the countryside. The World Cities Report 2020 shows that the intrinsic value of sustainable urbanization can and should be harnessed for the wellbeing of all. The Report provides evidence and policy analysis of the value of urbanization from an economic, social and environmental perspective, including the unquantifiable value that gives cities their unique character; and also explores the role of innovation and technology, local governments, targeted investments and the effective implementation of the New Urban Agenda in fostering the value of sustainable urbanization. The World Cities Report 2020 convincingly affirms that well-planned, managed, and financed cities and towns create value that can be harnessed to build resilient cities that can bounce back from the devastating impacts of pandemics, improve the quality of life of all residents, and can be leveraged in the fight against poverty, inequality, unemployment, climate change and other pressing global challenges. As the world enters the Decade of Action to deliver the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030, the policy recommendations in this Report will be beneficial to governments at all levels, enabling them deliver programmes and strategies that enhance the value of sustainable urbanization, and in the process, contribute to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals through the effective implementation of the New Urban Agenda.
In this study, we model the risk of robbery in the City of Tshwane in South Africa. We use the collective knowledge of two prominent spatial theories of crime (social disorganization theory, and crime pattern theory) to guide the selection of data and employ rudimentary geospatial techniques to create a crude model that identifies the risk of future robbery incidents in the city. The model is validated using actual robbery incidences recorded for the city. Overall the model performs reasonably well with approximately 70% of future robbery incidences accurately identified within a small subset of the overall model. Developing countries such as South Africa are in dire need of crime risk intensity models that are simple, and not data intensive to allocate scarce crime prevention resources in a more optimal fashion. It is anticipated that this model is a first step in this regard.
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