Barcelona, 3 December 2021 – UN-Habitat launched a series of strategic guideline options on how governments and local officials can develop smart cities that are more inclusive, sustainable and focused on the residents’ needs.

The playbooks are a key component of UN-Habitat’s People-Centred Smart Cities flagship programme that aims to empower local governments to achieve sustainability, inclusivity, prosperity, and human rights for the benefit of all. They were released at the Smart City World Expo 2021 in November.

“The backdrop of today’s smart cities is complex for many national, regional, and local governments,” said Emily Royall of UN-Habitat.

“There are cities that have a significant proportion of the population living in informal settlements, for example, and all of those need to be addressed and we address strategies for that and highlight best practices from cities around the world which have attempted to address those issues in their own communities.”

A number of challenges have arisen from the expansion of digital society and the pursuit of smart cities such as persistent digital divide – the gap between those who have access to and use ICTs (information and communication technologies) including Internet connectivity, Internet-enabled devices and digital literacy skills and those who do not.

The digital divide consistently reflects and amplifies existing social, economic, and cultural inequalities such as gender, age, race, income, and ability. Known groups to be disproportionately affected by the digital divide are: women and girls, children and youth, the elderly, urban and rural poor, marginalised or minority communities, persons with disabilities and indigenous communities.

However, the digital divide is not just about increasing connectivity, but rather about creating opportunities for residents to enhance their knowledge, improve their economic mobility and ultimately become more proactive, engaged, and aware.

The playbooks contextualise the digital divide within the broader frameworks of the UN’s resolutions – such as the UN Human Rights Council’s non-binding resolution on Internet access - the Sustainable Development Goals and the New Urban Agenda. They provide assistance to governments and organisations to build an understanding of the digital divide, who is affected and how to build comprehensive assessments while learning to put people at the centre of smart cities and digital transformation.

“The playbooks will be a very useful guideline and point to many challenges that we haven’t seen and might encountered in the future,” said Dr Orachat Leingpeboon , Division Manager of Smart City Promotion Department at Digital Economy Promotion Agency (DEPA) in Thailand. The group aims to promote digital technology adoption for the benefit of national economy, society, culture and security.

The new series of playbooks can be found at: