Launched in 2020, UN-Habitat’s flagship programme “People-Centered Smart Cities” acknowledges the transformative potential that digital technologies can have for sustainable urban development. Through the People-Centered Smart Cities flagship programme, UN-Habitat provides strategic and technical support on digital transformation to national, regional and local governments.

Digital transformation is now critical to meet the demands of sustainable urban development. In the past decade, internet connectivity has become a requisite for full participation in society, including access to education, affordable housing, and critical government services -- yet 3.7 billion people were offline in 2019.

In recent years, digital innovations like civic technology, geographic information systems, the sharing economy, open data, and digital platforms have changed how people understand, manage and participate in cities. The COVID-19 pandemic introduced even greater urgency for local and national governments alike to bridge the digital divide especially for marginalised groups and informal settlement communities, build more efficient and secure data management systems, and protect citizens’ privacy when using digital services. These activities are the foundation for inclusive and resilient smart cities.

Our work

The flagship programme “People-centered smart cities” ensures that deployment of technology and innovation is used to ensure sustainability, inclusivity, prosperity and human rights in cities. It supports national and local governments with their digital transition, applying a multi-level governance strategy to help build skills and capabilities to develop, procure and effectively use digital technologies in an ethical and inclusive way to make sure that no one is left behind. Our programme includes the first United Nations Innovation technology Accelerator for Cities in Hamburg (UNITAC-Hamburg), a digital rights governance framework for local and regional governments, the challenge-driven methodology and a broad range of initiatives in digital transformation and governance centred on people. 

The United Nations Innovation Technology Accelerator for Cities in Hamburg (UNITAC Hamburg), Germany, was established to address the potential of digital technologies, data and innovation to contribute to sustainable urban development.

The Accelerator will use innovation, prototyping and applied research methodologies to develop innovative solutions that accelerate the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals related to cities and urbanization as requested by the UN System-wide Strategy on Sustainable Urbanization.

This new series of playbooks is a key normative component of UN-Habitat’s People Centered Smart Cities flagship programme that aims to empower local governments to take a multi-stakeholder approach to digital transformation that realises sustainability, inclusivity, prosperity and human rights for the benefit of all.

Digital technologies influence change at a fast pace in society and might have unforeseen or unexpected impact on individuals and communities, there is a need for enhanced models of governance to manage opportunities and risks driven by technology to ensure human rights are protected and promoted in digital contexts.

"Smart cities are about people not computers. The mission is not to invest in technology for its own sake, but to do so strategically, to make life measurably better for the people who live in our cities."
H.E Paul Kagame - President of the Republic of Rwanda

Many smart city and innovation projects where technology is applied uncritically, without considering the real needs of cities, the people that live in them or the broader aims of sustainability. With challenge-driven innovation, UN-Habitat helps to build capacity, identify solutions, mobilize investment, and crucially, scale transformative innovations that accelerate the Sustainable Development Goals at the local level.

The People-Centered Smart Cities programme supports national and local governments with their digital transition, applying a multi-level governance strategy to help build skills and capabilities to develop, procure and effectively use digital technologies in an ethical and inclusive way to make sure that no one is left behind.

Events

World Urban Forum 11

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Location: Katowice, Poland
Transforming our Cities for a Better Urban Future

Highlighted publications

Brochure
People-Centered Smart Cities
Technical Report
Sihanoukville for all: Promoting a Sustainable, Inclusive Smart City
Tools and Guidelines
Mixed reality for public participation in urban and public space design - Towards a new way of crowdsourcing more inclusive smart cities
Brochure
UN-Habitat Innovation: Current projects, initiatives and partnerships
Country Report
Future Cities Advisory Outlook 2020: Urban Technologies in China
Tools and Guidelines
Innovation and digital technology to re-imagine Participatory Budgeting as a tool for building social resilience
Publication
Smart city Rwanda Master plan

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