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Smart City Expo: Reaching Sustainable Development Goals Through Technology

Smart City Expo panel speakers sitting on chairs for discussion

In 2015, the United Nations established a series of global objectives intended to eradicate poverty, protect the planet, and ensure prosperity. These Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) were intended to be reached by 2030. At the 2019 Smart City Expo, Citibeats CPO Harry Wilson moderated a session in which ONU-Habitat, Colab, and the Municipality of Teresina, Brazil, showed the SDG monitoring projects they developed using innovative tools and data virtualization.

At the session, Laura Kirchner, Consulting Project Manager of Citibeats, cited how the artificial intelligence platform became the voice of the citizens of 22 capital cities in Ibero-America (Latin America, Spain, Portugal, and Andorra).

In the first stage of the study, over one million tweets were collected between March and August of 2019. Artificial intelligence used the text data to identify the problems of residents and categorize them by SDG function to create a semantic map. For example, the general concepts the platform defines for the gender equality SDG are “chauvinist, feminist, and sexist” at the first level.

For Argentina, the keywords at the center of the semantic map related to “feminicide,” “#wewantusalive,” “notoneless,” “legal abortion,” and “domestic violence.” In Madrid, the platform showed “La Manada,” “justice,” “Serrano,” “womensstrike,” “pay gap,” and “equal salaries.” This means that although the same basic problem is shared between countries, specific priorities vary.

“While in Lima, people are worried about environmental pollution or traffic, in Barcelona, they are requesting more bicycle lanes and more sustainable mobility,” said Kirchner. “They are different issues of the various places, but they all belong to ODS 11: Sustainable Cities and Communities."

Kirchner also noted that it is important to remember that the voices of the citizens are the best sensors of social problems. If governments, cities, and the United Nations are aware of citizens’ problems in real time, they can react and respond quickly to SDG-related challenges.

Another case presented was the “Query of Sustainable Cities and Communities” in Brazil, Bolivia, and Peru by ONU-Habitat and the startup, Colab. Gustavo Maia, the CEO of Colab, shared details about how the citizen-to-government participation platform acts as a social network that focuses on the notification of problems, suggestions for urban improvement, evaluations of public services, and participation in the decision-making process.

This new channel of civic participation was implemented in more than 800 cities varying from 300,000 people to more than 12 million people. The results presented were acquired between October 2018 and January 2019. Beatriz Gonzalez, a ONU-Habitat representative, expressed that language was a challenge when trying to draw comparisons between Peru, Bolivia, and Brazil. She also pointed out the differences between local and national studies.

Gabriela Uchoa, Special Coordinator of the 2030 Agenda for Teresina, Brazil, explained how the municipality took 264 actions to reach the objectives set by the SDGs. Out of that total, 126 actions were in progress (47.5%), 90 actions were complete (32.2%), and 48 were about to begin (18.3%). For Uchoa, it was challenging to present innovative strategies based on technological tools to the government.