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Ana Quiñonez

Innovation and management - The great challenge of cities in the context of COVID 19

- Cities that had not incorporated the innovation were forced to do so.

Innovation and management - The great challenge of cities in the context of COVID 19

Smart cities have become the preferred concept of the 21st century to describe the fusion between technology and municipal management. In a world where digitization and new technologies are increasingly important, those municipalities capable of incorporating these new trends to improve the lives of their citizens have earned the label of smart cities.

Local governments are on the front line in the fight against COVID 19 (ONU) since they have population density and shared public spaces that favor the spread of the virus. Currently more than half of the world's population lives in cities and by 2050 it is expected that seven out of ten people will live in municipalities ([Word Bank]( :~:text=Today%2C%20some%2055%25%20of%20the,world%20will%20live%20in%20cities.)).

Densely populated urban centers represent an ideal environment for the spread of epidemics. The city of Wuhan is a clear example, since it was the first center of transmission of COVID 19, and it is a megacity of 11 million inhabitants. Then Milan, Madrid and New York, also highly populated and connected cities, faced quarantine and social distancing as a consequence of the exponential increase in cases.

The growth of urban sprawl brings consequences that put municipal management to the test: overpopulation, pollution, poor access to housing, poverty, social inequalities, low development rates, poor planning, increased insecurity. COVID has added to these problems, challenging the sustainable development of cities and compliance with SDG 11: "Sustainable cities and communities" which recognizes the leading role of local governments to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals.

Although the outlook does not seem optimistic, cities represent centers of technological innovation, academic advances, and are home to business centers, generating a promising context for development. The synergy between actors allows for the exchange of data from different technological sources, such as sensors, applications, smart cameras, geolocation, etc.

Singapore knew how to be resilient after the SARS epidemic that occurred in 2003 and thus have tools to generate citizen data on infections and contact with carriers of the virus. The Contact Tracing application is a clear example, since it allows the user to access information about the people around them by sharing the data with the Ministry of Health.

Cities that had not incorporated the innovation were forced to do so. We can say that the pandemic accelerated the digitization process of local governments. A clear example is the municipality of São Paulo, which launched the Meu Corujão application that allows scheduling medical appointments and viewing the results of exams provided by the Unified Health System (SUS), which reduces transmissions.

Brazil, with its growing number of cases, is an example of the lack of coordination between the different levels of government. Given this scenario, cities have a certain capacity to take initiatives to improve the lives of citizens. Just like São Paulo, Curitiba acted intelligently, being the first capital of Brazil, to offer video consultation to COVID patients in order to reduce contact.

Local governments have the ability to lead joint work between different stakeholders and thus coordinate synergies to generate innovative solutions. The local context is conducive to the gestation of the GovTech ecosystem where various actors (startups, international organizations, academic institutions, citizens, NGO's, etc.) work together for the transformation and digitization of government services, contributing to the paradigm of smart cities. .

It is crucial to highlight the importance of alliances as well as the participation of citizens in innovation processes. Cities driven by a hunger for technology or to gain the adjective of Smart can err by promoting policies with high technological components but perpetuating inequalities and exclusion. Singapore, previously mentioned as the Smart City par excellence, is an example of a management where innovation is guided by a top-down approach that is exclusive for certain social sectors such as immigrants.

The pandemic forced cities to implement innovative measures and ally with new players to exceed the demands of this new reality. The context served as an accelerator for the incorporation of technological solutions to provide services to the citizen, but also highlighted the importance of human capital as a component of a smart and humane city where citizens are listened to and participate in the formulation of public policies. This context generated fertile ground for a new generation of cities at the service of the citizen where governance and human capital are allies of technology for the development of smart cities.

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Quiñonez, Ana. “Innovación y gestión - El gran desafío de la ciudades en contexto de COVID 19.” CEMERI, 17 ago. 2023,