The Covid-19 pandemic has forced cities across the globe to redesign their strategies to make space for more resilience, sustainability and liveability at a time when budgets are shrinking. fDi’s Global Cities of the Future 2021/2022 ranking provides early insight into this strategic adjustment. Four of the judges who reviewed the entries of dozens of cities across the globe share their thoughts with fDi on what will make or break the cities of the future.

Richard Bellingham, director, Institute for Future Cities at University of Strathclyde

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Q: What is your general assessment of the entries you reviewed? 

A: My view is cities need to think more clearly how the cities and the world will change. It is easy to think how we go back to normal, but there is going to be a new normal. We are seeing patterns of transportation are changing dramatically. Fewer people are coming into the centre of cities. In many cities there is a significant decline in retail activity that has consequences for parts of the economy but also creates opportunities. It raises questions on how that space will be used in the future.

The key question is: what will be attracting people and investors in the future to our cities? Also: is our city flexible and resilient?  It’s not only about business systems, nor only about supply chain and infrastructure, but also systems on which people rely day to day - education systems, health, entertainment, governance. Did they continue to work during the pandemic, or were there problems? 

It’s likely we will see businesses, people, investors attracted to those more resilient, secure places, and to places that offer good quality of life. It’s about space, security, socially equitable cities and sustainable cities that are achieving a green agenda, and are committed to it and have systems to deliver it in meaningful ways to the benefit of people’s quality of life. It’s about understanding what people want, having seen the world through the lens of the pandemic. What they need is not just about business systems, they need good quality of life. 

One final point: I believe there are opportunities for many cities to enhance their aftercare performance. If they want to retain businesses, particularly after having been through shocks, they have to show that they care; show they understand the issues they are going through, and liaise with other arms of government to make sure businesses have the support to keep them going. Those actions will attract new investment and new businesses too. 

André Campbell, host, Building Future Cities podcast

Q: What is your general assessment of the entries you reviewed? 

A: What caught my attention was around the focus on green economies, and using pandemic as an opportunity to build back better. A lot of foreign investment projects are focusing on new forms of mobility, agriculture projects, new ways of building and construction, and digitisation of critical infrastructure.

The other thing is the focus on talent. How do you make your city an attractive proposition to new immigrants and people looking to add value and join the city, as well as to existing citizens? A lot of the strategies I reviewed focus on talent attraction. The final thing is the need to think beyond tax breaks. That’s the first thing businesses think about when it comes to shifting headquarters or subsidiaries. But cities are really thinking of the long-term vision, of the holistic package they are bringing to those organisations and their employees, aiding the job creation within the region as well. 

Q: Do you see early evidence of mobility of the future policies being implemented? 

A: What is important as cities move forward is to think of how liveable the city environment really is. There is a big focus on greenhouse gas emissions, which is spurring electric vehicles and microbility solutions within the city. Also, it’s important to understand the use of space. Cities that are clogged up by cars, not only moving, but mostly stationary (reportedly, 70% of the time), are not sustainable. A lot of space within cities can be used in new ways. The pandemic has shown that kerbs can be widened and space can be reimagined. People are rediscovering local neighbourhoods and green spaces. There is an emphasis on this and the industries will be encouraged to support it within the city context. 

Firdaous Oussidhoum, special adviser to the UCLG Secretary General chez United Cities and Local Governments (UCLG)

Q: What is your general assessment of the entries you reviewed? 

A: Looking at how some cities are projecting themselves as cities of the future is enriching, especially when we have seen with Covid-19 how technology and all things digital become even more important than ever. And nearly all the cities I reviewed are focusing on this. It’s an insight into to see how cities can leverage their investment appeal by offering a more digital environment. 

Q: Looking forward, what will make or break the cities of the future? 

A: The pandemic has shown us where we were failing in building our world. A new world is coming out of Covid-19 and cities are already positioning themselves in this new world. Some cities are really defining their stakeholders and working in alignment with their citizens. I believe in a participatory approach between different stakeholders to build a better future, work on an investment and economic strategy, while fighting inequality. Other key elements are resilience and sustainability, and some cities are really betting on them. 

Scott Shepard, vice president, iomob - the internet of mobility 

Q: What is your general assessment of the entries you reviewed? 

A: There are some unique standouts at global level in terms of thinking through their value proposition; in terms of how they can reinforce sustainability from an economic and environmental perspective in the entire value chain related to positioning cities like living organisms. What I mean by that is all facets of society related to mobility, infrastructure, economic development and so on. It was exciting to see some of the standouts positioning themselves for the next ten, 20, 30 years now during Covid-19 and beyond. I can see some real success factors in play right now as a judge. 

Q: Do you see early evidence of mobility of the future policies being implemented? 

A: Yes, and I see it at the physical and the digital layer. There are cities that are being agile in responding to the Covid crisis, in understanding the shifting consumer preference in mobility related to uncertainty and disruption in mobility. These cities are making rapid shifts to new consumer preferences. One shift is related to active mobility transportation: walking, cycling. Another one is related to provisioning and making investment in digital platforms as well as investment in urban infrastructure related to new transport infrastructure (cycling lanes for example) and more ambitious redevelopment projects – the redevelopment of an airport, a port. These are the cities with a keen eye for short-term disruption, but also a long-term vision for enabling consumers and citizens to be able to move around the city in multimodal fashion. These cities that are going to position themselves for success in the next decade and beyond. 

The judging panel also featured: 

Kim Fahem, vice president for Asia-Pacific, Wavteq 

Seth O'Farrell, global markets reporter, fDi Intelligence 

Jacopo Dettoni, editor, fDi Intelligence

For the judges full biography, follow the link