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Asia Pacific cities are finding innovative solutions to sustainability and inclusion challenges

A new report by MIT Technology Review Insights explores how Asia Pacific cities are beginning to break ground in exploring innovative responses to sustainability and inclusion challenges across the region.

The report, "21st century cities: Asia Pacific's urban transformation," is produced in association with Accenture and draws on in-depth interviews with subject matter experts from organizations and universities including the Future Cities Laboratory, University of Tokyo, and Melbourne School of Design.

The findings are as follows:

  • Leading Asia Pacific cities are pioneering sustainable innovation, offering ideas to their peers in the region —and globally. Singapore successfully transformed itself through persistent innovation into a global metropolis with among the best livability metrics of any city. Other cities are pioneering new approaches to city planning to leverage nature-based resilience, such as China's "sponge cities" and the urban forests of Melbourne. Innovators are using cloud computing, artificial intelligence, and big data to enable circular economy supply chains, optimize traffic, and track extreme weather disasters to ensure swift and effective response.

  • Inclusive tech can make cities better for everyone. Geospatial innovation is helping citizens who live in areas of unplanned development or without a formal address to access employment opportunities, facilities, and emergency services. Consumer apps are adapting their offerings to support vulnerable groups, including live location sharing, female-specific ride sharing, and crowdsourcing data for safety assessments on potentially risky areas. And connected devices are offering information and support to elderly communities.

  • Despite positive initiatives and projects, there are gaps between the ideal of more sustainable, inclusive cities and reality on the ground. The first wave of "smart city" thinking tended to be overly technology-centric, experts say, without clearly defining the problems or identifying what are the different needs across city populations. More constructive approaches need to start with a deeper understanding of the experiences and desires of the varied urban communities and to focus on the key challenges. Once these have been established, then appropriate solutions can be deployed, with the right technology.

"As home to some of the most climate-vulnerable countries in the world, Asia Pacific cities no doubt face unprecedented challenges in the decades ahead," says Francesca Fanshawe, editor of the report. "But work is being done across the region to find solutions that support urban citizens in developing a more sustainable and inclusive future."

"We have seen cities across Asia Pacific respond to the pandemic through cross-sector collaboration and innovative technologies, and most of these changes will remain beyond the pandemic and provide the basis for acceleration and competition between city hubs. Now is a critical time to rethink the future and recalibrate post-pandemic priorities to realize future cities where every citizen has access to essential services, such as security, mobility, healthcare, education, and commerce in new and convenient ways. This will require co-creation and collaboration between public and private sectors, bold implementation plans to deliver citizen-centric services that are experience-led, and civic innovation boosted by modern technology. Accenture looks forward to be part of this movement to accelerate the future of cities across Asia Pacific," says Fabio Vacirca, senior managing director, Market Unit Group Lead for ASIAM (Australia and New Zealand, Africa, India, Southeast Asia and the Middle East), Accenture.

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