Abu Dhabi and Dubai led the Middle East region for the second consecutive year in a global ranking of smart cities – outpacing advanced urban hubs like Tokyo and Beijing – in the use of technology to improve the quality of life for residents.
Abu Dhabi jumped 14 spots to rank 42nd among 109 cities in the 2020 Smart City Index by The Institute for Management Development (IMD), just ahead of Dubai, which climbed two positions to 43, according to the Swiss academic institute. Riyadh rose 18 places to 53.
"We cannot ignore the impact of Covid,” IMD Professor Arturo Bris said. “Those with better technology manage the pandemic better. Smart cities are not the solution, but technology helps."
The Smart City Index ranks cities based on economic and technological data, as well as by their citizens’ perceptions of how “smart” their cities are. The IMD released the 2020 Smart City Index collaboration with Singapore University for Technology and Design (SUTD). This is the second edition of the IMD-SUTD Smart City Index Report.
Respondents from 109 countries were surveyed in April and May this year on the technological provisions of their city across five key areas: health and safety, mobility, activities, opportunities and governance.
The findings reflect how technology is playing a role in the Covid-19 era in a way that is likely to remain after the pandemic, IMD said.
In terms of the use of tech in health and safety, 83.8 per cent of residents in the UAE capital said booking medical appointments online has improved access to healthcare, while 86.2 per cent said CCTV cameras made them feel safer. In terms of mobility, 64.5 per cent said car-sharing apps have reduced traffic in the city.
For work opportunities, 77.5 per cent said online services provided by the city made it easier to start a new business, while 77.4 per cent agreed that online job postings made it easier to find work.
The Abu Dhabi government has rolled out measures to help companies and individuals deal with the impact of the pandemic through financial relief packages, the reduction of various government fees, granting easier access to financing and promoting start-ups.
In terms of governance, 67.7 per cent said "online public access to city finances has reduced corruption", according to the survey.
Residents in the UAE capital said the top priorities they see as the most urgent for their city are affordable housing, fulfilling employment, unemployment and health services.
Abu Dhabi is focused on using advanced technology to develop its non-oil sector in line with a strategy to diversify its economy, reduce reliance on hydrocarbons, attract foreign investment, draw high-skilled employees and create jobs.
A majority of respondents said they are comfortable with the use of face recognition technology to reduce crime and that most of their daily payments are non-cash transactions.
Singapore, Helsinki, Zurich, Auckland and Oslo emerged as the top five in the 2020 Smart City Index, in a year when many European cities fell in the rankings.
Rabat, Cairo, Abuja, Nairobi and Lagos rounded up the lowest five rankings in this year's index.
In 2020, the rankings show that cities had varied approaches to technology as managing the pandemic became a priority for governments.
The coronavirus crisis is likely to widen inequalities between "the haves and the have-nots of connectivity" within cities, which will draw the attention of their governments, the report said.
While smart cities help citizens more, the cities have widely different infrastructure. This means that in developed cities, technology "plays a marginal role as there is little to improve", the report said. By contrast, in underdeveloped cities technology makes a bigger difference.
"Therefore, the biggest changes in the ranking from year to year happen in the least developed economies as it doesn’t take much for citizens to perceive great improvement," it said. "African cities at the bottom of the ranking ... would do well to prioritise its implementation."