Smart Societies

Creative urban spaces are vital for growth, innovation, and inclusion. Culture and creativity contribute to the welfare and well-being of any country. Sustainability, gender equality, entrepreneurship, innovation and social cohesion are vital components in how we build our societies. With cities everywhere struggling to cope with the population growth that increased urbanization brings, the Embassy of Sweden in Washington DC has chosen the theme of this year’s Public Diplomacy Program to be Smart Societies. This will involve a year of creative dialogue on how we can design future inclusive and smart cities by hosting discussions, seminars, workshops, exhibitions, and cultural events with the next generations’ smart society in focus at the House of Sweden with both Swedish and American partners.

The Grand Opening Event of Embassy of Sweden’s 2019 Public Diplomacy Program was held at House of Sweden last Tuesday, with an astonishing 300 attending guests. Key remarks were given by David T. Downey, President and CEO of International Downtown Association whose mission is to “connect diverse practitioners who transform cities into healthy and urban places”. A new exhibition on the theme is now also being displayed at House of Sweden called Urban Challenges. The exhibition presents some of the social, economic and technological solutions proposed by Sweden to absorb the impact of our rapidly growing urban environment while leaving the environmental legacy next generations deserve.

David T. Downey giving key remarks at the Grand Opening Event. Photo: Office of Science and Innovation USA.

But what does a city have to do to successfully prepare for urbanization? The Office of Science and Innovation had the opportunity to meet with Steven Bosacker, Director for Urban and Regional Policy at the German Marshall Fund of the United States, who presented an integrated, collaborate framework for building the community of the future developed by the organization Living Cities. According to this framework, a local government must build capacity and competence in seven essential elements that define a high-performing city:

  • Dynamically planned – A clear long-term vision for the city, broad strategic goals, and an overall plan exist, and transparent systems for facilitating material progress toward that vision and plan are in place.
  • Broadly Partnered – Government collaborates internally and externally and freely with partners to achieve better results for residents.
  • Resident involved – Local government effectively engages a broad spectrum of the community, especially harder-to-engage and underrepresented populations (youth, low-income residents, people of color, and new immigrants) in making policy improving service delivery, and solving complex problems.
  • Race informed – City is addressing racial disparities through policy and practice, and effectively adapts to changing demographics.
  • Smartly resourced – local government strategically deploys its resources toward the best, biggest outcomes.
  • Employee engaged – all city employees, from elected and appointed officials to frontline staff, are highly engaged and contribute to the city’s continuous improvement goals.
  • Data-driven – Data and modern technologies are appropriately used for better performance, innovation, and engagement.

Earlier this year, the 2019 Architecture & Design Film Festival in Washington DC had a screening of Gaming the Real World, a documentary by Swedish director Anders Eklund explaining how video games can be used to design the cities of tomorrow. In his documentary we get to see how Minecraft, a sandbox video game created by Swedish game developer Markus Persson, is being used by the UN in the Block by Block initiative to get community members more involved in public space planning. This is just one of many great examples of how modern technologies can be used to develop the next generation’s smart society.

Minecraft used in the Block by Block initiative. Photo:

To learn more about the latest on smart sustainable cities, the Office of Science and Innovation will attend Smart Cities Connect in Denver on April 3 and host a seminar on Smart City Planning for Citizens at House of Sweden on May 10, which will be covered in a later blogpost!

Author: Hanna Isacsson, intern at the Office of Science and Innovation in Washington DC