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How Smart Cities Dealt with COVID-19

Introduction

Background of the Problem

The novel coronavirus pandemic has put the world to an ultimate test. These challenges encompassed an array of spheres, as no corner of the planet remained unaffected by the outbreak. In addition, the pandemic had a strong impact on most spheres of human activity. Entertainment facilities, schools, universities, and stores had to be closed, as billions of people remained confined during lockdowns. The normal ways of living became disrupted, and the world’s infrastructure had to readjust. Under such circumstances, the global frameworks of education, economy, trade, and communication could no longer remain the same. Furthermore, while the pandemic has lasted for a considerable period by now, its effects are likely to persist even when the threat is over. As a result, the impact of the outbreak on society has become an area of intense interest for researchers across the globe.

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Statement of the Problem

While the global effect of COVID-19 is observable and undeniable, its exact characteristics may vary depending on the context. In this regard, the concept of a smart city acquires additional importance. In its general understanding, a smart city is an urban territory, which utilizes the modern expertise and technological capacity of humanity in order to become adjusted to the current demands of their communities. In other words, smart cities represent a new step of the urban evolution in the spirit of the time. As such, it can be expected that the exact way in which the pandemic affected these territories may prove to be highly particular. Smart cities are characterized by the extended application of modern technological advancements, which suggest that they may have a better potential in terms of the response to the pandemic. Moreover, implementing these smart ideas requires a certain degree of flexibility and adaptability to current challenges by default. Therefore, the transformational capacity of smart cities becomes an area of further interest in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Research Objectives, Questions, Hypotheses

The proposed project will explore the impact of the novel coronavirus outbreak on the world’s leading smart cities, as per the global index. More specifically, it will distinguish the particular spheres in which this effect was most observable. Next, it is envisaged that the project will analyze the exact technology-based measures that were implemented in response to the new, pandemic-conditioned reality. Considering the scale of the problem, an extensive body of knowledge has been developed in regards to the pandemic across spheres and industries. However, as the situation progresses and the initial, most serious stages of the outbreak are passed, it will be valuable to summarize and analyze the observations.

Hypothesis: Smart cities are better suited to handle the consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Research Question: How have smart cities dealt with COVID-19?

Research Objectives: Determine the exact spheres in which the impact of the pandemic can be observed. Analyze the technological response to the challenges of the COVID-19 era in the context of smart cities.

Significance of the Study

Most of the current studies focused on the pandemic in general, which is logical, as the phenomenon is new and unprecedented in modern history. Nevertheless, the circumstances point toward the necessity of more profound research of the specific areas of COVID-19’s impact. This project will provide insight within the framework of a highly specialized yet important topic of smart cities’ functioning in the 21st century.

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Limitations

Evidently, the study is expected to have certain limitations based on objective factors. First of all, while the pandemic has become better known to humanity, the threat still persists. In other words, the outbreak of COVID-19 continues to affect the world, including smart cities, meaning that the opportunities for the analysis of the pandemic in its entirety are yet to arise. Accordingly, the proposed research is unlikely to provide a definitive review as long as the issue continues to develop. Next, the project is envisaged to concentrate on a selection of several smart cities, and it may be unwise to extrapolate its results on the whole concept of smart cities.

Definition of Terms

  1. Novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19): “an infectious respiratory disease caused by a newly discovered coronavirus” (WHO, 2021, para. 1).
  2. Smart city: an urban concept dictating an active use of information technology and digitalization in urban planning with the purpose of making the city more efficient and convenient (Caragliu & Del Bo, 2018).

Preliminary Review of Related Literature

The proposed research will provide a more in-depth insight into the way smart cities responded to the emergence of COVID-19 in 2020. However, at the current stage, it appears possible to summarize the preliminary data obtained through the review of the literature. From a general perspective, the pandemic became a challenge of unprecedented magnitude for humanity. At the same time, evidence suggests that smart cities proved a higher level of preparedness to address the emerging issues (Costa and Peixoto, 2020). Such a potential is enabled by the increased technological capacity of such agglomerations. Most smart cities managed to exploit modern advancements in the age of COVID-19 in order to prevent the infection from spreading via enhanced monitoring. In addition, many of them relied on technology in order to help residents overcome the adverse implications of the pandemic while drafting the plans for transition back to normal life. In this context, it appears possible to distinguish four key sectors in which the transformational capacity of smart cities became particularly important.

In order to discuss the most relevant facts in the context of the research agenda, the current proposal relies on a selection of academic literature. During the initial stages of the study, a set of key verbal identifiers was determined, as well. The phrases “COVID-19 smart cities”, “pandemic in smart cities,” and related equivalents were used in the search process. Such search phrases returned a sufficient number of relevant research materials, in which the authors discuss the impact of the coronavirus outbreak on lives in cities traditionally viewed as smart. As for the exact selection criteria, it was nearly impossible to categorize the findings based on the time factor. Evidently, COVID-19 is a new phenomenon, and the most relevant studies appeared in 2020.

At the same time, the core of the references was expected to be published in English, thus representing the international body of knowledge. The studies were to be published in respected, peer-reviewed journals. Finally, once the selection procedure was completed and returned ten sources, the findings were examined and synthesized based on specific categories. In order to showcase the global varieties of the response, the research relied on the examples of three smart cities. Considering the location of the study, the city of Dubai became the first choice of a smart city. Next, informed by the 2020 IMD Business School’s Index of Smart Cities, the researcher selected the cities of Singapore and New York, occupying the 1st and the 10th places of the index, respectively (IMD, 2021). The subsections below provide a preliminary review of the literature pertinent to the discussion.

Impact of COVID-19

Interestingly, most of the sources reviewed in the course of the study do limit their scopes in terms of geography. Instead, the authors of the articles prefer to discuss the entity of smart city infrastructure in the broad context of the global pandemic. One of such articles was prepared by Allam and Jones (2020). The study describes the early stages of the pandemic, taking into account the initial response of smart cities. As the outbreak gained momentum on the global scale, more cities began to implement strict lockdown protocols to prevent it from spreading further. Allam and Jones (2020) acknowledge the strong economic and social impact of such measures. At the same time, comparisons are drawn between COVID-19 and previous pandemics, including SARS-CoV and the Ebola. In this context, research suggests that the needs of urban safety and health outweigh the costs paid by the financial and educational sectors. However, smart cities appear to be in a more favorable position. These territories utilize their advanced technological capacities in terms of data sharing in order to facilitate the exchange of relevant health-related information and accelerate the termination of lockdown protocols.

The subsequent studies explore the high-tech instruments of smart cities in the face of the pandemic on a more profound level. For example, Tan Lii Inn of the Penang Institute begins the discussion with the early stages of the pandemic. At that point, an advanced Artificial Intelligence-based algorithm was able to predict the negative development of the unusual pneumonia outbreak in China (Inn, 2020). According to the author of the study, smart cities are able to handle such cases in a more effective manner. They possess an arsenal of valuable instruments, such as thermal cameras, facial recognition software, and Internet of Thing sensors. Interestingly, once the population started wearing masks, the efficacy of facial recognition dropped by more than a half. However, smart cities are able to readjust this equipment to control whether their residence adheres to the safety protocols in public spaces. Thermal sensors also found a new way of practical application, checking people’s temperature, as fever is one of the first signs of coronavirus disease. Ultimately, the general trends suggest that smart cities were able to reorient their technological means and adjust them to the new reality.

In certain articles, the authors emphasize specific spheres of human activity. For instance, Olmos-Gómez et al. (2020) acknowledge the role of COVID-19 in changing the patterns of education in smart cities. According to the authors of the study, the world’s leading cities remain in a state of constant development, which is instigated by external factors. The pandemic placed urban territories under immense stress, prompting them to undergo new transformations. Olmos-Gómez et al. (2020) write that the common understanding of a smart city implies a nexus between human capital development and technology for better economic and social policies. In such environments, the Internet of Things has become the new reality, as most of the population has gained stable access to the Web via various multimedia devices. The pandemic has taught policy-makers to utilize the capacity of smart cities for uninterrupted yet safe education. Olmos-Gómez et al. (2020) conclude that online learning environments enable a strong positive effect when they are utilized correctly, promoting social interaction and collaborative teaching. Therefore, the pandemic prompted smart cities to a more profound engagement with advanced technology in education, promoting digital literacy among students and faculties.

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The next articles review the application of smart city technology in the context of the pandemic. Sonn, Kang, and Choi (2020) rely on the evidence from the Asian region in order to highlight the opportunities present by modern advancements in the age of COVID-19. According to the authors of the study, smart cities demonstrated a better level of preparedness to track and eliminate the threats posed by the new virus. The transportation system is said to be one of the crucial elements of smart city infrastructure. In such territories, policy-makers were able to trace the movements of confirmed COVID-19 patients using the data obtained from their electronic transportation cards. At the same time, mobile service providers provided sufficient resources as well through the dense distribution of transceivers across smart cities. Sonn, Kang, and Choi (2020) note that in the past, the corresponding infrastructure used to be devised in the aftermath of pandemics as a part of lessons learned. Today, smart cities possess a valuable technological arsenal, which means that the required infrastructure is already implemented. However, the key challenge consists of utilizing it correctly in order to ensure the survival of vital spheres.

Dubai

Within the framework of the proposed research, it appears valuable to examine the specific examples of smart cities’ approach to dealing with the challenges of the pandemic. For instance, Dubai is universally recognized as one of the world’s leaders in terms of its high-tech development. Haak-Saheem (2020) writes that this city can be characterized by the extreme diversity of its population, as over 90% of the residents are expatriates. Simultaneously, COVID-19 had a strong impact on international connections, virtually paralyzing global travel. According to the article by Haak-Saheem (2020), the secret to Dubai’s success lies in its ability to attract foreign direct investments while developing its international talent pool. In the age of COVID-19, these objectives became more difficult to attain. In response to the emerging challenges, local policy-makers resorted to smart city opportunities. For example, the year 2020 saw the creation of Dubai’s Virtual Labor Market that helped expatriates remain employed in this difficult time. This initiative is central to the article, and it serves to highlight the ability of Dubai to adjust to new circumstances through the prism of smart city technology.

On the other hand, as serious as the pandemic is, it will not last forever. Accordingly, policy-makers are required to seek effective ways of returning to normal life. Mataruna-Dos-Santos and Hamed (2020) discuss the pivotal role of parks in Dubai’s plans for the post-pandemic transition to the regular lifestyle. Technology is said to be the cornerstone that can unite people of different backgrounds and ages. As such, the augmented reality (AI) demonstrates immense potential in this context. According to Mataruna-Dos-Santos and Hamed (2020), Dubai’s post-COVID plans involve the development and distribution of AI-based applications, which would prompt residents to go to the parks. Thus, the population will be able to begin the process of social link rebuilding in a safer environment where the risks of contracting the virus are lower. Local authorities will be able to monitor the activity of the population via the application’s user map, as well. This article highlights a particular instance of smart city technology’s usefulness in adapting to the pandemic and life after it.

Singapore

Singapore remains one of the leading smart cities in the world. In fact, the 2020 IMD Business School’s Index of Smart Cities put it in 1st place (IMD, 2021). In their article, Costa and Peixoto (2020) review a range of smart urban territories, but Singapore holds a place of special significance within the research. According to the authors, such smart cities possess strong tools, which help mitigate the impact of the pandemic while helping people live as normally as possible. Costa and Peixoto (2020) trace Singapore’s technological resilience to the 2003 SARS outbreak, after which the city made major improvements in its smart infrastructure. As of now, Singapore boasts its Smart Nation program, which aims to increase the perceived quality of people’s lives through technology. Such products enable access to a wide variety of services via the Internet, which is both safe and convenient for people. As a result, residents remain content and become more collaborative in terms of following COVID-related protocols. Moreover, the popularity of Smart Nation allows local authorities to use the affiliated apps to keep records of people in contact with COVID-19.

Considering its status within the global smart city framework, Singapore naturally attracts scholar’s attention in the context of COVID-19. Das and Zhang (2020) praise the city’s efforts to fight the coronavirus outbreak in the vital spheres of society. According to the article, Singapore managed to maintain a sufficient quality of residents’ lives through the effective combination of human capital management and technology. Supporting the city’s economy became the most serious challenge for local authorities. Das and Zhang (2020) explain that foreign worker dormitories were the epicenter of the subsequent COVID-19 outbreaks, but this workforce was necessary to keep the key sectors of the economy alive. Ultimately, Singapore relied on smart city means of communication in order to build a coordination network for local organizations helping trace and detect new cases of the disease. Trace Together, Safe Entry, and other applications established a safer framework in Singapore, simultaneously contributing to a higher level of community engagement.

New York City

New York represents one of the world’s most important cultural, economic, and educational centers. The article by Gupta et al. (2020) examines the case of New York City in the context of smart cities’ adaptation to COVID-19. As a matter of fact, this city became one of the world’s epicenters of the outbreaks, as the death toll reached critical levels. In this regard, local authorities had to rely on New York’s technological potential in order to mitigate the impact of the pandemic, at least to some extent. As in other cases, the role of public transportation control became pivotal. According to Gupta, Abdelsalam, and Mittel (2020), over 60% of the city’s population regularly use public transport, which is why high-tech means of transport supervision were valuable. At the same time, local authorities used drones and video surveillance to monitor large gatherings of people. However, unlike Dubai and Singapore, New York laid little emphasis on other aspects than control. There appear to be few instances of using smart city technology to support people during lockdowns, which may have found a reflection in the elevated death toll.

Other articles devoted to New York’s response to the pandemic confirm the assumption described above. Costa and Peixoto (2020) review this city among other smart agglomerations of the world in the context of the COVID-19 outbreak. The article states that most of New York’s smart city policies aimed directly at the sphere of healthcare. For example, the New York eHealth Collaborative (NYeC) organization has established a statewide framework for rapid information exchange between healthcare facilities. Similar programs facilitate medical teams’ access to their patients’ records from other institutions in order to improve the quality of the direct response to COVID-19. However, while the emphasis on healthcare capacity is natural and indispensable, the city could benefit from a more profound implementation of smart technology in other spheres.

Education

Education is one of the pillars upon which well-functioning societies are based. It lays the foundation for the future generations of specialists, without whom a nation’s sustainable development may become unattainable. However, the COVID-19 pandemic became a major stressor for the global education system. Following the safety measures that aimed to contain the outbreak, institutions were no longer able to function in traditional formats. As a result, a sudden shift toward the online learning environment occurred on a global scale. Consequently, participants of the educational systems experienced serious issues caused by a general lack of digital literacy (del Carmen Olmos-Gómez et al., 2020). Indeed, maintaining the required level of learning quality demands sufficient skills with digital technology, which is not always the case. Nevertheless, del Carmen Olmos-Gómez et al. (2020) confirm that the residents of smart cities demonstrated a higher potential in terms of the proper use of technology. Overall, the exact enablers and impediments of this correlation deserve additional exploration in subsequent research.

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Finance

The financial aspect of human activity also experienced a strong impact because of the pandemic. In a global sense, COVID-19 and subsequent lockdowns disrupted normal economic processes established by centuries of development. Furthermore, the pandemic prompted cities and nations to halt entire industries that were deemed non-vital. As a result, multiple enterprises had to stop their operations, thus not accumulating income for the local economy anymore. Consequently, the financial sectors of most nations experienced shocks of previously unseen magnitude. Wojcik and Ioannou (2020) expect that the impact of COVID will be even stronger for smaller financial firms, but larger players have also been experiencing considerable challenges. Overall, the response of smart cities in this sector appears underrepresented within the current body of knowledge. Therefore, a profound examination of the financial measures will be required for the subsequent research.

Retail

The next industry of interest comprises the retail sector during the COVID-19 pandemic. The purpose of the safety measures implemented by most governments was to minimize direct human contact, thus preventing the infection from spreading. Evidently, normal retail operations became complicated under such circumstances. Bhatti et al. (2020) state that coronavirus disease had a profound impact on global retail trends. In this scenario, electronic commerce opportunities became a necessary, rather than mere convenience, for customers and sellers alike. Following the anti-pandemic procedures, both sides quickly came to realize the value of e-retail in the 21st century. Naturally, the implementation of electronic commerce networks was significantly simpler in smart cities, where digital literacy and technological capacity are increased. The proposed research will discuss the exact subcategories and trends of e-retail in smart cities during the pandemic.

Communication

Effective communication is the cornerstone of modern professional and personal relationships. In fact, the feats of human civilization are primarily enabled by people’s ability to communicate their ideas. Similar to other important sectors, this concept experienced a strong influence on the coronavirus pandemic. First of all, as observations suggest, online communication is no longer seen as inferior to in-person interaction. Instead, it became a necessity during lockdowns, as larger social groups came to realize the potential of this format. In addition to the shift toward the Internet, the sphere of communication underwent other major transformations. According to Lovari, D’Ambrosi, and Bowen (2020), the pandemic revealed the public’s demand for more transparent interaction with the authorities. In other wants, residents want to receive honest and precise information from policy-makers, especially in regard to topical issues. The envisaged project will review how these trends are implemented in practice in technologically advanced, smart cities.

Table 1. Preliminary Research Data

Smart City Index Education Finance Retail Communication
Dubai 43 Remote learning opportunities The implementation of Virtual Labor Market to attract foreign direct investment Surge in electronic commerce Services using Augmented Reality (AI) technology
Singapore 1 Remote learning opportunities Trace Together, Safe Entry, and other services that support economic activity during the pandemic Electronic services that facilitate the remote exchange of goods Comprehensive Smart Nation program
New York 10 Remote learning opportunities The field requires further analysis Surge in electronic commerce The field requires further analysis

Research Design and Methods

The proposed research will address the implementation of smart city technology outside the healthcare framework. In order to capture the essence of relevant policies to the full extent, a qualitative approach is envisaged for the study. First of all, a systematic review of the global academic data is proposed. When implemented, the research procedure will comprise a broad selection of primary and secondary sources reporting smart cities’ policies in response to COVID-associated challenges in education, communication, finance, and retail sectors. The project will review a range of evidence-based opinions, synthesizing the data. Next, a practical dimension is to be added to the research. The proposal consists of a qualitative survey design, which will allow respondents to express their views on the cities’ policies in the aforementioned sectors at length. As suggested by the topic, the surveys will be distributed via the Internet. This phase requires a selection of 40-60 adults over the age of 18 who live in the top 10 areas of the smart city index. Their responses will be analyzed and compared with the systemic review data in order to synthesize a common conclusion.

Ethical Considerations

The proposed study is not expected to yield any kind of ethical issues or dilemmas. As per the project’s design, it will review a generalized perspective of the pandemic-related measures across smart cities of the world. The discussions with the residents are to be held via the Internet and each participant will have a chance to remain anonymous at all stages. They will be informed of the study’s scope and purpose, thus being fully aware of the process. No personal data will be recorded, as the emphasis will be laid on the content of the opinion and not the respondent’s personality.

Expected Results

The discussed research is expected to bring positive results in terms of both theory and practice. From the theoretical perspective, the study will establish a clear framework of the smart cities’ potential in the face of the pandemic. In this regard, a range of high-quality academic resources will be analyzed for a better theoretical representation of the key areas and measures present within the discussed context. From a practical point of view, the study will evaluate the effectiveness of these policies based on the personal opinions of people directly involved with them. Ultimately, the project has the potential to create detailed guidelines in regards to the smart cities’ response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Timeline

Period Project Phase
Month 1 – Month 3 Examination and evaluation of the relevant research material
Month 3 Synthesis of the theoretical findings, creation of a practice-oriented research framework
Month 4 Completion of the survey design
Month 4 – Month 5 Survey procedures
Month 5 Survey result analysis
Month 6 Theoretical and practical finding synthesis and interpretation
Month 7 Completion and presentation of the final project

Conclusion

Ultimately, COVID-19 has become a challenge of unprecedented magnitude for the global community. The pandemic disrupted the majority of normal processes across industries, prompting policy-makers to seek new solutions. As the research shows, smart cities showed a better degree of resilience under such difficult circumstances. These qualities are enabled by the advanced technological and social development of the areas. At the same time, the exact manner in which smart city policies contributed to the resilience in the face of COVID-19 deserves additional exploration. Most studies in this sphere of knowledge focused on the healthcare aspect of the situation. While this sphere is of undeniable importance in the current environment, it is also required to review other directions in which smart cities were able to counteract the pandemic’s impact. The proposed research will extend the academic understanding of smart cities’ education, finance, retail, and communication in the age of COVID-19. As of now, a certain gap in knowledge is observed within the academic environment. The execution of the envisaged research plant will help bridge this gap, providing valuable insight into the smart cities’ potential in the time of crisis.

Preliminary Working Reference List

Allam, Z. and Jones, D. S. (2020) ‘On the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak and the smart city network: universal data sharing standards coupled with artificial intelligence (AI) to benefit urban health monitoring and management’, Healthcare, 8, pp. 1–9.

Bhatti, A. et al. (2020) ‘E-commerce trends during COVID-19 pandemic’, International Journal of Future Generation Communication and Networking, 13(2), pp. 1449-1452.

Caragliu, A. and Del Bo, C. F. (2018) ‘Smart innovative cities: the impact of Smart City policies on urban innovation’, Technological Forecasting and Social Change, 142, pp. 373-383.

Costa, D. G. and Peixoto, J. P. J. (2020) ‘COVID-19 pandemic: a review of smart cities initiatives to face new outbreaks’, Smart Cities, 2(2), pp. 64–73.

Das, D. and Zhang, J. J. (2020) ‘Pandemic in a smart city: Singapore’s COVID-19 management through technology & society’, Urban Geography. Web.

Del Carmen Olmos-Gómez, M. et al. (2020) ‘Validation of the smart city as a sustainable development knowledge tool: the challenge of using technologies in education during COVID-19’, Sustainability, 12(20).

Gupta, M., Abdelsalam, M. and Mittal, S. (2020) Enabling and enforcing social distancing measures using smart city and its infrastructures: a COVID-19 use case. Web.

HaakSaheem, W. (2020) ‘Talent management in Covid19 crisis: how Dubai manages and sustains its global talent pool’, Asian Business & Management, 19, pp. 298–301.

IMD. (2021) Smart City Index 2020. Web.

Inn, T. L. (2020) Smart city technologies take on COVID-19. Web.

Lovari, A., D’Ambrosi, L. and Bowen, S. A. (2020) ‘Re-connecting voices. the (new) strategic role of public sector communication after the COVID-19 crisis’, Partecipazione e Conflitto, 13(2).

Mataruna-Dos-Santos, L. J. and Hamed, H. A. (2020) ‘Augmented reality at Dubai parks: a gaming approach to curb COVID-19’, Information Technology Innovations in Economics, Finance, Accounting, and Law, 1(7), pp. 1–8.

Sonn, J. W., Kang, M. and Choi, Y. (2020) ‘Smart city technologies for pandemic control without lockdown’, International Journal of Urban Sciences, 24(2), pp. 149–151.

Wojcik, D. and Ioannou, S. (2020) ‘COVID‐19 and finance: market developments so far and potential impacts on the financial sector and centres’, Journal of Economic and Human Geography, 111(3), pp. 387-400.

World Health Organization (WHO). (2021) Coronavirus. Web.

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