Picturing a world of smart, sustainable, connected cities

The World Economic Forum enters the final day of its 2019 annual meeting in what might be called a mood of cautious optimism.

December 16, 2019

We’ve seen clear blue skies over Davos all week, but everyone here seems keenly aware of the clouds hovering on the horizon in our economies and societies. In particular, there is a strong sense of frustration among business leaders at the inability of politicians to resolve issues such as the partial government shutdown in the US, Brexit negotiations in the UK, and rising tariff impositions around the world.

Even without these political hurdles, we live in a world in flux, and the unprecedented pace of change is unsettling. Nevertheless, while political and business leaders must be realistic and honest about the impacts of these changes, I believe our societies as a whole have a lot to be optimistic about. The outlook for global economic growth remains generally healthy even with cyclical slowdowns in China and Europe. And earlier this week, I wrote about the rise of AI and about the opportunities that can flow through reimagining work, especially if we move general perceptions more towards inspiration and away from the fear factor. I was encouraged that a lot of your comments picked up on this theme.

With all that in mind, yesterday I participated in an interesting World Economic Forum panel discussion on Learning from Connected Cities.  Progress towards smarter, technology-enabled, more sustainable urban living is something that we – and many of our clients and partners – are devoting a lot of time and investment into. Growing urbanization is a remarkably steady trend around the world. For all the focus on the extraordinary growth and transformation of Asia’s urban hubs, cities are growing everywhere. AI, the Fourth Industrial Revolution, the imperatives of sustainability, the lifestyle choices of future generations and much more, all these will combine to substantially change the way our most successful cities work. It is necessary change, but it is also highly creative and exciting – and there are huge skilled employment opportunities that will be borne out of these transformations.

This, for me, is the key takeaway from Davos this year. We need our leaders to find a way to resolve the self-inflicted political problems so that societies around the world can properly focus and collaborate on a more optimistic, connected, diverse, rewarding and sustainable future. Working together as a global community, it isn’t beyond our grasp.

Christian Ulbrich is JLL’s Global CEO.

For more on our presence at the World Economic Forum, please visit JLL’s Davos 2019 page.