Davos 2023: key takeaways for cities and local economies

(Credit: Unsplash)

This article is brought to you thanks to the collaboration of The European Sting with the World Economic Forum.

Author: Jeff Merritt, Head of Urban Transformation; Member of the Executive Committee, World Economic Forum


  • Davos 2023 featured city-led initiatives to improve urban development and local economies.
  • Nature and circularity are the future of climate action in cities, led by urban innovators.
  • Technology is driving urban transformation, but it must be secured through shared governance.

Last week, nearly 3,000 global leaders – including over 350 government leaders and 47 heads of state – converged on the Swiss Alps for the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting 2023 in Davos.

While a compounding set of global crises dominated the public and private dialogues – from the growing cost of living to the ongoing war in Ukraine – conversations quickly pivoted to a tactical discussion of required actions on the ground, with cities and local economies at the centre.

Here’s a snapshot of key takeaways that you might have missed at Davos 2023.

Governments and businesses have a plan to ‘build better’

Under the leadership of Swiss President Alain Berset, government ministers from 31 countries, along with civil society organizations and leading companies from the building and real estate industry, joined forces to accelerate the development of thriving, sustainable communities, launching a new global Davos Baukultur Alliance. The World Economic Forum will host this new Alliance.

Maimunah Mohd Sharif, Executive Director of the United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UN‐Habitat), joined business leaders in pledging to put these principles of good design into action as part of a public session on Cities Rebuild.

Mark Rose, Chair and CEO of Avison Young, underscored the importance of putting social value at the core of urban transformation efforts. Jonathan Reckford, CEO of Habitat for Humanity International, highlighted the opportunity to accelerate climate adaptation and mitigation actions through more climate-resilient housing solutions in vulnerable communities.

Nature and circularity must be at the core of climate action in cities

Mayor Yvonne Aki-Sawyerr of Freetown, Sierra Leone, Mayor Luis Donaldo Colosio of Monterrey, Mexico and Lord Mayor Sally Capp of Melbourne released a joint statement calling for increased funding and prioritisation of nature-based solutions to help cities fight climate change.

Public and private sector leaders highlighted best practices to help ensure cities of the future are environmentally sustainable and socially resilient, as part of a public session on the Evolution of Urban Life.

The World Economic Forum, supported by more than 45 partners, launched Giving to Amplify Earth Action (GAEA), a global initiative to fund and grow new and existing public, private and philanthropic partnerships (PPPPs). This will help unlock the $3 trillion of financing needed each year to reach Net Zero, reverse nature loss and restore biodiversity by 2050.

Innovators and entrepreneurs are redefining the possibilities of urban life

Joe Ucuzoglu, Global CEO of Deloitte, and Suzanne DiBianca, Chief Impact Officer of Salesforce, announced commitments to launch the World Economic Forum’s first place-based UpLink innovation challenge focused on sustainable cities. This new effort will be piloted in San Francisco and will bring together corporations, venture capitalists, entrepreneurs, nonprofit partners and other local stakeholders to support innovative solutions addressing environmental and social entrepreneurship.

New greenfield cities, including NEOM in Saudi Arabia and Capital City of Nusantara in Indonesia, came together for the first time at Davos 2023 as part of a public session, Bold New Cities Take the Stage. This session kicked off a new effort by the World Economic Forum to bolster shared learning and connect innovation hubs across these new cities and traditional cities across the globe.

Technology accelerates urban transformation, but good governance is essential

Alan Belfield, Chairman of Arup Group, stressed the opportunity to accelerate the decarbonisation of buildings and cities through better data. And, Peter Herweck, CEO of AVEVA Group highlighted how developing nations are leveraging smart city technologies to improve city services and bolster the quality of life for residents.

The World Economic Forum’s Council on the Connected World released its State of the Connected World 2023 report. This underscores the need for collective action from businesses and governments to address critical concerns related to ethics, security and accessibility for connected technologies.

The G20 Global Smart Cities Alliance launched a new benchmarking tool for cities to help advance global best practices for the responsible and ethical use of smart city technologies.

2023 will be a year of action

In total, more than 480 public and private sessions were held as part of the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting 2023 in Davos, alongside countless announcements, meetings and side events, charting the course for an ambitious year ahead. Cities and local economies have the most to gain; they also have the most at stake.

Whereas these convenings provide no guarantees of progress, they serve as key launchpads, milestones and catalysts to drive forward collective action.

Here’s a look at what’s on deck for the months ahead:

February 2023: City Strategy Dialogues with the Mayors of Lisbon, Portugal and Miami-Dade, USA

May 2023: First convening of Davos Baukultur Alliance in Venice, Italy

June 2023: Global Technology Summit in San Francisco, USA

October 2023: Urban Transformation Summit in Detroit, USA

November 2023: Smart City Expo World Congress in Barcelona, Spain

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