Social media is nowadays the largest terrain where citizens express their opinions and concerns. For city leaders, it is a means to gauge their residents’ sentiment on topics like sustainable development and the urban future.
ESI ThoughtLab’s study, Smart City Solutions for a Riskier World, examined the approaches of 167 cities to addressing the UN’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). To understand citizens’ priorities as they relate to the SDGs, we also created a real-time, AI-enabled Citizen Sentiment Tracker to explore Twitter feeds. The tracker has allowed our team to identify which SDGs and technologies are top of mind for city residents.
We selected 10 cities to examine—Abu Dhabi, Amsterdam, Auckland, Barcelona, Bogota, Lagos, New York, San Diego, Singapore, and Vancouver—to provide a representative sample of municipalities from around the world, different in population size, region, and stage of economic development.
In the month of April, the tool recorded and categorized over 230,000 tweets. The comments showed a predominant focus on good health and well-being (SDG #3) and peace and justice (SDG #16), a trend that has stayed constant since the beginning of 2021. Yet while health remained the top concern globally due to the pandemic, the focus on other sustainable development goals heightened in April.
Social justice debates in the US elevated peace and justice concerns
On April 20th, tweets around peace and justice issues increased dramatically, particularly in New York and San Diego. The spike was largely driven by the verdict in the trial of Derek Chauvin, the former Minneapolis police officer found guilty of murder and manslaughter in the death of George Floyd. The trial was not only a subject of interest in the US—it also was mentioned repeatedly in all 10 cities covered by the tool, as the trial proved to be a catalyst for discussion around local social justice issues.
Increasing worries around climate change
Tweets related to climate action (SDG #13)increased on April 22nd, a date that celebrates Earth Day across the world.Tweets from around the globe exhibited concerns that it might be too late for the planet to confront the climate crisis. The date also coincided with US PresidentJoe Biden’s virtual climate summit, which gathered 40 world leaders to discuss their future environmental plans. President Biden announced an ambitious 2030carbon emissions reduction target and urged global leaders to follow suit.
A growing interest in blockchain
The growing interest in and knowledge of cryptocurrencies around the world is visible on Twitter as tweets related to blockchain have increased since January in all 10 cities. In April, blockchain was the fourth-most-mentioned technology after digital, data analytics, and AI, but was the one that increased the most. In addition to tips about investing, users expressed great curiosity about the future of the stock market, and many debated whether crypto would be the currency of the future.
While the overall trends in citizen sentiment have remained steady both for the SDGs and the technologies through 2021 thus far, our tool shows a clear link between the volume of Twitter feeds on a particular topic and ongoing events. Twitter users are sensitive to the latest news cycle and their reaction time is quite fast. This makes our AI-enabled tracker a great tool to monitor to understand how and when citizens’ views are shifting.