Making smart cities sustainable

As the world’s population rapidly increases, the way that cities and nations manage resources for their citizens needs to change. An estimated 44 million people are added to the urban population every year, putting an even greater strain on the infrastructure and resulting in congestion, declining resources and inadequate waste management.

Information communications technology or ICT can play a major role in helping these cities be more creative and effective in overcoming the escalating problems that its governments, citizens and businesses face.

stephen ezell_ITIF

Stephen Ezell

According to Stephen Ezell, Vice President of the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation (ITIF), in this century alone, cities will account for 90% of the world’s population growth, 80% of the globe’s carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, and 75% of total energy consumption.

With aging infrastructure in cities, and budgets and resources becoming more constrained even as populations increase too quickly, countries around the world have to learn to do more with less.

Smart cities at work

According to Ezell, technology is being used to incentivise desired citizen behaviour. Road congestion pricing, for example, charges higher rates for drivers during peak traffic hours, so that they would be motivated to drive when traffic is lighter.

In Barcelona, parking prices that are based on demand have reduced the time that drivers spend looking for parking from 17 to 5 minutes. This indirectly also reduces congestion of traffic on roads.

Yet another solution uses existing infrastructure to more efficiently provision city services. Street Bump in Boston, United States, uses the smartphones’ built-in accelerometers to detect the smoothness of the ride and check for potholes, triangulates its location with cell towers and then alerts the city’s roadworks crew to fix them.

Other initiatives, such as paying for garbage disposal by weight, can encourage citizens to be mindful of the waste they create while storm water runoff charges are fees imposed upon property owners that go towards the management of storm water from their property. Storm water management is needed to ensure it does not contaminate natural water sources.

Closer to home

In essence, a smart city is the application of ICT infrastructures to support social and urban growth by improving a city’s economy, a city government’s efficiency, and citizens’ involvement, said Ezell.

In Asia, specifically China, as many as 400 million people will move to cities in the next 15 years. As of September 2013, a total of 311 smart cities have been proposed or planned in China, with an estimated US$320 billion to be invested in smart city development projects over the next 10 years. Of that, US$30 billion is allocated for smart technologies.

Shanghai – China’s largest city with 22 million inhabitants – has an integrated plan of multiple smart systems being brought together to push out public-related mobile apps that can help locate children and the elderly if they go missing, for example.

But, there is also reuse or rather repurposing of existing infrastructure – road lamps can function as WiFi hotspots while Internet of Things (IoT) technologies together with traffic lights can help monitor traffic and change street lane signals to reduce congestion.

All-important connectivity

Many smart solutions would not work if not for the connectivity technologies that enable them. In Malaysia, the government’s research and development agency, MIMOS, has initiated an IoT open innovation framework to empower businesses that create IoT solutions.

MIMOS’ Senior Director of Wireless Software Development Lab, Boon Choong Foo explained that “connectivity is essential before data can be collected and analysed, and before any valuable service can be offered”.

Earlier this year, Malaysia’s incumbent telco, Telekom Malaysia (TM) via wholly owned subsidiary, Intelsec Sdn Bhd, partnered with Cyberview to strengthen the connectivity and ICT infrastructure in Cyberjaya, one of Malaysia’s mandated Global Technology Hubs.

Both parties will work together to strengthen Cyberjaya’s existing ICT infrastructure and promote smart city living by enhancing public safety and security, as well as working on a smart parking system, digital signages, and smart waste and energy management.

Besides Cyberjaya, Iskandar Malaysia was also endorsed by Prime Minister Dato’ Seri Najib Razak in 2014 as a pilot for smart city projects in Malaysia during the 2nd inter session Global Science and Innovation Advisory Council (GSIAC) in 2012.

There are many examples of smart city solutions that promote more convenient and sustainable living for urban populations over the next few decades at least.

But Ezell was also quick to point out another reason for cities and nations to implement smart solutions, namely that “smart cities also serve as differentiation to compete for the best global talent”.

In other words, smart cities could be the key to attract the best and brightest to our shores.


(This article first appeared in Business Circle)

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