From London to Lahore, cities around the world are competing to be crowned as the worlds smartest city, led by a firm belief in the power of technology to make urban centres more innovative, efficient and liveable than they already are.
Nowhere is this opportunity to make cities cleaner and smarter more evident than in Asia, which is already home to 60 per cent of the planets people. The regions cities, along with Africas, will account for 90 per cent of the increase in the worlds population from now till 2050. Thats about 2.5 billion people who will be moving to urban centres in those regions.
The smart city is hailed as a way for urban planners to accommodate this growth sustainably. The services and infrastructure around it has grown to a multi-billion dollar industry in Asia alone.
According to a report by market research firm Navigant Research, investment in smart city information and communication technology (ICT) in Asia Pacific will total US$63.4 billion during the period from 2014 to 2023.
US research firm MarketsandMarkets forecasts that the global smart cities market will grow from US$411.31 billion in 2014 to $1.135 trillion by 2019 at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 22.5 per cent.
While experts differ on what constitutes a smart city exactly, the consensus is that it is a city that employs technology to firstly, deliver urban services to residents more efficiently; secondly, reduce costs for the service providers and slash overall resource consumption; and thirdly, enable active participation by citizens in the running of the city.
For Asia, a smart city with sustainability, liveability and inclusivity at its core is more than just a fancy, it is a need.
Smart city infrastructure can help governments and businesses save millions of dollars in energy bills and innumerable man hours. Smart Cities Council, a US organisation of companies that work to advance the smart city business sector, for example, estimates that US cities waste US$39 billion in electricity a year because of inefficiencies in their ageing infrastructure.
Rolling out smart cities is a pressing need across Asia, says Jonathan Woetzel, director, McKinsey & Company.
Leaders in developing Asia must cope with urbanisation on an unprecedented scale, while those in developed Asia wrestle with ageing infrastructures, he notes.
Beyond the latest gadgets and server farms, smart city applications allow cities to save energy, cut down on carbon emissions, increase their safety and reduce the need for inefficient and unnecessary human labour.
Think driverless public transport, sensors that monitor water levels, energy usage, security cameras, and traffic flows, and automated trash collection, for example.
Experts say, however, that the ultimate aim of smart cities should not be about the technology, but using it as a tool to improve the lives of urban citizens.
In other words, its about the people.
Smart cities are liveable and sustainable cities, based on integrated planning and good governance that may be aided by technology, says Khoo Teng Chye, executive director, Centre for Liveable Cities based in Singapore.
Experts speak of smart, liveable or eco-friendly cities, but ultimately we all want to make cities better for people with a high quality of life, a clean and sustainable environment, and a competitive economy providing good jobs.
Smart cities in Asia
In Asia, Seoul and Singapore are often cited as the best examples of a smart city.
Hailed by many IT experts as the smartest, most connected city in the world, Seouls focus has been on open data, public transport and the use of digital tools for supporting citizen participation all 10 million of them.
Besides being a leader in digital transactions and real-time information on transit, jobs, and other public information, the city was a pioneer when it launched, almost a decade ago, a scheme called the Online Policy Suggestion System (OASIS) to receive planning suggestions from the public online.
This has received more than 5 million contributions to date.
Then theres Seouls high-profile experiment built from scratch: The Songdo International Business District, a US$35 billion smart city adjacent to the Incheon Airport and about 64 kilometres from Seoul.
While the project had attracted worldwide attention since construction started in the mid-1990s for its audacity and scale, some experts have also questioned its usefulness and whether it might ultimately end up being an oversized white elephant.
The size of 1,134 American football fields, or 1500 acres, Songdo boasts universal broadband, integrated sensor networks to extract data, green buildings and an underground system of tubes for transporting kitchen waste from buildings directly to a facility that converts it into clean energy. About 40 per cent of the land has been designated as green space.
While the developers United Statess Gale International and South Koreas Posco Engineering and Construction say that the city is designed to house 2 million people, the take-up rate by residents has been slower and lower than expected.
So far, there are just over 80,000 Songdo residents, who find the citys proximity to the airport and the cutting-edge services a draw.
Asit Biswas, founder of the Third World Centre for Water Management in Mexico and Distinguished Visiting Professor at the Lee Kuan Yew School for Public Policy in Singapore, feels, however, that the prospect of a city surrounded by computers and technology is unnerving, purely from a citizens point of view.
I dont want to live in a place where computers run my life, he says. Youre installing a whole bunch of computers which will do a whole variety of things but youre forgetting that cities are for people. And its people who make cities.
Singapore, a tiny island of 5.5 million, is another oft-cited example of a smart city in Asia. It is on technology research firm Juniper Researchs list of the top five smart cities, and came in third in Asia in the recent Sustainable Cities Index by property consultancy Arcadis.
Source: Eco Business
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