With the advent of digital technology, Smart Cities have become a reality. According to a 2017 article published by Futurism, “a smart city is where every device, every entity, and every object can connect for whatever the needs (of the citizens). Wireless connectivity is the glue that holds everything together and the bottom line is to improve the quality of life in cities and quality of the planet”.
While wireless is a significant factor in the development of smart cities , the Internet of Things (IoT) and Big Data Analysis are the absolute building blocks for this concept. The goal for a smart city is manage urban resources in a manner that benefits people (improved liveability) and the environment through sustainable and scalable solutions, and enables cities to compete on a global scale. In order to achieve this, large amounts of data has to be identified and analysed to determine the best course of action – hence IoT and Big Data. The integration of such technologies will essentially enable planners to do more with current resources.
There are phenomenal possibilities for local city boards to start experimenting with. Some are way out into the distant future, and many are already very possible to start proving value, here are just a few:
- City wide wireless internet access: Essentially enabling a city to become one large access point. This is a critical foundation to enabling IoT devices to transmit their data to core analysis systems. This can also enable the public to have access to services on the internet that will help them make efficient decisions in the city (i.e. access to maps and navigation, vendor information, transport schedules, city event planning).
- Smart energy and water management systems: By placing smart sensors and big data analysis systems in these core city resources, cities can effectively manage and control quality, usage and maintenance to ensure continued service provision at higher levels of quality to citizens.
- Smart contracts: This government efficiency tool will enable national and local authorities to create a paperless, digital and secure layer for all city transactions. These include identity documents, passports, VISAs, bill payments, renewals and much more. The technology that underpins this will be Blockchain.
There are many more solutions such as smart centralised transporting, digital healthcare, futuristic banking, tech-controlled air quality, smart retailing, eGovernment and tech-driven security – that are all already possible to start implementing on large scale.
The global race for the best smart city is being led by the United Arab Emirates (UAE). By simply conducting desktop research you will find that Dubai is making large strides toward creating the ‘smartest’ city compared to its counterparts. Dubai has a dedicated government office called Smart Dubai, and they have been executing on a well-defined strategy and roadmap of digital initiatives to embrace technological innovation. According to Smart Dubai, this strategy will continue to make Dubai more efficient, safe, impactful and become the ‘happiest’ place on earth. The city has already pioneered government wide use of Blockchain technology to securely digitise all citizen transactions with the government which currently accounts for over 100 million copies of physical documents. The full implementation of this technology will contribute to savings of 114 metric tons of CO2 emissions and redistribute 25 million hours of productivity saved from document processing.
Closer to home, African cities are dealing with booming populations contributing to pollution, traffic, inadequate housing and public space. Because of this, African cities are generally considered to be behind the digitalisation curve compared to global counterparts with matured services, technology and infrastructure. This is however changing due to urbanisation and the application of smart solutions as these cities continue to grow. According to Deloitte, Africa is well positioned to lead smart city innovations due to:
- Rise of the middle class
- Limited legacy drawbacks
- Heavy urbanisation demand
- Entrepreneurship mindset
- Mobile connectivity growth
Outside Insight reports that Cape Town is one of the few African cities leading the way in innovation (others include Nairobi and Lagos). Cape Town has already launched a 4-pillar strategy and roadmap to enable itself to become a truly Smart City in the coming years. The city has already enabled the following:
- Use of an open data portal which enables registers from citizens to be made public.
- The municipality to be more ‘connected’ to critical city systems (water, electricity and waste management), in collaboration with Sqwidnet.
- Real time data analytics to improve dispatch time for disaster management – especially in fire emergencies, in collaboration with IBM.
- Free public WiFi enabled on city buses and other city-controlled transport.
The world’s cities offer a tremendous canvas for cutting edge technologies to flourish on a large scale. It’s all coming to us at an exponential rate and it’s all in an effort to make our experience of life in a big city just a little better than the previous day.