Joe Keen Poon, Group CTO & MD (Smart City Solutions), Surbana Jurong
By 2050, two-thirds of humanity will live in urban areas. Smart City solutions will help all of us realize the potential and limit the downsides. Smart City solutions will need to address the four areas of sustainability, security, community, and efficiency.
Speaking to a crowd of 20,000 at Madison Square Garden on his first U.S. visit, Pope Francis said, “Big cities are a reminder of the hidden riches present in our world: in the diversity of its cultures, traditions and historical experiences. … Big cities bring together all the different ways which we human beings have discovered to express the meaning of life, wherever we may be.”
Demographics back the Pontiff’s concerns. Today, 54 per cent of the world’s population lives in urban areas. By 2050, an additional 2.5 billion people will be added to this number, bringing the proportion to 66 per cent. (United Nations July 2014).
Building, organizing and providing infrastructures and services for the urbanized humanity will not be an easy task. Given that up to 90 percent of these new additions will be concentrated in emerging Asia and Africa, driving the right plans and solutions, both greenfield and brownfield, will be one of the key challenges facing all of us in the 21st Century.
Technology has been seen to be a key part of the solution. In 2016, Gartner expects 1.6 billion devices to be connected up to larger smart city infrastructures. Correspondingly, the global smart city technology market is forecasted to be worth more than $27.5 billion annually by 2023 (Navigant Research 2014). This investment will only go up with the number of urban areas.
Efficiency, security, sustainability, community
Regardless of where a city is on the maturity cycle, there are four areas that all solutions need to address before it can be viable—security, sustainability, efficiency, (of services & infrastructures) and community (feedback and engagement).
As urban population and density grow, these four areas will invariably come under strain. We believe that through the combination of good city management planning and smart technology, we will be able to address these challenges.
Infrastructure Monitoring and Management
When it comes to planning and managing the built environment, the all too common refrain from municipalities, developers, real estate owners, and land equity investors is “Why did the planners not design out or plan for adequate provisions at the onset?” There is a need to plan with the end—communities and businesses living and interacting in the area—in mind.
Efficiency- Getting the best bang for the taxpayers’ buck
Timely reporting and monitoring of municipal services is the last mile to ensuring a city-no matter how elegantly built. This last mile is crucial for maximizing the potential of the communities living and business operating there and therefore maximizing the return of the taxpayers who ultimately fund the city.
Smart Security before anything else
Ever since the Blitzkrieg, security master planning and operations have been integral to running cities. This continues to be important but in itself, insufficient. On a harsh Ukrainian winter day of December 23, 2015, amid a tense geopolitical climate, an attack of the BlackEnergy malware knocked out Ukraine’s power grid, leaving more than 200,000 people without power. This was a rude wakeup call to city officials that cyber security as crucial to the smooth running of the city as physical security is.
Sustainability- thinking long term
A city is not a flash in the pan; generations, not just people, live, work and play in cities. Whilst environmental, societal, economic factors, just to name a few, present complex challenges for us all, can we have our cake and eat it too when it comes to city living?
How energy is shaped, throughout the entire value chain starting from statutory regulation, market policy, generation, transport as well as end use, underwrites the basic notion of sustainability. Issues such as how does a city encourage more renewable sources of energy while dealing with issues of intermittency, control not just the generation of energy but also shape energy consumption, capture waste energy industriously without creating unwieldy interdependencies and ensure a reliable supply of energy without over-burdening the infrastructure are facets of a smart city.
Community engagement- harness the innovation of the community and beyond
Reinforcing his earlier message in New York, Pope Francis continued, this time in Nairobi in December 2015, “There is a need to promote projects of city planning and maintenance of public areas which move in this direction and take into consideration the views of local residents; this will help to eliminate the many instances of inequality and pockets of urban poverty…” As the world flattens with increasing information connectivity and population mobility, cities have to compete for talents and also critical mass to keep vibrant and viable. Communities and businesses are increasingly expected to be involved in the planning of the cityscape and its operations. They will demand that their feedback on the state of the city to be heard and looked into.
This is a good development. Cities are never static. Systems and infrastructure have to change with the needs of the people in order to stay relevant.
Humanity is moving into uncharted waters with the speed and scale of urbanization. We are reaching a fork road where one path leads to unforetold opportunities and the other unmitigated disaster for the world and our species. We believe that the combination of proper urban planning and technology will help us stay on the right path.