When efficiency is not enough

“There is a need to combine integrated ‘layers of smartness’ with a future city model that should embrace not just resource efficiency but promotion of good health, economic stability, a sense of shared community and an ability to adapt,” says Andrew Comer, director environment and infrastructure, Buro Happold.

“In short, we need a more sophisticated and universal language, and an integrated approach to urban development, funding and governance,” he says.

In relative terms, some of the smaller high-growth economies in Asia, such as Singapore or Malaysia, are ideally positioned to reap and deliver the greatest benefits from investing in an integrated approach to smart city development.

Realising this potential, their approach is both strategic and on a large scale, according to Hugh Roberts, business development director at SKM Colin Buchanan.

He says: “Smart cities are no longer merely showpiece flagships; a second generation is now contributing to wider regional investment and growth.

“Sarawak, one of Malaysia’s eastern states on the island of Borneo, is launching SCORE - the Sarawak Corridor of Renewable Energy. This multi-sector development plan commences with low-cost power generation from hydro schemes which will fuel aluminium and copper smelting and large-scale silica production, together with new agro and food production industries.”

A smart city is planned at Mukah, to serve as the nerve centre for the sub-region. It will feature knowledge, administrative and R&D hubs, bringing together academia, industry, business and technology. This is expected to result in both economic growth and efficiency benefits to businesses and organisations.

In turn, this means the opportunity to develop and retain home-grown human-resource talent, particularly in IT-driven labour pools, and is a clear win-win for employers and employees alike.

A second generation is now contributing to wider regional investment and growth

Business opportunities in connection with the smart cities agenda are not, however, limited just to companies physically located within the urban areas themselves; there is a whole smart service industry emerging.

IBM, for example, has involvement in more than 2,000 smarter cities projects worldwide, working on initiatives right across the sustainability spectrum from reducing carbon footprints, IT energy usage and traffic emissions, to providing healthcare innovation that supports independent living for the elderly or aids diagnostics in clinical decision-making.

For education, business and government, Canadian company SMART Technologies provides visual collaboration solutions via interactive whiteboards in more than 100 countries. Effective data-sharing offers potential to save money, increase productivity and reduce carbon footprints.

In this new commercial and cultural landscape, working together is working smart: no company is an island; no worker cut off.

Of course, there are challenges to overcome. While technology means that location need not necessarily prove a barrier to smart market participation, potentially age might. With legacy systems developed organically over centuries, can a city simply be too old to join the smart party?

With a Royal Charter dating back to 1155, Bristol is home to a collaborative smart city programme between the public sector, business and community. Priorities are smart energy, transport and data, with initiatives ranging from technology support for domestic energy efficiency, through ICT for electric vehicles, to major investment in digital infrastructure and connectivity.

While Bristol is determined to take advantage of the opportunities of a green and digital economy, retrofitting an old-world city presents a daunting challenge, as Peter Sharratt, director sustainability services, Deloitte LLP, observes.

He says: “Designing new is relatively easy, but retrofitting old is much harder and will cost much more. The solution lies in both the physical and the virtual. We need to reconfigure our infrastructure to be significantly more efficient, but at the same time we need to drive behavioural change throughout our citizens on a mass scale. A smart city requires successful integration of smart systems and smart people.”


Political or technical revolution?

The world is experiencing a technological revolution. Unprecedented advances in information and communication systems are matched by radical innovation in green technologies and infrastructures. Once again the implications for cities and urban development have become a focal point of the debate.

This is hardly surprising considering that previous basic innovations, such as the steam engine, railways, electricity and the automobile, have all had huge impacts on urbanisation, radically transforming human settlements and the shape of cities.

But the next “industrial” revolution also requires cities to play a leading role in shaping urban form and new infrastructure platforms, in order to fully unlock the potential for a more prosperous, equitable and greener global future.

These technological fixes aren’t sufficient by themselves, and they need to be enabled and complemented by strategies that cut across design solutions, technological advances and behavioural change.

Advancing the smart cities agenda will further require a far greater willingness to experiment, not only to test new solutions, but also to allow the general public to experience possible futures.

The successful transformation of the 21st-century city will, therefore, have to begin with re-shaping its political and institutional systems. Only then will we be able to take advantage of the new technological offerings in such a way that they ultimately benefit current and future generations of urban citizens.