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Smart cities: A socio - economic necessity

Lal Bhatia/Viewpoint/Dubai
Filed on June 1, 2021
The real-time data collected by smart-city technology equips cities to implement and improve systems for waste management, traffic congestion, citizen safety, affordable housing, water resource management, smart buildings, efficient use of energy, and renewable energy resources to name a few. — File photo

The urban population is growing rampantly, and smart city is no longer optional for city managers. It is an absolute necessity for cities to do well economically as well as socially


The conversation on Smart cities has been around for a few years, and there are several definitions for it. While scenes from Sci-Fi movies with flying cars and automated breakfast to bed technologies could transition from screen to reality in some years, it is not limited to that.

World Economic Forum’s community paper — Smart at Scale: Cities to Watch 25 Case Studies — broadly explain Smart City as one that ‘uses new technologies to find efficient and affordable solutions to urban challenges’.

The paper sheds light on the function of smart-city applications which can address various challenges faced by cities around the world. Some of them are congestion, rising population, gaps in infrastructure, inadequate service delivery, exclusion, poverty, limited livability, vulnerability to climate change, and natural and man-made disasters.

The real-time data collected by smart-city technology equips cities to implement and improve systems for waste management, traffic congestion, citizen safety, affordable housing, water resource management, smart buildings, efficient use of energy, and renewable energy resources to name a few.

All these elements impact the quality of life of residents in cities which cannot be overlooked. Zihan Zhao and Yuhan Zhang, in "Impact of Smart City Planning and Construction on Economic and Social Benefits Based on Big Data Analysis", say ‘the essence of smart city design is to use big data technology to process urban information intelligently’.

The urban population is growing rampantly, and smart city is no longer optional for city managers. It is an absolute necessity for cities to do well economically as well as socially. The absence of smart-city solutions is not only a hindrance to the development of cities around the world, especially in developing countries; it can distress the very foundation of it.

‘Smart city construction is used by many major developed countries as an important strategy for stimulating economic development and maintain-ing long-term competitive advantages’, explains Zhao and Zhang.

McKinsey Global Institute’s 'Smart cities: Digital solutions for a more livable future' report explores the effect of smart-city applications on various quality of life dimensions like safety, time and convenience, health, environmental quality, social connectedness, jobs, and cost of living.

The report dives deep to reveal that through judicious use of smart-city applications, the safety of residents in a city can be improved with better traffic safety, data-driven policing, and optimised emergency response that will enable first responders to arrive quicker than they are currently able to.

Set to use its maximum effect, smart-city technology can help lower incidents of crime such as assault, robbery, burglary, and auto theft significantly. The increased sense of safety and security that residents can feel in a city as a result of this is invaluable.

It has the potential to help residents save time by reducing the time taken for commute on public transport, intelligent traffic management that will help office workers regain 15 to 30 minutes a day all of which in turn will have a positive impact on overall productivity.

On the health front, smart-city solutions can help to improve chronic dis-ease treatment, help reduce air pollution and resulting health complications, and even offer digital tools for a better health experience.

Backing environmental diligence, smart-city systems can help monitor a city’s air quality and lower green gas emissions. It can help optimize en-ergy use and track electricity and water consumption and waste.

Connectivity is key for people everywhere and every day. Smart-city solutions can improve person-to-person connection, connect the public to the local government making two-way communication a lot easier, and help bring communities together.

A high rate of unemployment is never good news for the economy. Smart-city systems can have a moderate impact on boosting employment by enabling e-career centres and digital hiring platforms that can become efficient mechanisms for hiring and drawing more unemployed and inactive people into the workforce. It can reduce barriers in setting up a start-up or small business and even offer data-driven education and re-training.

Cities can get more out of their assets with the use of smart-city technologies and respond promptly to dynamic changes which offer a range of economic advantages.

It is time for cities in developing countries to take smart-city out of conference agendas and instead embrace it for its undeniable viability.

Lal Bhatia is chairman at Hilshaw Group. Views expressed are his own and do not reflect the newspaper's policy.





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