Smart ideas will power Dubai's 20-minute city

The city of the not-too-distant future will allow us all to monitor our own energy usage, recommend the best times to travel via the most economical, efficient and sustainable means, and help us make decisions that benefit all

By Ali Sajwani

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Published: Wed 11 Jan 2023, 9:37 PM

Last updated: Thu 12 Jan 2023, 12:21 AM

A smart city is one in which technology comes to the fore, making life easier for all, with automation, paperless online transaction and digital identity solutions, to name a few.

While definitions vary, any smart city can be defined as a technologically modern urban area which uses electronic methods and sensors to collect data. Once processed, that data can be used to better manage assets, resources and services efficiently. And that data can then be used to improve operations across the city.

But a large part of the smart city concept revolves around sustainability, and I’ve been taking some time to understand this better.

For a start, removing paper and the need to travel to government offices, banks or utility providers has an obvious effect on resource usage, especially energy.

We know populations – especially urban – are growing rapidly. In fact, the World Economic Forum suggests more than half of the global population lives in cities – a figure set to rise to 80% by 2050.

Parallel to the challenges of overpopulation, global governments are tackling the looming climate crisis, infrastructure falling into disrepair and tight budgetary controls. I believe digital transformation can provide the answers.

Digital technologies are helping cities transform into more sustainable spaces while continuing to ensure safety, efficiency, functionality and citizen’s comfort.

Think for a moment about water and energy use. A smart city management system can connect usage with control, allowing greater energy flows to be efficiently delivered as and where needed. Smart energy meters installed in the home allow providers – and city management authorities – to build up a real-time usage map; with responsive controls to ensure the most efficient use of resources.

This can include valves and pumps to improve water and sewage systems, smart grids for better distribution and management of power, and building management solutions that monitor energy consumption.

Municipal buildings can easily employ smart building management, from lighting and HVAC systems to water and door controls. Savings made in a city’s energy bills can be utilised in more sustainable projects, like urban walkways and parks.

Meanwhile, modern urban workforces work better thanks to digital tools, especially with the shift to remote working.

Less commuting, smaller offices and reduced pollution from vehicles means a better environment, but also might lead to a major shift in how urban property is built and used. A connected workforce saves on repeated tasks, increases information exchange and improves the possibilities for skill sharing and training – all sustainable goals.

Employing the right digital monitoring tools aids in preventative maintenance of ageing infrastructure, often avoiding expensive replacements in favour of a timely repair. Predictive analytics help avoid downtime and anticipate maintenance needs.

By recognising patterns in asset data, cities can plan maintenance only when required, and real-time data can alert authorities to upcoming issues quickly. Such tools extend the life cycle of assets, allowing cities to deliver more reliable services with less.

I was delighted to recently learn more about the ’20-minute city’ concept, launched by His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Ruler of Dubai, as part of Dubai’s 2040 Urban Masterplan. The scheme shines a light on sustainable cities, with plans to enable residents access to 80 per cent of their daily needs and destinations within 20 minutes of their Dubai homes on foot or by bicycle.

Savvy citizens expect cities to be making real progress in ESG terms. Not only does real-time data gathering produce accurate, transparent reports into efficient resource management and planning, but connected digital systems help deliver real change in terms of waste management, resource allocation and can help cities in their journey to net zero carbon emissions.

The city of the not-too-distant future will allow us all to monitor our own energy usage, recommend the best times to travel via the most economical, efficient and sustainable means, and help us make decisions that benefit all. A smart city is a truly connected city, but to achieve that connectivity, we must encourage everyone to work together – we, the people, together with industry, government, city planners and technology providers. That point is on the horizon, and I, for one, welcome such innovation.

- Ali Sajwani is managing director of operations and technology at Damac Properties.


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