By 2050, almost 70% of the world’s people will live in cities. With a growing population and shrinking resources, there is tremendous pressure on governments to make cities sustainable, efficient and safe. Smart cities intelligently integrate key elements, such as infrastructure, energy and mobility to drive those efficiencies and support planning and growth.
Smart cities are already a reality in places like Singapore where the initiatives being explored are reinventing urban living. In other geographies around the world, public and private sector organisations are collaborating in smart city initiatives to explore opportunities and challenges to come up with new solutions. In South Africa, smart cities are still about 20 years away, although several projects have begun to increase broadband and Wi-Fi connectivity – the foundations on which smart cities are built – and introduce smart utilities.
What is clear is that smart cities evolve, with the development of some elements taking the lead. Advanced digital, analytics and IP-based security solutions have been around for more than a decade. They create the basis for many other smart city services.
As cities densify, they become more dependent on rapid, reliable service delivery. If up-to-date information is brought to a decision point, city infrastructure can be tailored to ensure that delivery. Take traffic flows as an example, monitoring them allows quick and effective response. Analysis of historic patterns enables informed long term planning.
In a smart city, the goal is not just to secure the environment but to also secure quality of life and freedom of movement. The objective is to create an environment conducive to growing the economy – that means happy and safe spaces in which to live and play and work. Security technologies and pro-active security approaches help create a platform to achieve this.
To move more rapidly towards smart city implementation in South Africa, government and the private sector need to collaborate on smart solutions. There are many instances of “smart enabled “service delivery – from refuse removal to meter readings – that can be significantly improved with the use of technology. Where government lacks capacity or resources, technology can help them apply their efforts more efficiently. Similarly, technology can assist government to minimise the very high cost of non-compliance and civil disobedience.
As an example, the failure to obey local water restrictions are a case in point. In a connected grid, those disobeying water restrictions are not just penalised after the fact, they are exposed to the city and can have supplies terminated.
For 2017, we hope to see more cities create strategies to become “smart”. But we also hope they realise that they cannot do it alone. Smart cities are built by both the public and private sector and these partnerships are going to be essential to manage consumption and break service delivery barriers. In addition, we cannot afford to wait. Smart city initiatives need to be implemented rapidly despite political uncertainty and sensitivities because they impact lives and economic growth.
As systems such as machine-to-machine communications, IoT technologies, big data analytics and cloud solutions evolve and a quality communication backbone (fibre optics and Wi-Fi) gain ground in 2017, expect to see more smart city solutions emerge in the environment you live, play and work in. These will be the signs of an awakening smart city.
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