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Decoding Smart City: From fiction to reality

Some of the Hollywood fictions that showed how robots been used to add comfort in life – where robot carries out all the daily chores, cleans the house, washes clothes among other works – to cars flying in the air and delivering passengers on docking space on high-rise buildings after criss-crossing amid growing air traffic, might become start realities as most cities in advanced economies are racing against time to become Smart Cities by adoption of technologies to improve service delivery.

A smart city is a municipality that uses information and communication technologies to increase operational efficiency, share information with the public and improve both the quality of government services and citizen welfare.

The UK Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) considers smart cities a process rather than a static outcome, in which increased citizen engagement, hard infrastructure, social capital and digital technologies make cities more liveable, resilient and better able to respond to challenges.

The British Standards Institute (BSI) defines the term as “the effective integration of physical, digital and human systems in the built environment to deliver sustainable, prosperous and inclusive future for its citizens.

As the smart city movement grows around the world, a new study sees Asia emerging as the global smart city leader of the future.

The paper focused on rise in worldwide smart city projects, which rose 38 per cent to more than 235 initiatives in 2016 from 170 at the end of 2013.

In terms of market value, smart cities jumped from $14.85 billion in 2015 to a predicted value of $34.35 billion by 2020, representing a compound annual growth rate of over 18 per cent.

The paper found that a key driver of smart cities growth was the ongoing trend of global urbanisation.

“With 70 percent of the world’s population forecast to live in cities by 2050, the need for sustainable, liveable world cities is essential for a prosperous future,” said the report.

One of the more interesting findings of the research was that Asia, not America, is most likely to emerge as the region leading global smart city development.

India is developing an astonishing 100 new smart cities, while converting 500 other urban areas into smart cities.

China, on the other hand, is well on the bandwagon as well, having launched 285 smart city related projects.

In an exclusive interview with Gulf Property, Anne Marie Thodsen, Project Manager of Future Cities Show, elaborated her thoughts on Smart Cities or Future Cities. Excerpts:

Gulf Property: What makes a city ‘Smart’? What do you mean by Smart City?

Anne Marie Thodsen:  Smart cities are about many different aspects and is not a topic that is possible to nail down easily.

Smart cities are cities where governments are thinking about the city as a framework for companies, citizens and overall society to flourish: connectivity and access in regards to infrastructure, energy, water and waste management, mobility, Internet of Things, big data analysis and overall code words like: liveability, quality of life, co-creation, energy and time efficiency, innovation and integration are clues to tasks that today’s citizens are seeking when they choose to settle in a city.

Smart is also often referred to meaning only technology, but often the human aspect is forgotten which is the whole reason for even discussing the cities of the future.


From an environment point of view, can a Smart City be carbon neutral in real sense?

Energy efficiency and using renewable energy sources and green technology is a key aspect of smart cities.

Every city has their unique issues and opportunities, and the smartest cities use them both to their advantages and mobilise their citizens to think it into their businesses and organisations.


How different would our lives be in a Smart City?

The cities of tomorrow are not meant to change the way people live, but rather support that they utilise the time and energy best possible so they can get most out of their surrounding society.

It might be that habits will change, but this is not a goal in itself, as habits take a long time to change, and it is easier to adapt technology and solutions to human behaviour.


Globally, is there any smart city – or a city that qualifies as a ‘Smart City’ in all aspects?

There are many cities globally that are becoming smarter and smarter.

A few stand out because they are smart in more than one aspect and take the opportunity to differentiate on both in sustainable development, innovative solutions and supporting happier co-creating societies.


How many cities are trying to become Smart Cities in the world?

Around the world there are countless countries that are seeking to become smart.

The smart city phenomenon is not a one-size-fits-all and it is not a goal in itself, as the race to become greener, smarter and happier is a continued effort.

Progress is such an interesting factor, meaning that we have to acknowledge and reward countries and cities that go from zero to 60 just as much as the ones that go from 99 to 100 on a scale of the best and smartest.

Sustainability is not beneficial and real unless progress is made around the world, and the Middle East and Asia are taking milestone steps and overtaking countries that have worked for decades on these matters. Among them are the initiatives with the 100 Indian smart cities, which has a huge impact and benefitting the whole world on an economic, environmental and social level.


How much money is being invested in developing Smart Cities in the world?

The smart city development is said to be a multi-billion or event trillion dollar marked in the coming years.

The monetary side is however not as interesting as the impact of smart cities, because we are transforming cities, which hold something like 75 percent of the world’s current population and a growing number worldwide.

Smart cities of the future will enable financial growth, environmental bettering and human growth and wellbeing on a scale that we can’t imagine yet and will affect our entire planet in a positive way.


Are we talking about flying taxis, robotic life where everything in life and work are automated with artificial intelligence powering robots to do the unthinkable and all things delivered as you press the button?

Many of the past’s impossible ideas are already coming true. And at a speed that is accelerating.

Yes flying cars, robotic colleagues and artificial intelligence is part of it, but these will be the least of the wild things we will see in the coming decades.

And I’m not afraid of neither artificial intelligence or robots. There are always new jobs coming when someone’s tasks are being automated, and humans are innovative in nature so we continue to grow and seek new heights and depths.


Where does sustainability fit in? Are Smart Cities sustainable?

Sustainability is everywhere in smart cities: it is the overall goal to create sustainability on all levels both for humans, for the environment and for continued economic growth.


There is a fear of job loss with the development of smart technologies that automate things without human intervention. Are we going to see a Smart City filled with unemployed people?

No, on the contrary: humans keep innovating and will develop our brains further together the more of the hard labour we can share with the machines.


In a Smart City, humans would interact more with machines, and less with other human beings. Is that what we might be seeing in future?

We have in the last decade seen humans turning more to ICT solutions for interaction and entertainment.

This aspect is not lightly to disappear, but humans will become better at separating their online time and offline time, because we already see many movements that go in the opposite direction of the online interactions only.


Can you portray a human life in a Smart City with all that technological advanced features? How exciting or boring would life be? Would you rather live in a normal environment with all its pitfalls?

Smart cities are not meant to make people adapt, and the changes to our lifestyle will be gradual and self-chosen for the most part.

People themselves choose if they have an exciting life, and in a smart city they have more options to select from and a better way to navigate and use the citizen’s time.