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Smart cities for urban sustainability

Smart cities for urban sustainability

Clever developers get ahead of smart-city plans

By Esther de Villiers

, |

Smart cities for urban sustainability

Clever developers get ahead of smart-city plans

By Esther de Villiers

, |

3 min read

Government has three new smart-city projects in the pipeline, but some developers claim that they’ve already pioneered this trend. We explain the concept in a nutshell, and provide good reasons for developers to take note and act.

Backbone of ‘smart’

Nearly a decade ago, smart-city design principles were explored by Christina Kakderi (urenio.org), who referenced an Urban Technologist blog listing 23 factors each city should consider ‘with respect to infrastructure construction, connectivity and information accessibility, economic development and viability’.

‘The four pillars of smart-city design include social, physical, institutional and economic infrastructure, the centre of attention in each case being the citizen,’ claimed Kakderi.

Don’t enforce, incentivise

Eesri.in concurs that a smart city should ensure the best for all people, regardless of social status, age, income levels, or gender. While economic infrastructure is self-explanatory, social infrastructure relate to the development of human capital, e.g. education, healthcare, and entertainment systems.

Physical infrastructure encompasses stock of actual infrastructure – an urban mobility system, housing, energy and water supply, sewerage and sanitation facilities, solid waste management and drainage – all integrated through the use of technology.

Institutional infrastructure refers to planning and management systems. High-quality governance with a strong local say in decision making is critical for smart cities. Typically prescribed is governance by incentives, rather than enforcement.

Public v private

Provincial governments are working on at least three smart-city projects, with developments including middle-class suburbs in Gauteng as well as small towns on the eastern seaboard.

Among these count Nkosi City to the west of Kruger National Park, the Eastern Cape project African Coastal Smart City, Lanseria Smart City that borders the municipalities of Gauteng and Madibeng, and Mooikloof Mega-City east of Pretoria.

But last month, businesstech.co.za reported that real estate group Attacq is already moving on a new smart city in the heart of Johannesburg. In presentation to shareholders conducted in June, Attacq said its ultimate goal was to turn the Waterfall development into a smart, safe, sustainable city through private partnerships.

Herding the Gen-Z flock

CRE Africa director Craig Cooper says that, as commercial property brokers, they supply global occupiers with office space catering to a burgeoning Gen-Z workforce.

‘This trend is predominantly driven by Baby Boomers being replaced by Millennials in strategic management positions and planning. Consideration is given to the maturing Gen-Z workforce, and a workspace that continue to attract top talent.

‘In addition to obvious tech-infrastructure benefits of a smart city, offices now need to highlight a company’s contribution to being good corporate global citizens,’ says Cooper.

He emphasises the importance to Gen-Z’ers of their company’s commitment to societal challenges such as climate change, sustainability, and famine.

‘This presents a massive opportunity for forward-thinking property developers to get involved. Demand for smart-city space will grow and landlords who don’t adapt will be left behind.’

Continental challenge

Sunil Geness is spokesperson and director of Global Government Affairs & CSR at SAP Africa. He says smart cities represent a new model for local-government service delivery, applying the extensive use of technology and data for an improved citizen experience.

‘Success often hinges on their ability to join the dots – using sensors, mobile applications and other sources to uncover new insights and identify trends for better service delivery.’

He says what’s exciting about Africa’s smart-city prospects is that it remains underdeveloped compared to other regions. ‘Due to a lack of legacy infrastructure, we can construct these projects with fewer complications. Instead of undoing past development, African nations can immediately start laying the foundations of their own smart cities.

‘The sharp continental increase in active technology hubs is evidence of governments’ appetite in this regard. By 2018, the number of active tech hubs across Africa grew to 442… a 50% increase since 2014.’

What’s so smart about these cities?

While housing innovative tech companies, smart cities also employ devices and sensors to improve basic aspects of mobility (traffic, public transport, and roadworks), water and sanitation, e.g. meters that can be remotely monitored, and predictive analytics to enable proactive maintenance of key infrastructure.

Geness adds that better incident response to disaster management, law enforcement, and public safety is equally important.

‘Digital technologies offer city planners the potential to solve some of the most urgent urban problems while also creating a bridge to the future. Lay foundations for tomorrow’s smart cities now through engaging with high-tech partners and start building the platforms that enable data-driven innovation.

‘The guiding principles of this process should be the reimagining of public service delivery to citizens, and increasing the resilience of city infrastructure.’

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