Having traveled to different countries, I am quite demanding when it comes to my city experience. I am sure that today’s “well-traveled” urban resident also has equally high (if not higher) expectations from their city. The overall city experience is driven by the city planner’s vision for their city and execution of this vision by various city agencies. In today’s scenario – this vision, more often than not, involves an aspiration to transform into a Smart City. I am penning this blog against the backdrop of a huge awareness for Smart City initiatives in the emerging markets – MEA (Middle-East Africa) and India.
I work in the MEA region that brings together a spectrum of countries that are at different points in their evolution journey and are driving Smart City programs in pockets. I come from India and there has been a recent announcement by the government about developing 100 Smart Cities in 5 years. An obvious observation would be that a resident from Dubai (UAE) has very different expectations from one in Nairobi (Kenya) and a resident in Johannesburg (South Africa) has different expectations from the one in Bangalore (India). However, every city dweller wants one thing in common – a better way of life in the cities that they reside. Everyone likes to be at a place that welcomes him/her and delivers a signature city experience.
So, what makes a city “Smart”?
The City ecosystem is made up of important entities – people, agencies, systems, procedures et al. Smart City initiatives have to be tied to these entities and drive improvements and deliver exceptional experiences. I believe the transformation into a Smarter City has to go through a progression path spread over three waves.
Wave 1 – Foundational Smart City Initiatives
City planners would have a wide range of possible initiatives that they can consider to make their city “Smart”. While taking them up at one go could be overwhelming – not just for the planner but also for the average resident – there are services that the resident expects “bare-minimum” from a Smart City. It is prudent that cities evolve by establishing a strong foundation that can be leveraged and extended further with time. Here is a sample list of these Foundational Smart City initiatives:
Wave 2 – Advanced Smart City Initiatives
With the number of Smart City programs being executed worldwide, there will always be a demand on city planners to ensure that their city stands out from the crowd. Of course, this can only be done once the foundational setup is in place. A unique experience for the Smart city resident is essential to ensure stickiness and brand appeal. These initiatives build on top of the foundational initiatives and further differentiate the “city experience”
Wave 3 – Correlation between Initiatives
Having established the Smart City initiatives, a mature Smart city will have to deliver an “one-city” experience to its residents across all interfaces with the residents. This can be achieved by having the data between different initiatives integrated into one data hub and generate correlations between various sets of silo-ed data. An interesting example would be to correlate weather data with water consumption levels to draw patterns on a hot day vs cloudy day scenario and leverage this further to predict water usage in the future. Another example would be adapting traffic management based on incidents happening in the water network (sewage pipe leaks). A representation of this solution is shown here.
What makes a city “Smart” is dependent on where you are on the evolution journey. For established cities that want to evolve into Smart Cities, there can never be a standardized journey template since each city will have its unique needs, demands and constraints. For Greenfield cities, like the ones coming up in emerging markets (Dubai Design District, Palava, Lavasa et al), they have an advantage of not being bound by existing systems/infrastructure. They can be innovative and plan their journey so that they can extend and scale over time with an end-objective of delivering a differentiated city experience to their residents.