Right time for smart cities

It was awe-inspiring to see the updated blue-print of the New Clark City unveiled by Bases Conversion and Development Authority (BCDA) President and CEO Vince Dizon during the Pre-SONA in July 1. Construction of the Phase 1A, which includes an athletics stadium that can seat 20,000 individuals, and an aquatics center with a seating capacity of 2,000 will be finished by October 15. This is just one of the many phases of this ambitious $14-billion and three-decade long project that will boast sustainable buildings cleverly designed to reduce water and energy usage for an eco-friendly and cost-efficient living.

New Clark City boasts as the country’s first smart and resilient metropolis. But the concept of smart city is nothing new.

Back in 2005, President Bill Clinton, through his philanthropic organization the Clinton Foundation, kick-started the smart city concept by challenging big U.S. technology companies to use their technical know-how to make cities more sustainable. Since then, many cities in the U.S. and around the world invested in smart city technologies in a race to make habitable and future-proof cities.

That’s the nature of a smart city – it is technology-enabled, not just eco-friendly as many people would think. Information and communications technology is used to enhance quality, performance and interactivity of urban services, to reduce costs and resource consumption and to increase contact between citizens and government. Smart city applications are developed to manage urban flows and allow for real-time responses.

But a huge drawback for the early adopters of the smart city concept is its huge upfront and maintenance costs. Five to 10 years ago, technology was extremely costly, difficult to integrate, and requires a lot of human capital resources.

That’s why the early smart cities, from South Korea to Malaysia, are reportedly virtual ghost towns, according to a recent report of China Morning Post. These “are prohibitively expensive and catalysts for land dispossession and social inequality”. But these are the true incarnation of a smart city.

An example is South Korea’s self-styled smart city in Songdo, which is built on a 600-hectare parcel of artificial land. “It is a place where the garbage is automatically sucked away through underground pipes, where lamp posts are always watching you, and where your block of flats knows to send the lift down to greet you when it detects the arrival of your car. Sensors in every street track traffic flow and send alerts to your phone when it’s going to snow, while you can monitor the children’s playground on television from the comfort of your sofa.”

Initiated by the South Korean government in the 1990’s, Songdo International Business District was conceived as a $40-billion hub for international companies, and as a guinea pig for new smart city technologies. Now it is expensive and exclusive, with few tenants.

Nonetheless, the number of smart cities are expected to spike up all over the world, primarily driven by fast-declining cost of technology. With smart devices becoming digital, they require very little electricity.

Moreover, city officials and government technocrats are likewise becoming “smarter”. The cumulative mistakes and experience from the past showed them that it is not only technology that makes a smart city sustainable, but also using the appropriate technologies to meet citizens’ actual and realistic requirements.

These are now leading to grand plans and huge investments in smart cities all over the world. Africa is planning to spend $100 billion into at least 20 smart city projects, while India has pledged to build 100 smart cities. China is aggressively expanding its smart city initiatives, having started 500 of its own smart city pilots.

Back home, the Asean Smart Cities Network (ASCN) which was established in May 2018, developed a smart city framework to facilitate smart city development in each ASCN city. It consists of three strategic objectives: competitive economies, sustainable environments and higher quality of life. It already plans to pilot 26 cities, including Manila, Cebu, and Davao.

What augurs well for our country is the rise of young, action-oriented, and tech-savvy city mayors, which combined with the declining cost of technology and push from other agencies, will definitely lead to the realization of smart cities in our lifetime.

The timing is just right.

The author is President & CEO of Hungry Workhorse Consulting, a digital and culture transformation firm.. He teaches strategic management in the MBA Program of De La Salle University. The author may be emailed at rey.lugtu@hungryworkhorse.com.

Source: https://www.manilatimes.net/2019/08/02/business/columnists-business/right-time-for-smart-cities/593808/