Smart cities are becoming a major focus across the globe. The EU Commission defines a smart city as ‘A place where traditional networks and services are made more efficient with the use of digital solutions for the benefit of its inhabitants and business. It means smarter urban transport networks, upgraded water supply and waste disposal facilities, more efficient ways to light and heat buildings and brilliant governance’. For this, the smart city strategy has to fit into the qualitative upgrade of the city by ticking all the boxes such as innovation, technology, economic growth and sustainable development. In short, it is a new urban utopia.
Image source: IoT
UK based analyst firm Juniper Research has ranked the world’s smart cities according to their degree of smartness. The research took several factors into account, including transportation and infrastructure, energy and lighting, city management, and urban connectivity. Among the 50 major global cities, the following five arrived at the top:
- New York
Smart City #1 – Shanghai
Photo credits: Laurent LIU (Flickr)
Shanghai is the economic and financial hub of China. Juniper notes that Shanghai is unique in Asia because its municipality offers more and more digitized services to its residents. It is no wonder that China’s gateway to the world is also the vanguard of smart city development.
Shanghai’s Smart Strategies
- Shanghai Clone – Digital Twin of Shanghai has real-time data and helps in asset management and future-proofing the city.
- People-Oriented Smart City digital infrastructure project made it a “Dual Gigabit” city – full 5G coverage in the downtown area and fiber coverage across 99 percent of the city was achieved.
- Citizen Cloud App – This is the most commendable strategy. It turned out to be the world-leading citizen data platform and as a one-stop-shop for the residents. The app uses technologies such as Cloud computing, artificial intelligence, and big data.
- The city’s one-stop platform for government affairs includes 1,274 public services covering birth and marriage, culture and education, tourism, social security, transportation, medical treatment and health, plus legal services and senior care.
- A total of 75,000 public service applications were handled via the platform every day. Citizens can check a wide variety of day-to-day requests such as marriages, tax bookings, real-time traffic conditions, traffic violations, weather forecasts, hospital registrations, legal mediation applications, pension inquiries, and tourism complaints.
- Information of residents is shared by 39 government authorities connected with the platform and the government announced that currently, there are 14.5 million users of the platform. The Citizen Cloud app is the preferred way to contact the city about a myriad of issues, although there is a one number common call center that removes the need for citizens to find out which service or department to ring.
Smart technology lead to holistic development in Shanghai
Democracy and digital technology
It is widely accepted that a smart city and good democracy go hand in hand. The Shanghai government is keen to democratize the data they hold and deliver transparency to their citizens, making them more involved in decision-making and empowering them to help themselves in their day-to-day lives. The stored data acts as the intersection between the physical and the digital worlds, making it a cutting-edge strategy.
85% of the carbon emission is happening inside the city’s geography, so it is important to reduce carbon emissions in the city.
In Shanghai, citizens can access government services through a single app easily from home, such as registering their residency or transferring from one city to another. They need not go to the city hall located downtown for paperwork. This lowers the burden on traffic, reduces carbon emission, and saves energy and resources in a highly populated city like Shanghai. Insights about electricity consumption, energy consumption, pollution, etc., can be derived from big data analytics. This helps the government analyze and implement specific measures to reduce emissions further. Thus it makes digital transformation a key player in the energy transition.
Juniper Research reports that Smart cities, which focus more on smart grid initiatives, can save over 1,000 TWh of electricity in 2026. This is equivalent to more than 5 years of energy consumption by Greater London at present levels. Overall, smart cities initiatives will lead to reductions of over 950 megatons of CO2-equivalent emissions over the forecast period. Energy savings are expected to reach $96 billion in 2026, making the deployment of smart city technology highly cost-effective.
As the world moves to increased digital integration, there are complex questions about privacy and security that go together with the services which would alleviate major issues and improve lives. These are tough questions that cities and countries around the world will have to tackle to find their own preferred balance. But tech-powered governance carried out through innovative management technologies (like in Shanghai) can be a major enhancement to governance itself. By personalizing city management and allowing it to cater directly to the people, greater synergy between a city’s residents and its government can be found. And, it can benefit people and societies.
Future of cities
At present, over half of the world’s population lives in cities. The number of urban dwellers will increase by two billion during the next twenty years due to approximately three million people moving to the ‘cities’ every week. We are in a tough spot globally because our cities are not well prepared for such drastic migration without harming our resources. In order to address the deep and diverse needs of urban centers and their population, smart technologies are a necessity. Our cities will thrive in the future by building and upgrading infrastructure with technologies that address the biggest challenges of the rapidly urbanizing world.
Though ‘smart cities’ as a concept started to stimulate the adoption of Internet usage by citizens, the concept has shifted from a purely ‘digital’ activation to a more inclusive, ‘sustainable’ definition. Smart cities are built upon technology; however, they should not be merely technology-centric. It is about livability, sustainability, the public good and social inclusion. It is vital to define a smart city growth accordingly.