THERE has been much hype about smart cities, and the 21st century has seen an emerging trend of countries going for intelligent buildings and progressing towards smart cities.
What is a smart city? It is a developed urban area that provides sustainable economic development and promotes a high quality of life for people in key areas like mobility, environment, people, living and government.
The United Kingdom Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) considers smart cities a process moving towards increased citizen engagement, hard infrastructure, social capital and digital technologies to make cities more liveable, resilient and better able to respond to challenges.
The British Standards Institute 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”.
IBM defines a smart city as “one that makes optimal use of all the interconnected information available today to better understand and control its operations and optimise the use of limited resources”.
Cisco, meanwhile, defines smart cities as those who adopt “scalable solutions that take advantage of information and communications technology (ICT) to increase efficiencies, reduce costs and enhance quality of life”.
In short, smart cities are those with improved “technology”, being “connected”, “Internet-savvy” and “modern”.
However, a smart city development needs strong human capital, social commitment and a highly-developed ICT infrastructure as much of the smart city’s components are ICT prompted.
The all-encompassing aim is to enhance the quality of living for citizens through smart technologies.
For example, a municipality or council that uses technology to increase operational efficiency, share information with the public and improve the quality of government services is on the step towards being a smart city.
Another important characteristic is being consciously aware of environmental concerns and using energy efficiently. Addressing social concerns such as citizen safety would also be on the agenda. Public transport supply ought to meet user demand.
Controlled water usage, especially by educated neighbourhoods or counties and responsible parking are also physiognomies of smart cities.
In countries with four seasons, prompt snow removal is vital to ensure that people are not inconvenienced and day-to-day tasks can progress smoothly.
Another vital component is data democratisation. Making large municipal data sets available to citizens will enable them to engage in healthy discussions on how the city should progress.
A well-tested example of a smart city is the Vienna Smart City Wien Initiative. The initiative was launched in 2011, where a framework was developed to be a stimulus for creating a network of European smart cities.
The planned timeframe for achieving necessary changes in energy, mobility and construction sectors is from 2013 to 2050.
The key goals prompting this initiative is to significantly reduce resource consumption while continuing to offer excellent quality of living, safety and security for citizens.
The target areas are to build better social housing, improve public transport and widen the network coverage to reach as many parts of the city as possible with inexpensive fares, excellent reliability and quality. This will ensure high acceptance levels on the part of citizens.
Steps towards building a knowledge-driven economy and ensuring supreme quality water for the citizens are also being worked on.
A key feature of the Smart City Wien Initiative is waste management. Vienna’s waste management structures, including waste disposal, separation, sewage treatment, and the combination of waste incineration and heat generation are models to be emulated.
Ensuring that green spaces are preserved as recreational areas for the population blend environmental quality with attractive leisure options.
In Malaysia, how far forefront are we in the smart city initiatives? There is the joint collaboration with the UK in making urbanisation manageable and sustainable for the future. We are progressing towards an integrated rail system connecting key towns.
Melaka has been identified to be developed as a green city. However, the main concern of the Malaysian public today is: are we moving towards reducing crime, relieving the plight of the poor, attracting talents or ensuring a clean environment?
These are valid concerns that need to be addressed immediately. We have formulated an action plan for greater Kuala Lumpur/
Klang Valley Region as it is the economic hub of Malaysia. We hope to become a developed market by 2020, and we are proactive and ready to invest in smart initiatives to push the region forward.
The challenges we face are a weak awareness of energy efficiency, and incorporation of green or smart technologies.
There is a lack of expertise to address these areas, but the key factor remains that we cannot expect to create an overall smart city overnight. Small portions of developments can become the blueprint of success.
Melaka is a good example of a city moving towards green technology. The city boasts the country’s first electric bus transport service, and the first two buses it received are being used to enhance tourist transportation.
Both have been deployed along hop-on, hop-off routes.
More electric buses were received at the end of 2015. They are environmental-friendly as they can reduce carbon emission, improved air quality and lower pollution.
The buses also achieved the second goal of smart cities, that is, they are equipped with close-circuit television cameras inside and outside, thereby ensuring passenger safety.
These are but small steps. But small steps with vision towards big horizons are bound to arrive at the destination. It is just a matter of time and resourcefulness.
**The writer is a research fellow, Faculty of Law, Universiti Malaya