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What makes a smart city?
Ed Baker
25th October 2016

In advance of a speaker slot at Smart Cities South Korea 2016, Ed discusses his thoughts on smart cities

What is your ideal description of smart, sustainable and social cities?

Too much focus is on technical innovation; ultimately, Smart Cities should be about improving lives. At Broadway Malyan, the focus of our work is on the creation of smart and sustainable communities and buildings. Solutions should be subtle, unobtrusive and properly integrated into designs.

The definition of a Smart City is not a ‘one size fits all’ description as it varies greatly by geographic location, context and whether it is being delivered in a developing or developed nation.

In India for example, a smart city will be one with access to improved sanitation, is easy to move around and has enough jobs and housing for a growing population. In somewhere like Singapore, it’s an exercise to see what improvements can be made from adding technology to existing infrastructure.

What is important is that the basics – access to clean air, water, and energy – are in place before looking at the next layer of smart cities.

What are 5 factors that influence investment opportunities to develop the Smart Cities model today?

1. Context: what is the level of investment required to address the main needs of the population?

2. Governance: is there the political will and desire to deliver smart cities and are structures in place to ensure that its implementation and operation is properly managed?

3. Sound planning: is there a joined up masterplan or is it a series of smaller plans with no connectivity? What planning policies are in place to support this?

4. Relevance: is the right solution being proposed, or does it address a problem that doesn’t exist or can be solved in a cheaper, more effective way?

5. Ease of adoption/education: with all new technology there is a learning phase, both for the developer and user. The ease in which these new technologies can be incorporated into the city fabric and the everyday activities of the people who live there will determine their success rate

What are some of the challenges governments could anticipate when considering implementation of Smart concepts within the nation?

In more established cities existing infrastructure is likely to need upgrading before smart ideas are introduced. For developing nations, if their cities don’t get the basics right then there are other priorities to solve first, and any proposed smart city initiatives may be strongly opposed with investment desired or needed elsewhere.

People are becoming more used to being connected in an increasingly digital world and are trading some privacy for this convenience. For example, people in cities are highly monitored through CCTV and it has become a fact of everyday life. Adding sensors and other tracking technologies is a further step and does raise more questions about individual privacy. Data owners and managers will need to address any concerns about this before they achieve public buy-in for new systems.

Also, many examples of smart city technology are often being piloted for the first time, and as with anything based on IT, software is susceptible to bugs and crashes. It is likely that there will be incidents; for example, we have already seen stories in the news about driverless cars crashing. Who takes ultimate responsibility for this (provider, designer or government) is still unknown. How everything is initially paid for, operated and maintained is also up for question.

How will rapid urban development reshape city living across Asia?

Asia is becoming urbanised fast, with many people moving from rural areas into cities. This is having a huge impact on city planning as solutions need to be found to house and provide infrastructure for large numbers of people.

Asia is well known for high density living and it is a trend that will continue, with space at a premium in the more popular cities.

What is essential is that throughout this process, planners and architects ensure that a legitimate sense of place is created and avoid developing ‘clone cities’. Careful thought also needs to be given to the creation of essential infrastructure and complementary facilities; developing in insolation and without wider consideration of the context will result in a poor end product that does not meet the needs of the current or future population.

Flexibility and adaptability has to be core to any design – technology is changing at a rapid pace and with some of these large scale projects taking up to 20 years to deliver, it is easy to see how proposals could become outdated before construction has been completed.

What are the benefits of collaborations between social enterprises and city governments?

Improvements to economic, social and environmental factors drive the arguments for the creation of smart cities. Social enterprises are already champions for these areas and can help engage with users and act as a link between private and public organisations.

Because these organisations often focus on community improvement first and profit second, it might help with the rollout and acceptance of smart cities and help create relevant jobs and training.

What are some of the best ways to optimise energy and operational efficiency during the build and design stages?

There are many technologies available to improve energy efficiency and reduce environmental impact. However, the basics should not be forgotten. Climatic design, which focuses on the materials, orientation of the buildings, natural shading and the incorporation of greenery and basic technologies such as rain water management systems are all valid and should form the foundation of designs before a ‘smart layer’ is applied.

How has the revolution of technology influenced the construction and design of cities today?

There has been a rebirth in city thinking, with a clear move ‘back to basics’. This is partly driven by the increased density of cities and a perceived isolation which has happened in some communities as urban areas have expanded. Quality of life is top of the agenda again and smart technology should be used to enhance wellbeing.

Some cities are running open-data initiatives, with information being made publically available, relating to things like parking, use of council services, and planning and procurement. This data can then be used by individuals and commercial organisations to develop solutions to help people’s lives.

Technology is also helping planners to map the behaviour of crowds so that they can better plan cities to cope with random events, such as extreme weather conditions or terrorism, and see how the infrastructure can be adapted and maintained throughout these scenarios.

What are your thoughts on the functions of Smart Mobility in the city and how could relevant authorities further support this initiative?

For an urban planner connectivity and mobility is perhaps the most important things to get right. Transport Orientated Development (TOD) is a key trend in Asia, with many developments anchored around transport hubs.

High quality, high density housing reduces demand for cars, improves accessibility and integration and reduces environmental impact and living costs. By combining this with workplaces, retail and leisure uses and public infrastructure such as schools, hospitals, etc. at an appropriate mix we can create a thriving district at the heart of the city. The benefit is that people do not have to travel far to meet their needs.

Authorities can help by supporting designs which incorporate clear mobility strategies within them and by trialling and investigation new technologies which can help to reduce reliance on cars, such as Personal Rapid Transit systems.

Any added views you wish to highlight ahead of your upcoming presentation?

We are actively partnering with clients to demystify the concept of smart cities and believe in a softer, human-focused approach, to enhance and sustain built, natural and social environments, create vibrant, integrated and mixed-use communities with social and economic purpose and foster creativity and innovation – with technology a critical but single factor.

We are delivering projects throughout Asia based on this philosophy, which we believe will result in better urban environments. These include Bandar Malaysia in Kuala Lumpur, and Bhartiya City and Emprasa Smart City, both in India.

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