Abu Dhabi
Image Source: Mathias Apitz (München)
Abu Dhabi Skyline by night

Smart cities: the future of smart urban development plans

Smart cities no longer belong to the future, but to the present, and all urban modernization plans now call on these specialists in the connected city. From San Francisco to Hong Kong, Copenhagen to Abu Dhabi, all modern metropolises are making the transition to the Smart City model.

What is a Smart City?

Cities are living organisms with their own way of life, habits and culture. Managing a city cannot be an external application of a plan concocted in the minds of architects and specialists. To be intelligent and respectful of infrastructure and citizens, this management must first be in tune with the city. All urban development plans aim to facilitate transport, water and electricity supply networks, waste management, security of property and people, etc. But to achieve this goal it has now become essential to collect the massive data that the city itself already produces. This data is then processed to effectively manage the city’s resources and organization. Smart cities therefore integrate Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) and the Internet of Things (Internet of Things IoT) to enable citizens and officials to interact directly with the infrastructure. There are many reasons for making the transition to the Smart City model: global warming, urban population growth, the transition to the digital lifestyle and the smartphone phenomenon, etc. Many cities have started to do so, and many more are ready to take the plunge.

Singapore, San Francisco, Copenhagen…

In 2014, Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, launched the Smart Nation initiative. This major project aims to use info-communication technologies, networks and big data to empower citizens. According to Vivian Balakrishnan, Minister of Foreign Affairs and Minister-in-Charge of the Smart Nation initiative, the Smart Nation “won’t be one where a problem comes along, and Government has to solve it and people will just passively follow.” On the contrary, the objective is to allow citizens to have access to useful data in order to adapt their behaviour in terms of transport, energy consumption etc. To carry out this project, the City of Singapore developed an urban planning modelling tool that is designed to help urban planners build more sustainable cities. All the information is collected, processed and made visible on the Smart Nation Platform. The government then analyses the data generated by the sensors and improves the design, planning and maintenance of the city/state.

Birthplace of technology innovators such as Google, iPhone and Tesla, San Francisco is also a leader in urban innovation and the West Coast’s iconic city is leading the way in the development of Smart Cities. The city uses technology to support the efficiency of its construction plans, energy conservation, waste management and transportation network. It is the Cisco developed system that allows the city to manage traffic, parking and pollution to improve the quality of life of its citizens. For Munish Khetrapal, managing director of Smart+Connected Communities at Cisco: “The city should adapt to the need of citizens, rather than the citizen adapting to the city’s needs, or the city infrastructure.” This is what the concept of Smart City is all about.

In Denmark, the city of Copenhagen has also invested a lot of effort in implementing the Smart City concept. The areas of application are very diverse and numerous: from tailor-made urban lighting to smart parking, as well as encouraging cycling. Elected “Europe’s Green Capital” in 2014 and collecting environmental awards for the past ten years, the city plans to become the world’s first carbon-neutral city by 2025. To improve traffic flow for instance, the Danish capital has integrated sensors into signalling equipment that can transmit information on the position and speed of cyclists and buses, optimising connections with public transport is also an important environmental issue.

But to be a true Smart City, Copenhagen also needs a brain. It is the Muse platform, developed by the French company Citelum (EDF Group), world-renowned specialist in urban lighting and Smart City monitoring, that enables the management of the Smart City. This platform centralizes and makes accessible all the city’s useful information on traffic management, parking, video protection, urban lighting, air quality, etc. It is therefore not surprising that Copenhagen has the best reputation in Europe and the second-best reputation in the world according to Reputation Institute’s City RepTrak 2017. Combining dynamism, aesthetics, new technologies and environmental responsibility, Denmark’s capital is undoubtedly a leader among its peers.

…and many more to come

Larnaca, a southern coastal city in Cyprus, recently hosted the third Euro-Mediterranean Smart Blue City Conference, with 120 participants from 20 countries from all continents. Addressing her hosts, Cypriot Minister of Transport Vasiliki Anastasiades said that for her the Smart City concept was not just a trend but that it should be the philosophy of modern and future urban planning. “The Smart City concept is high priority in our agenda. In fact, we do expect a lot of benefits for our citizens and our cities such as: efficiency, sustainability, participation of society and better quality of life “ she said.

Hong Kong is also embarking on a profound transformation to become a smart city. The government announced a set of measures in six areas including “smart mobility”, “smart living” and “smart environment” that should be implemented by 2022. The project includes the facilitation of the use of autonomous vehicles; the installation of a data analysis platform for facilitating healthcare-related research, and start adopting a smart hospital approach; the progressive installation of LED lamps in public lighting systems and the incentive of retrofitting LED lighting for existing government buildings etc.

It is now Abu Dhabi’s turn to transform the capital of the United Arab Emirates into a Smart City. Very recently the Department of Urban Planning and Municipalities, headed by His Excellency Falah Al Ahbabi, launched a 5-year plan called the “Zayed Smart City Project”, which aims to manage infrastructure through the use of Information Technology and the Internet of Things. The political determination to move the city towards modern, attractive and coherent economic development must be the result of a real partnership between the public sector and private investment. A perfect example is this new contract signed by His Excellency Essa Mubarak Al Mazroui, Acting Executive Director of Town Planning Sector with Line Investment & Property LLC, to manage the Madinat Zayed Shopping Centre for a period of ten years. According to the Department of Urban Planning and Municipalities, this contract will allow “extensive improvements to the interior and exterior of the Centre to keep pace with the urban development in the capital”. The city has also signed five new investment contracts with the aim of moving the city towards more intelligent waste management. These new projects “are in line with the Abu Dhabi government master plan related to sustainability and environmental conservation, and they will greatly contribute in sustainable waste management and environmental protection” said Falah Al Ahbabi.

Hong Kong, Copenhagen and Abu Dhabi constitute tangible proof that Smart Cities are already here, and what currently belongs to the most important and radiant cities will soon be widespread.

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