According to research from the United Nations, cities take up a mere 2% of the world’s land mass, but account for 80% of the world’s energy consumption, 70% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions and 60% of our water consumption. With rapid urbanisation on the agenda in many growth countries, cities need to become smarter and greener if they are serious about coping with change in the coming years.
This is the view of Laurens Cloete and Dr Daan Velthausz from the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), who spoke at the recent Gauteng Integrated Infrastructure Masterplan workshop held in Sandton on 7 February 2013. Cloete noted that cities would have a number of challenges facing them in the coming years, including limited resources, ageing infrastructure and a focus on sustainable, liveable, socially and environmentally related matters.
“Information Communication and Technology (ICT) allows cities and people to make better decisions and become greener with a better usage of available resources,” says Cloete.
Much like the European Union’s “Digital Agenda”, Digital China’s “Smart City strategy” or Singapore’s “Intelligent Island” initiative, South Africa has embraced the concept of Smart Cities with the “Smart Gauteng” set-up. This includes the installation of high-speed fibre optic roll-outs.
However, there is much we can still learn. “Open-data initiatives and hackathons, like New York City’s BigApps competition, which produce useful and resource-saving apps to improve cities and keep citizens informed. Things like air quality, restaurant sanitation scores, building inspection scores and impending legislation should be readily available for all citizens,” says Cloete.
Some of the apps that have come out of these international initiatives include:
- Parking apps that direct drivers to the nearest available parking spot. It will save commuters time, fuel and money, reduce emissions, and also ease the flow of traffic
- Apps that let users “adopt” city property waste bins, phone booths, trees, fire hydrants, etc so the city doesn’t have to spend money on staff that tend to them.
- Hi-tech waste management systems. Pay As You Throw waste disposal would encourage people to recycle more and waste less, while using tools like RFID, could improve sorting so that recyclable plastic bottles don’t end up in landfills.
- Police forces that use real-time data to monitor and prevent crime.
While there has been some progress toward this, Cloete and Velthausz say that a cohesive strategy is needed to ensure sound execution: “A smart city strategy involves all actors, organisations, communities, R&D, NGOs, clusters and authorities. The partnership should achieve a common vision, flagship projects, collaboration and synergy.”
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