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Smart cities require smart infrastructure. Whether it’s sustainability, quality of life, economic growth—or all three— infrastructure needs to be the starting point for any smart city strategy. Consider the following:

All of the above are challenges for cities as they work to transform themselves into smart urban spaces. But with tight budgets and economies teetering on recession, governments need to find ways to make the tough infrastructure choices that will enable the cities of the future.

Infrastructure as linchpin

Infrastructure is playing a larger role as governments work to jump-start economies as the global COVID-19 pandemic ebbs. According to Deloitte’s Future of Global Infrastructure report, a survey of more than 600 public officials and infrastructure executives worldwide, 98% of respondents expect the pandemic to significantly impact infrastructure decisions going forward, with those choices focusing on two key areas: transport and digital technology—both critical to progressing urban spaces into smart cities.

In the survey, the majority of respondents pointed to multimodal transport, with 60% expecting investment in green transportation in cities to increase. And with mobility and congestion leading causes of pollution and diminished quality of life in urban areas, cities need to start rethinking their current mobility models. Helsinki, Finland, for example, is focusing on reducing the use of cars by developing “mobility on demand”—a meshing together of transport options—from buses to bikes—that can be accessed via a smart app.

Even walking requires new thinking, with city planning revolving more around the ability to reach key destinations within 15 minutes. Indeed, according to the Deloitte report, Building climate-resilient cities, although only 36% of cities consider walking an important mode of transport today, more than 62% think it will be a vital mode of transport in the next three years.

Nearly as critical in infrastructure demand is the need for digital technology. The ability to connect a range of urban activities and use data to improve quality of life and lessen environmental impact is a major underlying factor in what makes a smart city smart. Much of upcoming infrastructure spending by governments is concentrated on initiatives that will prove critical to enabling the technological infrastructure needed to support smart cities. In fact, according to the Deloitte survey on infrastructure, 70% of respondents believe infrastructure investments will shift considerably toward digital—with AI, cloud, and cybersecurity the top focus of investment.

Cities are already looking to the growing climate and clean tech sector to pilot, test, and scale new technology that can help improve sustainability. For instance, 78% of cities have invested in apps to track and manage energy usage, 69% have invested in smart water meters, and 67% have invested in smart grids and smart meters. Only a strong digital infrastructure can support such activities.

Making the right choices

Understanding how infrastructure plans need to be more aligned to smart city ambitions and getting funding are two separate things. Especially as most regions arounds the world are experiencing a backlog of investment needed to maintain current infrastructure, trying to obtain and direct funding towards these plans will be a challenge.

Right now, the most viable options to boosting investment involve a range of financing options, from the privatization of assets and private sector funding to support from national governments and user fees and taxes. Many respondents to the Deloitte survey on infrastructure anticipate an uptick in tax credits to support funding for renewable energy infrastructure. And with banks considering environmental compliance in lending decisions, infrastructure projects that are climate friendly have a better chance of accessing private capital.

But there are ways governments can embed smart city aspirations into their current infrastructure planning, including:

  • Appoint sustainability officers. Over the past decade, cities have been appointing chief sustainability officers to oversee climate efforts: 78% of all cities surveyed for the Building climate-resilient cities report have an executive to oversee sustainability. These officials can help steer infrastructure spending in an environmentally impactful direction.
  • Draw on public sentiment. Moving forward, public sentiment and citizen activism will likely play an important role in pushing cities to take bolder action, just as it has in the private sector. According to a 10-city citizen sentiment analysis conducted as part of the Building climate-resilient cities report, a majority of citizens are currently unsatisfied with their local government’s climate action efforts.
  • Create incentives: Most cities don’t have a reset button, so retrofitting old infrastructure and buildings will be critical to making them more environmentally friendly, especially via smart technology. Incentive programs can help move this along by encouraging the intelligent management systems, sensors, and connections needed to provide data critical to smart city initiatives.
  • Embed social equity: With the pandemic shedding light on a range of social divides—from health care to internet access—public sentiment that infrastructure must meet the needs of all people is stronger than ever. Embedding social impacts and considerations in all stages of infrastructure planning will help ensure that quality of life and access issues remain front and center.

Although urban transformation often focuses on the environment, social equity, and technological innovation, it’s important to remember that infrastructure is an underlying challenge that must be addressed. It is, quite literally, the foundation on which smart city ambitions will need to be built. And that means any real commitment to a smart city agenda must include infrastructure at its core.

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Autor(en)/Author(s): Michael Flynn

Quelle/Source: Forbes, 15.11.2022

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