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In a time where population growth sparked mass urbanisation, our cities have become the epicentres of transformative change, teeming with opportunities and challenges alike. The surge in urban populations has propelled cities into a new age, a digital and technological renaissance that promises greater operational efficiency and a greener, more sustainable future. At the same time, there are a complex web of operations and challenges, demanding innovative solutions and strategies to meet the evolving needs of our ever-expanding urban communities.

There are several critical issues caused by urbanisation that need to be addressed – not least the its impact on climate. The rapid growth of urban areas and the associated increase in energy consumption have a profound effect on the environment. The adoption of digital technologies, while offering numerous benefits, can also contribute to higher energy consumption, which further exacerbates the climate crisis.

Another significant challenge in urbanisation is the quality of the urban environment. This encompasses aspects such as air quality, water quality, and the availability of clean air and water for urban inhabitants. Different countries and cities are at varying stages of development, which means that some are better equipped to provide a high quality of life. This disparity poses a significant challenge, particularly in developing countries, where ensuring access to clean air and water for all residents is a pressing concern.

In response, cities are developing and pursuing ambitious digital transformation strategies to challenge the status quo. Urbanisation is ongoing – even accelerating in many parts of the world – meaning that inaction will only see the challenges associated with urban living become more pronounced. It’s crucial to address these challenges now to ensure that urbanisation is sustainable and beneficial for all.

Considering the citizen experience

In addressing these challenges, ensuring the safety, accessibility, and equity of urban spaces is paramount. To achieve this, city authorities, service operators, and infrastructure owners must consider a range of crucial factors.

It’s imperative for city planners to facilitate collaboration among various stakeholders. This includes both public and private sectors, as well as the input and involvement of the citizens themselves. In Singapore, which is often recognised as a smart nation, authorities have undergone several cycles of smart city development.

Initially, the focus was on leveraging technology to tackle urban challenges. However, a key realisation was that the adoption of technology should be inclusive, considering the perspectives and needs of the people it serves. Bringing stakeholders together and actively engaging with the community to understand their concerns and preferences is vital for creating urban spaces that genuinely address the needs of the populace.

While digital technologies can greatly enhance operational efficiencies and accessibility to services, it’s essential to ensure that these services are accessible to the wide and diverse populations found in all cities. Not all citizens are equally adept at using digital services, and some may face economic challenges in accessing technology. City authorities and service operators should, therefore, look into initiatives that promote digital literacy and provide devices to bridge this digital divide.

During events like the pandemic, the increased reliance on digital services highlighted the need to develop strategies for making these services available and user-friendly for all segments of the population. This might involve tailored education programmes or alternative means of access.

In all of these considerations, a collaborative approach is key. The public, private sector, and the people themselves should be active participants in the ongoing dialogue and decision-making processes. The evolution of urban spaces is continuous, and it is crucial to revisit and refine strategies regularly to ensure that the safety, accessibility, and equity of urban areas continually improve.

Operational efficiency – for cities and citizens

There have been significant advancements in urban technology in recent years that have notably enhanced day-to-day city operations.

Among the most significant are cloud-based capabilities, which have become instrumental in streamlining city operations. The ability to store and access data in the cloud (public or private) has revolutionised the way cities manage their information, making it more accessible and reducing the need for owning and managing the infrastructure. It has also brought another level of complexity to the IT landscape with adoption of multi-cloud and hybrid-cloud, and thus a need to ensure end-to-end security.

Similarly, edge computing has gained prominence in city operations, supporting digitalisation in cities and contributing to the convergence of the physical and digital worlds, allowing cities to operate more efficiently and deliver services in more innovative ways.

The ongoing maturation of artificial intelligence (AI) is also leading to increased productivity in city operations. AI is being used for a wide range of applications, from optimising traffic flow to predictive maintenance of critical infrastructure. Its capacity to process vast amounts of data and support city managers in making real-time decisions is only now being unlocked, and has the potential to be transformative in the coming years.

These technologies make an impact across various facets of urban life, from safety and security, to transportation challenges. However, it’s important to acknowledge that as these technologies evolve, concerns about transparency and privacy have become more pronounced. Citizens worry about the protection of their data, which puts the need for improved engagement and participation with citizens high on the agenda.

When we look at these technologies side by side, it demonstrates perhaps the most significant change in urban innovation in recent years – the diversification of technology options available to cities. This diversification has allowed cities to tailor their technology solutions to meet their specific needs, priorities, and operational requirements. This shift has been made possible by various developments, including the evolution of communication networks.

Take, for instance, the progression from 4G to 5G and the laying of extensive fibre networks. When it comes to communication technology, there is no one-size-fits-all approach. The choice between wireless and wired communication depends on factors such as population density and specific use cases. This diversification has allowed for more strategic and flexible decision-making when it comes to technology adoption in cities.

A sustainability-first approach

Considering all of the above, there is one critical aspect that factors into all decision making around citizen services and operational efficiency – sustainability.

Sustainability extends beyond merely making services environmentally friendly. It involves ensuring that city services and infrastructure are not only green but also sustainable and resilient over the long term. Sustainability, in this context, means that city services are designed to last, are economically viable, and continue to function reliably without frequent disruptions.

Resiliency is a crucial aspect of sustainability. It’s not just about ensuring that services are available during disasters or challenging times, but also that these services remain robust and reliable in both good and bad times. The goal is continuous improvement, so that even when disasters occur, the services continue to function effectively.

For example, due to climate change, cities face uncertainties like sudden floods. To address this, city planners need to ensure that drainage services are resilient enough to handle unexpected situations, whether in good weather or adverse conditions. This requires thorough planning and preparedness to guarantee that services remain operational, even in unpredictable scenarios.

Sustainability and resiliency are ongoing processes that involve continuous improvement and adaptability to evolving challenges. It’s not just about implementing green technologies, but also about making sure that the entire ecosystem of city services can withstand the test of time, ensuring a better quality of life for urban residents in both favourable and adverse circumstances.

Technology for advancement of citizens’ lives

While technological advancements are essential, it’s equally important to ensure that the people living in cities are part of the processes authorities are establishing. Their involvement not only fosters greater acceptance of government initiatives but also serves as a reminder that the ultimate goal of these services and infrastructure is to improve the lives of the people they serve.

After all, the heart of any urban development should always be its citizens, and it is they who stand to benefit the most from these advancements.


Autor(en)/Author(s): Manminder Takhar

Quelle/Source: Smart Cities World, 31.10.2023

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