Smart cities: A sneak peek into the future

Tuesday November 13 2018

A graphic of what a smart city looks like.

A graphic of what a smart city looks like.  

By Chen Zhijun

According to a report released in May by UN Habitat titled, ‘The State of African Cities 2018: The geography of African Investment,’ 55 per cent of the world’s population today lives in urban areas, a proportion that is expected to increase to 68 per cent by 2050, with 90 per cent of this increase taking place in Asia and Africa. An earlier report by the organisation also projected that Africa and Asia together will account for 86 per cent of growth in the world’s urban population over the next four decades.

As the human population gradually shifts from rural to urban areas, this unprecedented increase has already posed new challenges in terms of jobs, housing, and transportation. Cities are finding it increasingly complex to effectively manage the city and provide good services to citizens at the same time.

With the development of information and communication technologies (ICT), the “Smart City” concept is emerging as a critical phenomenon in urban development. Using various ICT or innovative solutions, the Smart City integrates the city’s constituent systems and services to enhance the efficiency of resource allocation and utilisation, optimise urban management and services, and improve the quality of life of citizens.

Connecting cities
Smart cities can be likened to a living organism with a “nervous system” (the network and sensors), connecting its “brain” (the control center) with “limbs and organs” (departments and institutions), enhancing the city’s management and services.

In this process, ICT solutions can play a critical role in connecting the digital and physical worlds across city administration, public services and industries. Using new ICT including cloud computing, big Data, Internet of Things (IoT) and Artificial Intelligence (AI). These solutions drive unified coordination, cross-sector collaboration, and intelligent analysis for effective management of city services.

Connectivity brought by ICT infrastructure including mobile networks and fibre is the “soil”, which provides the fertile ground for important value-adding “crops”, which in this case are applications and services including Public Safety, e-government, e-education, e-health, e-agriculture and so on. Enhancing the ICT infrastructure ensures that ICT services and applications are available, accessible and affordable to every citizen and that these applications can improve livelihoods, ease of doing business and increase productivity.


How can we make cities smarter to meet the needs of their growing urban populations for housing, transportation, energy systems and other infrastructure, as well as for employment and basic services such as education and health care?

Making cities smart
First, the construction of smart cities requires coordination across departments through the overall strategy and design, including setting goals, priorities and implementation paths. The system should be designed in ways that are user-friendly, with appropriate technologies and can be maintained, integrated with other systems and upgraded.

According to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, safety and security together with food and water are basic needs for all human beings. For a country and its cells, “Cities”, there is also Maslow-like hierarchy of digital needs. Ensuring security lays a solid foundation for a competitive nation and a dynamic city.

“Building Sustainable and Resilient Cities,” the theme for World Cities Day 2018, is a call for us to rethink how cities may become better places to protect and enhance people’s lives. By making cites safer and smarter, ICT increases cities’ attractiveness.

The report highlights that improving ICT infrastructure is critical to attracting Foreign Direct Inflows (FDI), whilst the ICT industry itself is also a crucial sector for FDI, since it offers the highest growth rates and number of direct jobs along with manufacturing.

With the help of technologies and innovations, we can solve common problems facing cities such as traffic congestion, high unemployment, crime and environmental degradation by making cities safer and smarter.

The writer is Huawei’s Vice President.