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Making our cities smart-city-ready

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The future of cities is smart interconnected systems, that drive sustainability and efficiencies, and that make the lives of the people who live in them easier.  While South Africa’s major metropolitan areas still have many major hurdles to overcome, becoming smart-city-ready must become an important consideration in future city planning if we want to build metropolitan hubs that function at a world-class level.

By 2050 the current rate of urbanisation will mean that 68% of the world’s population will live in cities.  This, combined with the current population growth rate, means that by that year there will be 2.5 billion more people living in urban areas.  This will result in increased demands on infrastructure, amenities and space, which, in turn, will mean a demand for new and improved ways of managing these spaces, or future megacities.

Moving forward we will need to futureproof any infrastructure developments, with a keen eye on interconnectivity and telecommunications. Already thanks to the internet of things we can connect device with a sensor to anything else with a sensor – giving us access not only to banks of new data but also opening brand new possibilities around efficiencies.

Just think of the amount and money that could be saved by a system which monitored traffic flow and fed that information back to a central data centre where machine learning was being used to analyse the data and facilitate smoother traffic flow – all in real time.

What about a city where surveillance cameras plug directly into emergency services, immediately alerting officials to a crime or motor vehicle accident and simultaneously sending the information to the closest police officer or paramedic, cutting down on response times?

There is already a global push towards smart cities, but South Africa remains a long way off, thanks in most part to the need for more interconnectivity and infrastructure.

While we wait for that infrastructure to be put in place, however, it would be amiss of us to fail to put in place plans that will ensure that Johannesburg, Cape Town, or even Pretoria, can become smart cities sooner rather than later

So, how do we make sure that we are smart-city-ready when the time comes? Firstly, in preparing to become a smart city it’s important to take a wholistic approach. At the core of that approach should be the goal of driving efficiencies in existing systems.  Often new technology gets us excited and we lose sight of the end goal because of a gimmick.  Being smart-city-ready is not about smart parking or healthcare or agriculture. It’s about creating a system which is integrated, which is sustainable, which increases the ease of living for citizens, makes the city a safe place to live and drives economic growth in the long run.

Another important aspect of preparing to be a smart city is the breaking down of silos. Today, systems still operate in isolation, and different components are not directly linked to each other. For example, the city of Johannesburg has hundreds of cameras for traffic, hundreds for city surveillance, hundreds at retailers and hundreds within public transport, with very limited scope of cooperation between these silos.

Surveillance represents a typical area where a city can become smarter when selected data is shared across multiple stakeholders. By breaking down the barriers between the individual silos, several benefits can be gained – for the city, for private entities and for the citizens. Cameras have become an integral part of operations centres of major cities around the world.  As the Internet of Things comes to life, there are numerous other scenarios where network cameras could help improve the way smart cities function, and the way people live, travel and work.

Potential use cases range from city information systems – where the cameras become an essential component of a central operation centre for a variety of city services related to safety and security, energy, health, traffic, and transportation – to sustainable urban planning to environmental solutions that monitor air quality, noise levels, and UV radiation. Network cameras could also enable new applications in commerce, entertainment and tourism, especially when coupled with mobile and location-based technologies. Examples of the ways network cameras can impact on a smart city range from parking monitoring to 3D mapping for tourists.

Smart lighting demonstrates another opportunity for preparing for a smart future. Hundreds of local authorities around the world have invested in smart LED street lighting thanks to an increased focus on sustainability and the efficient use of resources.  The lights last longer, use much less energy and make streets safer. Smart lighting can also provide the foundation for an eco-system of data that can help people make better decisions – whether they are managers delivering public services or ordinary citizens wondering how best to get home after work.

Finally, it will take co-operation between the public and private sector to ensure that cities can make the transition to being smart.

Employing these best practices, partnerships between public organisations, private companies and the community can bring benefits to the whole system: public safety, economic development and improved management efficiency, with municipalities giving citizens and local businesses the chance to play a key role in the process.

Building the smart city of the future will take bravery and visionary leadership.  It will also take commitment to all those involved to new harnessing new technologies as they become available. Innovation must become a tool which makes cities more liveable. Simply put, it’s the smart the thing to do.

By Raja Moudgil, General Manager, Signify Southern Africa and Roy Alves, Country Manager, MEA, Axis Communications

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