Amongst many technological notions and ideas that have been discussed since the dawn of the millennium, the ‘smart city’ concept has been one of the best-spoken theories around the world at many forums and discussions. With the population growing and the demand for natural resources and services increasing, public and private institutes are working around the clock to find a sustainable solution and for many of these institutes, developing smart cities has looked more viable and future-oriented.
What is a smart city?
Statistics show that by 2025, 37 cities globally will have a population of greater than 10 million, with 22 in Asia alone. At the same time car ownership is projected to increase by 60 percent, while by 2030 the demand for water could outstrip supply by 40 percent. Today, cities already consume two-thirds of the world’s energy, and with demands increasing this numbers are set to grow.
According to the United Nations, the urban population is drastically surpassing the rural population in the world. Moreover, this proportion is expected to increase dramatically in the coming years to the point that by 2050, almost 70 percent of the world population will be urban and many cities will have over 10 million inhabitants. It is estimated that by 2025 in China alone, there will be 221 cities in excess of 10 million inhabitants. Europe currently has 35 such cities.
Left unchanged, rising populations and the subsequent impact on energy resources is creating an unsustainable future. In such a context, the concept of smart cities is not a pipedream anymore, it’s already happening.
To simply put it, a smart city uses a breadth of information and communication technologies (ICT) to improve quality and performance of urban services, to decrease costs and resource consumption and to engage more effectively and actively with its citizens. Across the globe, a number of developed and developing countries are setting plans to implement smart cities and a few countries are already experiencing the luxuries of improved government services, transport and traffic management, energy, health care services, water and wastage facilities through the concept of a smart city.
Also, a smart city is a comprehensive place, using technology and innovative solutions to increase social inclusion and battle poverty and deprivation. Most importantly, a smart city must be a good place to live, offering the best possible quality of life, with the lowest possible use of resources.
Using technology to make cities smart
A smart city can convert itself to an open digital platform that can boost the economic, societal, environmental and welfare structures of cities and enable the shift towards more sustainable behaviour among all public and private stakeholders. On the other hand, it enables new business models, thus constituting an excellent platform for innovation in their environment.
One of the key technologies that has been discussed under smart cities is Internet of Things (IoT). The IoT presents a unique opportunity to address these issues, while driving local economies, reducing costs, increasing efficiencies and creating exciting, new services. People, businesses and ultimately society itself are beginning to embrace the IoT to start solving some of these problems. However, with new devices being created by the millions, cities around the world are facing an uphill battle to ensure integration and interoperability between IoT technologies.
Intel is working with numerous eco-system vendors to develop integrated solutions that will turn the world’s cities into smart cities thanks to the IoT. A powerful example I can point to here is the construction of smart buildings using IoT. Intel has collaborated with Elite Group Computer Systems (ECS) and Tatung from Taiwan to create a smart office that promotes energy conservation. By integrating legacy and modern technologies and by harnessing automation and sensors, ECS is expecting energy savings between 20 and 30 percent per year. Could you imagine the benefit to the entire world if we could extrapolate these savings across entire suburbs, cities or even countries?
Future prospects for Sri Lanka
The word ‘smart city’ has created a big hype in Sri Lanka, after the government revealed its plans to introduce smart cities to the country a few weeks back. I personally believe it is a very ‘smart’ move by the new government and very encouraging for the country’s future growth. Smart cities will bring more benefits and value to the country, encouraging sustainable economic development and a higher quality of life, with sensible management of natural resources through active government participation.
Interestingly, the new government has also brought a freshly-minted plan to implement a megapolis, a concept that was first brought to light in the early 1990s and mooted again in 2004. The new government is now ready to go on board with its flagship project as the Western Region Megapolis Project (WRMP), which will help transform the entire Western Province, enveloping the Colombo, Gampaha and Kalutara Districts and positioning Colombo as one of the top cities in the South Asian region and the epicentre for economic activities.
The megapolis of the future will provide its citizens, including business enterprises with highly effectual and productive solutions to fulfil day-to-day needs. Smart parking, integrated transport system, real-time traffic information and management, smart power grids that provide electricity as per the demand resulting in increased efficiency, smart street lighting, smart city maintenance and many other modern technology-related characteristics will be incorporated by primarily the enterprises which will operate or provide services within the WRMP area.
At a recent event, the minister for Megapolis and Western Region Development emphasized the importance of mega cities and urbanization and ensured that under WRMP project, equal opportunities for every citizen will be ensured. He also discussed about the need to protect the environment, water resources and other needs for the benefit of the society as well. Urbanisation and housing for an estimated two million people will be the aim of the megapolis initiative, which will fit in to all cultural, social and geographical norms, the minister has said.
It is encouraging to see that the government is aimed at pursuing futuristic goals. This project will be one of Sri Lanka’s major projects for the next 15 years. It will also be one of the projects that can position Sri Lanka amongst ‘developed’ countries in the world, while strengthening almost every aspect of the country’s economy.
I would like to congratulate the new government on taking their plans gradually forward to make Sri Lanka a top-tier country in the world. All Sri Lankans, including myself, are looking forward to the successful completion of this project that would bring unlimited opportunities and benefits to the entire nation.
(Indika De Zoysa is the Country Business Manager of Intel Sri Lanka)
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