Where there is no law, but every man does what is right in his own eyes, there is the least of real liberty
Henry M. Robert

Cities in which intellect wins

Cities in which intellect wins
1 March, 2018 - 12:01

By 2030, more than 5 billion people will live in cities. According to McKinsey & Company, the urban economy will provide up to 80 percent of the world GDP by that date. And this automatically means endless traffic jams on roads, acute resource shortages, and mediocre ecological situation.

In order for the city infrastructure not only to carry an enormous burden in the future, but to be ready for it as soon as today, new technologies come to our aid. It is they that ensure the rapid development of so-called smart cities.

An ordinary city becomes smart as soon as its institutions are integrated in practice into a single network with large databases. It should be done so that based on this data, it becomes possible to collect information about users, store and analyze it, remotely manage services and predict various situations developing. To participate in this whole scheme, a resident needs a smartphone and internet access.

My first encounter with a smart city took place two years ago. My husband and I went to Bali for a long-delayed honeymoon, but on the way there, we decided to take a look at what Singapore was like. Then it was just fashionable in Ukraine to see the experience of that island dwarf country as an example to be followed. I was astounded. An ordinary public transport stop (that transport offers very convenient and dense coverage of the whole territory of the city) had a special electronic board with information about which bus was going where, with what speed and number of passengers. The stop was also equipped with a Wi-Fi hotspot, an interactive map, and even electronic books. Also, cameras, sensors, and GPS devices that collect information about everything going on in the city are everywhere in Singapore. This is one of the reasons why there are no traffic jams, crime and... garbage there. Some may see it as an example of a “police state,” but the Singaporeans themselves, for the sake of whose safety and comfort all this was started, do not complain.

Another example, which I learned about after returning from Singapore when attending the annual Smart City Expo conference in Barcelona, was a system for helping special needs residents of the city. Singapore, like most currently highly developed countries, has a lot of elderly people who need care and support. Therefore, local authorities have launched a special monitoring system called the Elderly Monitoring System. It works like this: special sensors are installed on the doors and inside the living quarters. As soon as such a sensor records a suspicious lack of activity or vice versa, captures an incident, it alerts relatives, guardians or relevant services.

Another ambitious project, worth 73 million dollars, is called Virtual Singapore. This is a virtual 3D model of the island with super-precise detailing. The virtual map allows the user to enter every room and receive information about it in real time. In addition to the fact that it lets the city to monitor in the most efficient way traffic, the population density of territories or even the quality of air, it is possible to create various forecasts and models based on the information obtained. For example, one can try to determine how a contagious disease will spread, how the air currents will change if a new skyscraper is built in a particular place, etc.

As aptly noted by Foreign Minister of Singapore Vivian Balakrishnan: “If you visit Singapore, you will say: I saw the future – and it already exists.”

In a sense, Singapore is really ahead of everyone else. But it is not alone in employing smart technologies.

The Smart City Expo World Congress is held every fall in Barcelona.

Hundreds of companies, NGOs and municipalities from all over the world bring to Spain their works in the smart city field. Over three days, the participants discuss the latest trends in urbanism and can look in practice how this or that technological solution to a specific urban problem looks like, for example, on specially equipped stands.

In order to describe everything I saw at the Smart City Expo 2017, which I took part in due to assistance of Huawei Ukraine, I would need at least a couple of dozen newspaper pages. I will, therefore, limit myself to the main impressions and conclusions.

Firstly, the cities themselves. The three most powerful, in my opinion, city stands came from New York, Tokyo, and Tel Aviv. At first I was surprised to see municipalities spend money (quite sizeable amounts, in fact) to participate in such exhibitions. After all, they are not companies which need it to look for customers. Was it a publicity stunt? It was of dubious benefit, then. Then it dawned on me that they were selling their experience, which was a unique product. So far, the smart city technology is just emerging, so knowledge and skills of pioneers who have already tested it and know what works, and what needs to be fixed in one or another technology – these knowledge and skills are a major advantage.

Out of all the company stands, I was most impressed by the expo-space of the Smart City Expo 2017’s general sponsor Huawei. And this is not surprising, because the company has already tested more than 40 technological solutions in more than 100 countries around the world. More than 400 million people already use the company’s latest designs, and they brought 10 most trendy ones to Barcelona for a display. They can be divided into three groups: those who solve the problem of economical use of resources (such as the smart home, smart sewer, etc. systems), those responsible for safety (the smart traffic lights, street video surveillance systems, etc.), and those aimed at improving the quality of life in the city (telemedicine, smart public transport, distance education, etc.).

Each of these elements is not just an expensive tuning project for the city, it is a real investment, a tool with which the city government is joining a global struggle for attracting money, people, and technology to one’s city. For example, when the Olympic Committee chooses a host city for the Games, safety is a prerequisite included in the rider. This is a complex component that, according to The Economist, includes four criteria: public security (how many administrative offenses are committed per inhabitant and how many of them are investigated), the second is the safety of human life (how many hospitals and doctors are in the city), the third is infrastructure safety (how many people are killed or injured in accidents, fires, etc.), and the fourth – and very relevant today – is cyber security: large crowds attract greedy hackers who see easy pickings.

Ukraine is only at the beginning of the path. In fact, there is not yet a single city in this country to have built a sufficiently large number of smart city elements. Unfortunately, most cities lack even basic infrastructure. For example, to launch one of Huawei’s coolest designs, the real-time city management center, which allows the mayor to have on one display graphic information about absolutely all the networks of the city infrastructure and spheres of its life so that they can react promptly, our cities need to digitize all these networks first.

Until recently, the municipalities just lacked the money. The mayors barely made ends meet, so some expensive technological “tuning” was clearly out of question. But everything changed three years ago due to the magic word “decentralization.”

During last year’s Cities Changemakers Congress, which was organized by the United Efforts Agency NGO, two cities, Nizhyn and Chernivtsi, signed a memorandum of cooperation with the Ukrainian representative office of the world leader in technological solutions for smart cities, the Chinese company Huawei.

By Alla DUBROVYK-ROKHOVA, The Day, photos by the author, Singapore – Barcelona – Kyiv