Out’smarting’ the future

Out’smarting’ the future

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With increasing population, rapid urbanisation and unpredictable environmental changes, a smart and sustainable city is the need of the hour. But what are the challenges and setbacks of developing such cities? Who are the stakeholders who can form such ‘intelligent’ cities? Has there been any progress so far? City authorities answer these questions for us.

What makes a smart city really ‘smart’?

Vincent Hoong

A smart city is more than its sensors, fibre optic networks and other hard infrastructures. It should be one where public administrators, private sector and citizens understand the potential of geospatial information in solving key issues and are capable of interpreting geospatial data and formulating questions. A smart city becomes smart when the data collected can be used among the people, government and private enterprises. Ultimately, it is the people who make a smart city ‘smart’, and are its greatest asset.

Doug Hurdlebrink

A smart city is one that learns, responds and adapts to environmental forces, and to the needs and aspirations of its varied stakeholders while charting a course towards improvement, vibrancy and excellence in its core activities. All cities have multi- dimensional missions and responsibilities (such as economic development, education, transportation, public safety, health and well-being, social services and business services). As such, all cities are continually challenged to learn, and then to master what is needed to get ‘smarter’ in each of these areas.


Vincent Hoong, Chief Executive, Singapore Land Authority

Doug Hurdlebrink, Deputy Commissioner, City of Chicago, USA

Dave Carter, Head of Manchester Digital Development Agency, City of Manchester, UK

Siegfried Nagl, Mayor, City of Graz, Austria

Didier Vancutsem, Chairman, The International Society of City and Regional Planners, Belgium

Dave Carter
A smart city is a balance between smart systems and smart people. If you only have smart systems and you do not invest in education or the workforce, then it is a false smart city. Manchester is a perfect example of a smart city. We have invested a lot in schools which impart skills to make people smart. We have policies, the vision, and many projects. We organise a creative festival once a year that attracts thousands of people to come to the city and work on new ideas.

Siegfried Nagl
A smart city has to be a little bit smarter than others. It should do everything possible to improve the quality of life of its citizens. By 2050, around 75% of the world population will live in urban areas. There will be around 10 billion people on this planet and we will have to act fast. A smart city not only needs technical equipment and infrastructure, but also requires participation of its citizens. Smart city is a job which every mayor has to do now.

Didier Vancutsem
A city becomes smart once it starts using diverse technologies effectively in order to reduce the environmental impact and offer a higher quality of life to its citizens. The city should also implement organisational changes in governance — e.g. politics and society in general. It is therefore a multidisciplinary challenge that brings together the city representatives, the private sector with their technologies and supply, the policymakers, the academics and the civil society.

How is the concept being implemented in your field?

Vincent Hoong
In recent years in Singapore, we have attempted to harness the creativity and talent of our people through hackathons. Many public and private organisations have contributed unprecedented amount of data for these events, and hundreds of innovative solutions to improve urban sustainability have been generated. We are helping our policymakers and administrators to leverage the power of geospatial technology to make better decisions. We do this by geocoding all relevant government datasets and making them available on Geospace, the Singapore’s government GIS platform for public agencies to share geospatial data and perform GIS analysis. We have also set up OneMap for delivering geospatial information and services to the public. Tools are provided on OneMap so that public can also build their own applications to leverage on these public information or to share geospatial information they collected themselves.

Doug Hurdlebrink
In the field of government technology, there are many ways this concept is being implemented: by collecting, managing, sharing and publishing new, larger and more granular sources of data about the city; by analysing and optimising business processes, and leveraging user-centered technology to achieve better quality, efficiency, cost or performance objectives; by framing problems that can be addressed by analytics and modelling, as a way to explore and test alternative ways of improving services or solving complex problems; and by collaborating with not-for-profit organisations, the private sector, the local community and other parties to gather diverse perspectives, make informed decisions and secure commitments to implement changes.

Dave Carter
We have working groups around the three binaries — energy, transport and ICT digital, as well education. We are trying to make the school curriculum more interesting so that students just do not learn how to use the office software but they actually learn how to do coding. We are helping 9–11-year-olds in using codes. Over a period of time we hope to strike a balance between the smart infrastructure and smart citizens. Sometimes a smart city means investing in only technology and expecting some kind of magic with no proactive social policies. Europe’s growth strategy stresses three things; smart, sustainable and inclusive growth. So you could theoretically have smart and sustainable growth which is just for a few but for many people it’s not inclusive. Also, we are not just interested in systems, we want to know how these systems develop. For example, all the information about UK land registry is freely available on the government website. One can take that data and develop a smartphone app out of it. Such kind of open data strengthens having any kind of spatial approach.

Siegfried Nagl
We are working together with universities, the private and public sectors. Communities are benefitting in several ways — they get to live together in a healthy and peaceful environment and do not need many resources. They have enough industries and creative potential in their cities. Around 25% of our population have an academic degree. Graz has become a global city in the true sense; there are people from 150-160 nations coming to Graz each year and there are over 100 different religions!

Didier Vancutsem
Urban planners are the key persons responsible for implementation of smart city concepts. They coordinate the interactions between the different actors and stakeholders from the concept/strategy until the implementation. Communities are benefitting from smart city concepts in the fields of energy, transport, communication, and ICT industries by saving costs, making higher quality of life, better environment, smooth communication between urban parties, etc.

Who are the stakeholders involved?

Vincent Hoong
Stakeholders in a smart city are the government, people and private businesses. Making geoinformation available and accessible is only one side of the coin. The other side is nurturing and developing ‘spatially-enabled citizens’ who are conversant with geospatial information and empowering them to contribute their own visions of a smart city. The role of private sector would be to process this data and provide it for the public use. With a deeper talent pool of ‘spatially-enabled citizens’, cities can come up with even more diverse and innovative solutions to their problems. Governments will need to work in tandem with academic institutions, industry and other stakeholders to develop capacity in geospatial information and technology, and nurture a new generation of ‘spatially enabled citizens’ for our ‘Smart Cities’ of the future. In this geospatial market, data flow has to be multi-directional, between individuals, businesses, government agencies, and also across cities and countries. Hence, to ensure the smooth workings of this market and ensure data interoperability and authenticity, we will need to create a strong policy and legal environment and put in place data policies and standards.

From Left to Right: Singapore has set up OneMap for delivering geospatial information and services to the public; among other things, Chicago’s Open311 system allows users to attach photos to their service requests (This page shows 14 days’ worth of photos attached to 311 potholes in Street requests); Manchester is encouraging projects that are people-centred like the Go ON Manchester campaign to develop ‘digital champions’; Graz City’s geoportal provides all citizens a comprehensive collection of geoinformation within the Graz city area for free. The International Society of City and Regional Planners is a network of professional planners, recognised by the United Nations, UNESCO and the Council of Europe, involved in the development and maintenance of the built environment.

Doug Hurdlebrink

Stakeholders are a comprehensive set of suppliers, providers and consumers, and include government, which establishes policies and implements infrastructure for the Smart City; not-for-profits, which provide ideas, innovation, experimentation, funding and services for Smart City initiatives; the private sector, which provides ideas, input, capital, implementation expertise and public support for Smart City programmes; and residents, who provide local community input and feedback to Smart City ideas.

Chicago has implemented two different PPP models. One model is outsourcing major operations under long term contracts to private enterprises. Three specific areas are toll roads, parking garages and metered street parking. A second, more recent model is to partner with private enterprises under the umbrella of Municipal Marketing. Recent examples include solar compactors on downtown sidewalks, digital billboards on city property, and sponsoring the bike sharing programme.

Dave Carter

Stakeholders are pretty wide here. Politicians are elected to lead, civil servants carry out their duties, and research institutions like the universities work very closely with us. Our role is to focus on small and new businesses, basically start-ups, and we often have competitions, hackathons, apps, challenges where businesses use data to come up with new applications or ideas for services for a small prize. The role of private sector has been terrible as they always put profit first.

Siegfried Nagl

Universities and the Austria government are the major stakeholders in smart city implementation process. We also get help from the European Union and private enterprises. We are working closely with the enterprises, the private sector, and the public sector.

Didier Vancutsem

Stakeholders can be identified in three categories — consumers, city managers and the global opinion group. Consumers are individuals who live, work, study and communicate. By living in the smart city, they are looking for a better quality of life. City managers are organisations, such as local governments, investors, developers, infrastructure operators. They are interested in the sustainable development of the city and they aim to handle their operations and management related to urban planning, design, construction, infrastructure, operation, software companies and urban environment technologies, which are supporting the user activities.

What are the challenges encountered?

Vincent Hoong

Most countries developing smart cities are facing similar issue — encouraging public and enterprises to open up and share data with each other. Having lots of data will not be very helpful if they are kept under lock and key. To unleash the potential of geospatial data, it is not enough to have only government agencies or big companies hold the data. They should also be accessible to anyone who has an interest and stake in contributing towards sustainable urban living.

Doug Hurdlebrink

We encountered three major challenges. Resources: there is always a much larger realm of opportunities than there are resources available to pursue them; prioritisation and focus are therefore essential. Change management: change inevitably impacts people’s lives; mitigating negative effects – real or perceived — in order to achieve positive outcomes is a process that needs to be addressed consciously and proactively. Risk: innovation by its nature emerges from imperfect information and seeks to achieve uncertain outcomes. Trying something different requires the willingness to acknowledge and accept risks, and to move ahead in spite of them.

Dave Carter

The ongoing economic crisis, 50% cut in our budgets, massive unemployment, skills crisis etc. are few of the major challenges. Also there is a decrease in the number of people setting up new businesses. This is the main reason why we are investing very specifically in skills sector, particularly in schools and universities, and helping people in setting up new businesses. We have also tried hard to make our data freely available but there are some national restrictions on open data.

Didier Vancutsem

The main challenges encountered were the lack of governance and dialogue between the different decision making levels, the lack of training and knowledge of the technologies to be used in the implementation, the lack of competences and to think in an integrated way.