A Tale of Two Cities: Two Approaches to Making Cities Smarter, Part III

This post is the third in a three part series on Smart Cities. Best to start with Part I.

Two Approaches to Making Smart Cities

As with most things in life, there are a number of ways to approach smart cities. One way is to start from the ground up. A new city is born - a clean slate - to be made smart with the necessary infrastructure for its connected systems to communicate and collaborate to create an efficiently running city. A recent article in Fast Company, highlighted a number of smart cities projects that essentially started from the ground up - or, in one case, from the mud flats up. The most widely written about start-up city is Songdo. The concept was launched as a vision of the South Korean government and eventually, through the work of a real-estate developer and Cisco as the IT infrastructure provider, has become a reality - although the city is not expected to be complete until 2015. Songdo and other start-up cities have become one answer to the nagging concern about increasing urbanization.

Reconciling the rapid urbanization in China with the observation of one World Bank official that "Cities are expensive to retrofit and modify once they are built," start-up cities just might be one answer to China's urban needs.

China's "start-up" smart city: Meixi Lake

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A Tale of Two Cities: Two Approaches to Making Cities Smarter, Part II

This is the second in a three part series on Smart Cities. Best to start with Part I.

Urbanization in China Sets the Stage by Defining the Need

According to the World Bank, China's urban population was 191 million in 1980. By 2007, it was 594 million, excluding migrants. About half of China's population now lives in cities, and that trend looks likely to continue particularly as the government relaxes restrictions on internal movement institutionalized in the strict hukou system of residential registration.

And, bigger cities face bigger challenges to meet the needs of their burgeoning populations:

  • Infrastructure and jobs. Between now and 2025, it's likely that another 200 to 250 million people will migrate to China's cities, adding to an existing mobile or migrant population of about 155 million. Providing infrastructure - housing, roads, hospitals etc. - and jobs for this anticipated inflow of people poses major challenges. With new changes to the hukou system, this migration into cities could be even greater.
  • Energy. Urban residents use 3.6 times as much energy as rural residents; suggesting that energy use is far from its peak. In China, energy intensity (consumption of energy per unit of GDP) is 7 times that of Japan and 3.5 times that of the United States, and over 70% of electricity use is coal-produced.
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A Tale of Two Cities: Two Approaches to Making Cities Smarter, Part I

This is actually not a tale of two specific cities but of two types of cities, or “smart cities” as the new moniker goes. It will appear in three parts.

Defining Smart Cities 

“Smart” has become the adjective of choice among tech vendors to describe solutions that capture, synthesize and analyze the vast amounts of data being produced by computing and networking systems. Forrester defines Smart Computing as: 

a new generation of integrated hardware, software, and network technologies that provide IT systems with real-time awareness of the real world and advanced analytics to help people make more intelligent decisions about alternatives and actions that will optimize business processes and business balance sheet results. 

What does that mean in layman’s terms?  Every system can be smarter if it can learn from and act on the data it produces. 

A city is a “system of systems” making the potential for efficiency exponential as all of its systems interact.  Therefore, a smart city is:

A city that uses technology to transform its core systems – city administration, education, healthcare, transportation, public safety, real estate, utilities and business — enabling them to capture, analyze and act on the data they produce.

As a result, a smart city’s systems can optimize the use of and return from largely finite resources.  It can, in other words, “do more with less.” Using resources in this smarter way also boosts innovation, a key factor underpinning competitiveness and economic growth.

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China's National People's Congress: A Nod to Bigger Cities. Let's Hope for Smarter, Too!

On Friday March 5th, the National People’s Congress (NPC) – China’s equivalent of Congress or Parliament – held the opening meeting of its annual full session.  At a high level, the agenda of the session will focus on succession planning for government and Communist Party leaders, the stimulus exit strategy and economic initiatives for the coming year.  In this, there is much to interest tech vendors.

In one of the opening speeches, Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao presented his work report which summarized some major economic indicators for 2009 and provided a broad outline for the 2010 plans. Technology appeared center stage throughout much of the speech, and the word "innovation” was peppered throughout.

Premier Wen presented the economic highlights of 2009:

  • China's GDP reached 33.5 trillion yuan, up 8.7% from a year earlier.
  • Fiscal revenue was 6.85 trillion yuan, up 11.7% year on year. 
  • A total of 11.02 million job opportunities were created for urban residents.
  • The per capita disposable income of urban residents was 17,175 yuan, up 9.8% in real terms, while the net per capita income of rural residents was 5,153 yuan, rising 8.5% in real terms.
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