Association for Free Research and International Cooperation

Smart cities : The new model for optimum sustainable development

02.03.2020
Article from AFRIC Editorial
According to research from the United Nations University, the global urban population is expected to increase by 63% between the period 2014 to 2050. This fast pace increase is occurring in urban cities hosting over 20 million populaces often in developing countries.Rural areas in Africa, are characterized by the poor standard of living, lacking basic amenities such as clean drinking water, proper sanitation, quality education, health service among others. These push factors have caused 828 million people living in rural areas moving to urban cities in 2015, this number increases by 6 million every year. These basic needs not present in rural areas causes the youths and middle-aged populace to see urbanization as the way to go.

This trend causes intense pressure and challenges in urban cities, due to the rising inequalities in both settings. Unemployment, housing issues, traffic and human congestion, violence and crime, are often seen as a result of urbanization. This poses two probable areas of study, how to enhance factors of production to deal with the ever-increasing urbanization or how to prevent urbanization. However, urban living comes with tremendous opportunities. 80% of productivity and the world’s Gross Domestic Products occurs in the cities. Whether economic development, human development and better livelihood; it all happens in the cities. People living in cities earn 4 times the income of their rural counterparts, experience high productivity level and enjoy basic amenities and have exposure. This is experienced in rural areas. 

A World Bank analysis of 750 cities around the world between 2005 and 2012 reveals that economic growth in 72% of cities outpaced their respective national economies, while by 2025, the world’s top 600 cities are expected to account for 60% of global GDP. This wave of urbanization has come to stay. This trend needs a better approach, society must be equipped to accommodate this growth so we can benefit fully from it. Urban cities are seen as grounds for sustainable development. The World Commission on Environment and Development highlights that Sustainable development is one that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. This should be the core foundation of all innovations in societies. In terms of socio-economic development, sustainable consumption and production, demographic changes, natural resources, climate change, social inclusion, accountable governance, public health, global partnerships, energy, and sustainable transport.  

Sustainable development is tied in Smart Cities. The expert Clifton Elis coordinator of the forum “Africa 2040” reminded it to the various emissaries of government present at the Berlin forum. Smart Cities are dwellings that focus on its citizens using technology, collaboration and innovative approach to become a sustainable, efficient, attractive, and productive.Sustainable urbanization has become a key element in development in recent times. 

Particular attention to employment issues, environmental efficiency, and equality in the use of resources. Societies in the 21st century have been wired towards achieving sustainability and improving the quality of life using Information and Communication Technology (ICT).  This has given birth to Smart cities the new model for optimum sustainable development. The incorporation of digital technologies into our urbanization system which includes smart buildings, schools, enterprises, transport systems, health, public spaces,will enhance development in Africa, addressing challenges and improve the standard of living. Cities in Africa can leverage the element of Big Data such as the Internet of Things, Cloud computing, Artificial Intelligence, this can give way to interconnected smart cities while developing new and improving existing resources and services.This will reduce the limitation of traditional rural development because rural towns can then tap into the resources or infrastructures of these cities instead of migrating to major cities.

On the environmental fronts, the use of digital technologies can help in diverse ways in Africa. The use of technology can aid in reducing carbon emissions and propose an intelligent use of energy in cities. Cities produce 70 % of all CO2 emissions. Most cities are now faced with the challenge of ensuring their citizens have quality life while moving away from fossil fuels towards more renewable energy sources.

European Union’s energy policy target for 2020 is to consume 20 % less energy, increasing the share of renewable energy to 20 %. This can be achieved through the introduction of smart energy systems. According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), almost three-quarters of the total installed generation capacity in Africa originate from fossil fuels, with coal representing 35%. Quite disturbing, however cities in Africa can channel its resources towards the use of smart energy to save the situation. Some African countries have already taken the initiative which is yielding better results for their cities. Tanzania was among one of the first countries to introduce an online meter payment platform, Senegal has emerged as a leader in microgrid deployment; Ethiopia plans to become Africa’s leading wind power generator; Kenya is the leader in the off-grid solar market, and South Africa is the region’s largest investor in new transmission lines according to (Frost & Sullivan 2018)

Two- thirds of the world’s population will live in cities by 2025, socio-economic necessity will inevitably in cities. Thus the creation of Smart cities is needed for transformation. Smart Cities can easily translate into smart citizens and smart business environments. There will be opportunities to generate revenue, business-oriented, and data-driven systems and environment. These new data can help drive better decision-making, finding talents and create solutions around complex business problems. 

The end-goal of economic development is to reduce poverty, unemployment, and increase income, which eventually leads to a better quality life, a well-designed road map for smart cities can help many cities in Africa to achieve this goal.Cities are automatically seen as the center of economic power both at the international and national levels. Having a well thought out plans for cities, the countries can amount to global economic impact. Mckinsey Global Institute report states that half of the global Gross Domestic Product in 2007 came from 360 cities in developed regions and growing cities could generate $30 trillion a year into the world economy by 2025.

The smart cities agenda has enormous benefits that can improve the development and quality of life in Africa  as underlined by AFRIC experts in the Africa 2020 vision of future report. Incorporated technologies and applications in cities can help fight crime and improve other aspects of public safety, making the labor market efficient, serve as a catalyst for better health, making daily commutes faster and less frustrating, enhances social connectedness, etc. Its benefits are endless. However, Smart Cities development is complex, challenging and the process can take some time to implement. Citizens will need to adapt to this change, prepare to have change in mindset, behaviors, a learning attitude to fully accept this change and be prepared for a new wave of mass disruption.Governments and organizations need to collaborate and come out with discourse and solutions that can tackle our lack of capacity to urban sustainability and develop an approachable action plan.

On the economic front, for smart cities to enable economic development it will require Government’s leadership, incentives, dedication, and vision. As a continent we need to tackle our weak research capacity which can hinder contextualization needed for the Smart City agenda, strengthening laws reforms, poor policies and institutions, provide friendly business environment and tax policies that can support and stimulate business creation especially among young entrepreneurs. It is estimated that more than 500 million young people will be active in the African market by 2040. And Africa remains the most profitable investment continent in the world, the continent would be at a higher advantage if we tackle these issues before rolling out the smart cities’ initiative.

Energy is also critical in every national development, in order to have a full benefits Government’s support is highly required, providing an unwavering commitment to energy development, not de-politicize the market, have transparent and clear opening markets, for energy experts, as well as create a liberal grounds for investors to invest in the industry. 

As a continent, we need to mend our ways before rolling out the Smart Cities initiative. The name itself spelt out the agenda clearly SMART CITIES, where Smart is Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Time-bound. Africa leaders should, therefore, roll out SMART action plans and policies.Smart city initiative is our gateway to prosperity in Africa, however as a continent, if we are not SMART in our actions, the agenda of Smart Cities would only be a word, and never a reality to be enjoyed.

Article from AFRIC Editorial

Photo Credit : google image/illustration

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