Smart cities
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In his May 2019 state of the nation address, South Africa’s President Cyril Ramaphosa spoke passionately about his dream of building a new city, replete with skyscrapers, schools, universities, hospitals and factories. How to make this dream a reality? What are the crucial factors needed to deliver a new smart city?

This article first appeared in ESI Africa Issue 4-2019.
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In answer to these questions, our view at Ntiyiso Consulting is that a new city must be anything but an old generation city that we have today. It will be modern and comprised of state-of-the-art innovation – a smart city of sorts! But what is a Smart City? We perceive it is as a technology-driven city representing the journey of our country into the fourth industrial revolution (4IR). Built on the backbone of technological advancements, the city will be based on economic fundamentals of growth through innovation and be an ideal home for the technology-loving citizens and futuristic businesses

The 4IR, specifically the Internet of Things, is changing the way in which businesses operate and technology is at the centre of this change. For instance, the concept of the traditional manufacturing factory is fast evolving into a ‘smart’ factory concept with artificial intelligence linked automation allowing manufacturers to seamlessly integrate all stages of the value chain. It allows a rapid capability to adapt to changing market demands and creates highly customised products on a mass scale.

Building a smart city on the same backbone as a smart factory is possible – where the only difference is the scale of activities, processes and volume of interactions between various elements to make the city functional. Apart from the bricks and mortar of the skyscrapers, the smart city is a machine-driven ecosystem where each machine is connected to the other and communicates regularly.

The question is how to make this dream of building a new city a reality? As the saying goes ‘think global and act local’; it is essential to consider the global and local factors which are critical to making the smart city dream a reality. Having done a deep dive into these deciding factors of delivering a new city that is smart, Ntiyiso Consulting explores four key pillars upon which to build the smart city dream.

Pillar one: the economy

The foremost pillar is to have a strong economic narrative. It is primarily about creating and sustaining economic opportunities that result in the necessity for skyscrapers and other elements of a city. Johannesburg, for example, was built on the back of a mining industry and spawned towns around it. The building of a new city will need the support of novel, sound and sustainable economic frontiers. This is where we, as a nation, must dig deeper and come up with evidence-based implementable solutions.

Consider that when developing new economic value chains, it is not only about identifying sunrise industries, especially within the context of the 4IR, but also repurposing or rekindling sunset industries. To identify the industries, we must examine our strengths and weaknesses as a country, along with local and global market trends. This requires that a well-researched economic development plan be compiled to take into account the opportunities that are prevalent within a local municipality, district and province.

Pillar two: local governance

The building of a well-planned city with a well-oiled service delivery mechanism will need a strong pillar supporting a functional local governance capability. In this sense, capability refers to the qualities of a city or local municipality to develop its own strategy, implemented through excellent leadership, and orchestrating all the ‘moving parts’ to deliver services consistently to the citizenry. Local government is where the ‘rubber hits the road’.

For instance, local bodies can use technology to develop models of people migration, the rate of demand for services, and plan the development of the city with anticipation of such growth. These crucial models can be used to refine strategies and types of services that will be required, thereby preparing and focussing the leadership of the city towards effective service delivery.

Pillar three: smart infrastructure

Having a robust infrastructure, backed by smart technologies, is the pillar that primarily entails appropriate town planning with smart grid buildings covering the horizon, and intelligent systems facilitating the flow of traffic and integrating public transport. It also includes the implementation of smart utility services (electricity, water, and wastewater), intelligent solid waste management and green city initiatives.

For example, a person who works or lives in the city must be able to move in and out of the city in the most efficient way, by using information to plan their trip to the minute and select the best mode of transport. The infrastructure of a smart city must be one that enables connectivity of places, things, information and people with a view to making the city efficient and functional.

Pillar four: smart consumers

The final pillar involves people and their surrounding environment. Smart-people living is a crucial aspect to a successful and vibrant smart city. This means that a new city must develop technology platforms, which will enable citizens to be connected, access and upload content, carry out conversations with the city and with other citizens, pay for services rendered and ‘order’ new services.

These technology platforms must facilitate citizen participation in enforcing by-laws, determining new developments and deciding the allocation of budgets towards a functioning smart city. The Internet of Things should enable seamless communication between everyday objects allowing sending and receiving of real-time data, thus enabling communication with their owners and with each other.

The island nation of Singapore is a living example of how a developing nation, in one generation, can rise above poverty to being wealthy and influential. Singapore has embraced the technological advances at its disposal and built a sprawling smart city where citizens are driving the development agenda and are participating fully in the functioning of their city. South Africa too can leverage its collective intellect, a highly sophisticated financial system, a developed transport and energy infrastructure, skilled human resources, unique geographical location and climate, and relatively favourable standing amongst nations to achieve the same.

About the company

Ntiyiso Consulting is at the forefront of the development of cities and local municipalities and delivers ground breaking consulting services. Core to our thought leadership is the development of the local economy and practical ways of kick-starting new economic value chains, development and implementation of various master plans for infrastructure, technology, human resources and building robust revenue management methodologies and platforms.