Tue | Nov 13, 2018

The making of smart cities

Published:Monday | September 3, 2018 | 12:00 AMProfessor Winston Moore/Contributor

Cities are a key part of economic activity in the Caribbean. Besides acting as a hub for retail trade, many Caribbean cities also play a key role in relation to tourism, finance, and small businesses. The streets of most Caribbean cities are normally lined with hucksters selling fruits, vegetables, and other small knick-knacks for locals and tourists. In relation to finance, almost all major commercial banks and credit unions try to locate at least one branch in the city, where tourists normally wander either to shop or take pictures of our historic buildings and monuments.

THE CHALLENGES

While there are numerous benefits that arise from cities within the Caribbean, there are also a number of challenges that all cities face. These challenges include congestion, crime and population growth, pollution, ageing infrastructure, among other things. The concept of making a city smart attempts to address the challenges that these cities face through the use of technology and connectivity. In so doing, it attempts to tackle issues related to sustainability, efficiency, and the quality of life.

Essentially, a smart city is an interrelated system where the various components of the city are connected. For example, systems in the smart city would be monitoring traffic flows, and where hot spots are detected, adjust traffic lights and divert traffic by communicating with public transport vehicles and the general public. Such a system, integrated with a traffic app, can reduce congestion, reduce pollution from traffic idling in slow-moving traffic, and enhance productivity by reducing the number of hours lost sitting in traffic.

It is not necessary that a smart city lose all contact with its cultural heritage. For example, street vendors, a unique part of Caribbean cities, might be able to tap into the smart city app to advertise their unique merchandise (e.g., where to find that vendor with green peas at Christmas) and to inform potential customers about their location.

MAIN FACTORS

The literature on the subject has potentially identified three main factors that drive the success of smart cities: (1) technology; (2) governance; and (3) policy. As one would expect, a key element of any smart city is the utilisation of smart computing. These systems rely on data gathering in real time as well as advanced analytics to help manage various aspects of the city. In addition to using technology to solve problems, several cities have utilised stakeholder groupings to identify problems, give voice to its citizens, and help to develop innovative solutions. These stakeholder groups also help to develop buy-in to the smart-city initiative and could lead to its success over time. Such stakeholder initiatives ensure that the decision-making process in the city is accountable, responsive, and transparent.

GETTING THERE

To transform Caribbean cities as they are now to smart cities will require policy support. Policymakers will need to provide the regulatory framework to support the development of the city, invest in information and communication technologies (ICTs), and engage in planning. The private sector is a key aspect of the city, therefore, public-sector initiatives are unlikely to be successful by themselves. These initiatives will have to be integrated at all levels to ensure the success of the smart city.

In addition to the above-mentioned success factors, at the heart of the smart city is a smart educational system: a smart campus. Pro Vice-Chancellor and Principal Professor V. Eudine Barriteau has set the bold vision for The University of the West Indies, Cave Hill Campus, to be a smart campus by 2038. Such a campus attempts to utilise ICTs to revolutionise the approach to providing education services, improve internal operating processes, as well as promote innovation and entrepreneurial enterprise across all operations.

When the smart campus is fully integrated into a smart city, it facilitates the growth and development of the city by providing innovative solutions to the problems faced by the city, a source for start-up businesses, as well as a means for supporting the cultural aspects of the city. For example, a close relationship between a smart city and a smart university can incorporate the students from the Bachelor of Fine Arts to display their short videos, documentaries, and dance at pop-up theatres in the city that enhance the cultural elements of the city as well as bring potential customers.

NOT OVERNIGHT

While a smart city is not something that can be achieved overnight, through effective planning and management, it is a destination that can be worked towards. The benefits of such initiatives can also be quite significant, including faster rates of economic growth, increased job opportunities, reduced inefficiencies, and a better standard of living for residents of the city.

Professor Winston Moore is the coordinator for graduate studies and research at The UWI, Cave Hill Campus, in Barbados.