Cities already account for approximately 70-80% of the world’s economic growth, and this will only increase as cities continue to grow. In the next 35 years, the population in cities is estimated to expand by an additional 2.5 billion people, almost double the population of China.
As a vital component for connectivity, public health, social welfare, and economic development, infrastructure in all its forms – basic, social, and economic – is critical for the anticipated urban growth. As a day to promote the international community’s interest in global urbanization and contribute to sustainable development around the world, 31 October marks World Cities Day – where the spotlight on building sustainable cities comes to the fore.
“Globally, the annual investment required to cover the gap for resilient infrastructure is estimated at US $4.5-US $5.4 trillion,” said Riaan Graham, sales director for Ruckus Networks, sub-Saharan Africa. “And while no two cities are the same, more than than 50% of the global population – live in cities – and instrumental to achieving sustainable smart cities, is harnessing a new world of digital technology and communication to first enable a connected city.”
Building on connectivity
Connectivity is a foundation layer to Smart Cities, both for Internet access and new digital services. A great starting point for cities is to deploy public Wi-Fi. Continues Graham; “Public Wi-Fi is a great way to create a more vibrant community and also connect citizens, businesses and visitors. But the benefits of Wi-Fi don’t stop there. Cities are leveraging smart Wi-Fi for many applications that go well beyond free public access to the Internet such as e-routing traffic, monitoring air pollution, conserving water, improving public safety and encouraging more direct participation, interaction and collaboration with local government offered services.”
In fact, according to an IDC InfoBrief Smart City aspects such as networked LED street lighting can provide a 25-50% reduction in operations and energy costs, connected trash bins can yield more than 50% reduction in garbage collection costs, 20–30% cost reduction can be obtained with smart parking and smart water systems can save 40% less clean water loss due to leaks and burst pipes. Such aspects are key to building sustainable cities and managing resources and services.
Alison Groves, Regional Director, WSP, Building Services, Africa, agrees, but cautions that when planning, designing and building infrastructure within the African context, we need to be conscious that we are operating in spaces that sit at two extreme ends of the development cycle.
“On one end, we have cities and urban centres that are faced with challenges to the maintaining the capacity of existing infrastructure networks. These nodes still boast long-term infrastructure planning, which includes introducing smart technologies into their city scape that will make these cities more connected, innovative and nimble in the face of future disruption. At the other end of the cycle, however, we have vast areas that are underdeveloped, geographically dispersed, remote, and with limited accessibility to-and-from the nearest urban node.”
Groves believes that to be able to support continued and future growth – of populations, industries and economies – long-term planning must be approached with a vision to compensate for both ends of the development cycle and everything in between. “As we look to build cities and spaces for rural communities that are livable, resilient to disruptions, and future proofed, sustainability is the way to get there.”
“Sustainability is a lens through which the planning, project delivery, and development processes focus to achieve the needs of the communities today without sacrificing capacity for future generations. A sustainability lens always includes balancing priorities across several areas, including the economy, community needs, and environmental quality, but also equity, health and well-being, energy, water and materials resources, and transportation and mobility needs,” adds Groves.
Resilience and livability
Urbanization, demographic shift, environmental changes and new technologies are reshaping the way city leaders are looking at sustainability as well as creating and delivering on public services to address these new dynamics, and the rise of Smart Cities is the response to these challenges. Smart cities will help address the economic and social inequality that this divide creates, by providing Internet access to all citizens.
“With robust networks in place, bridging this divide will help bring communities closer together and encourage citizens to play a more active role to local councils. Flawless connectivity will improve city infrastructure and make it possible for citizens to engage with their community, such as removing the roadblocks that complicate access to local services. We are already seeing significant foreign direct investment into such key ICT initiatives across the continent, but sustainability has to be at the heart of this if Africa is to create a resilient framework for better cities,” adds Graham.
“In Africa, resilience and livability must be the desired outcomes sought through planning and design processes. Achieving these outcomes will require respecting and balancing local environmental, social, economic, and climate risk priorities through a robust planning and data-driven design process. And, ultimately the goal should be that we are building livable spaces that are people-centric, integrated, connected, smart, nimble and resilient – where societies can thrive, well into the future,” concludes Groves.