SA is well positioned to accelerate the move to smart cities
Our biggest cities already have a lot of the essential infrastructure needed for a smart city conversion
Smart cities offer a multitude of advantages for government and residents. They use technology and data to improve their efficiency and the lives of their residents, and to ensure that they are environmentally sustainable.
Take Singapore, for example. From digital health care to contactless payments systems, near-universal broadband and energy-efficient buildings, Singapore has become the global poster child for smart cities.
Dubai is another front-runner, offering more than 120 fully digital government services on the DubaiNow app, allowing residents to pay fines, settle bills, apply for residency, access health services and more.
Other leaders in the move to digtalise city living are Zurich, Oslo, Helsinki, Auckland and Lausanne.
What can SA learn from the global leaders?
In 2019, President Cyril Ramaphosa announced the intended development of three smart cities — Nkosi City, bordering the Kruger National Park, the African Coastal Smart City in the Eastern Cape, and the Lanseria Smart City in Gauteng.
Nkosi City is intended to generate employment, which will be driven by agricultural projects built alongside RDP housing in an integrated manner that allows residents to sustain themselves from the farms. The city will derive power, at least partially, from a solar farm and biomass renewable energy plant.
The African Coastal Smart City is still in the planning stages and will serve as an investment catalyst for one of the country’s underdeveloped regions.
The Lanseria Smart City will take advantage of the nearby airport to drive its growth and economic development, and feature rainwater harvesting and solar energy — along with urban planning that encourages a pedestrian lifestyle.
SA’s ‘unsmart’ cities are ripe for digitising. Our biggest cities have
a lot of the essential
infrastructure that forms a solid base for a smart city conversion
What the global smart city leaders have in common is that they have built on and developed existing infrastructure, transforming it iteratively. SA is well positioned to adopt this approach in concert with our development of new cities.
SA’s “unsmart” cities are ripe for digitising. Our biggest cities have a lot of the essential infrastructure that forms a solid base for a smart city conversion, including high levels of smartphone penetration, high-speed fibre networks, CCTV camera networks and, increasingly, internet of things sensors, solar power and rainwater harvesting systems.
Cape Town is already hailed as one of the leading smart cities in Africa, along with Nairobi. It boasts end-to-end solutions, including fibre, that are able to support everything from emergency systems to billing processes.
CCTVs in the city provide data that can be used to analyse traffic volumes and other variables that affect congestion, and need to be considered in city planning. Capetonians have already experienced how this can be used to their advantage: recent data showed the city should scale back on the number of buses on the road.
Johannesburg and Pretoria also house wide CCTV networks, which could be used to collect and analyse data.
Maintenance of many of these systems is needed, but SA has the skills and expertise to do this quickly and effectively, harnessing the potential these cities have to establish themselves as global competitors.
Leveraging the infrastructure already in place would be less costly and it would enable us to start delivering on our smart city vision more rapidly.
South Africans are ready.
• About the author: Jan Bouwer is chief of Digital Platform Solutions at BCX.
This article was paid for by BCX.