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How can we ensure Asia’s future cities are both smart, and sustainable?

There are already more people living in cities than in rural areas, and the United Nations estimates that by 2050, almost 70% of the world’s population will be city dwellers.

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A quick online search on the current most populous cities in the world will reveal a list where half, if not more, of the top 10 cities are in Asia.

If you were to walk down the busy streets of Jakarta, Tokyo, Manila or Seoul, you may find yourself thinking that everyone in these countries have moved to the city, and you wouldn’t be far from the truth. We are undergoing a major rural to urban demographic shift.

There are already more people living in cities than in rural areas, and the United Nations estimates that by 2050, almost 70% of the world’s population will be city dwellers.

With so many people moving to cities, how cities are structured will impact the lives of billions of people. In some respects, this elevates cities above nation states as significant incubators of innovation, enterprise, and social progress.

At the same time, the required pace of change, especially now where we face global economic, environmental, and social uncertainty – creates a raft of challenges to sustainable development.

Connecting the city

It’s crucial that cities adopt smart, sustainable development practices. Harnessing the potential of ICT and connectivity will enable cities to thrive without their development taking a major toll on already-scarce resources. ICT allows people, knowledge, and devices to be networked in new ways, and cities that embrace ICT’s potential can create new value, operate efficiently and benefit from significant return on investments. All this adds up to more livable, more attractive, and ultimately more competitive cities, as well as the potential for people to pursue a more sustainable urban future. It is also addressing sustainable urbanization which includes the dynamic between urban and rural areas.

The significance of cities is well recognized in the UN Sustainable Development Goal 11 – sustainable cities and communities. If we go back to considering the most populous cities in Asia, each city faces many complex problems that require different types of action – but we see that a common enabler across the board is Information and Communications Technology. A paper published in 2015 by the Earth Institute at Columbia University and Ericsson, states that ICT can accelerate the achievement of the SDGs. This is in line with our own research and beliefs in Ericsson about ICT and its potential to help create the cities of our future. Higher ICT maturity levels for cities are associated with more opportunities to transform lifestyles and economic prospects.

For ASEAN countries, broadband, based on a combination of both fixed and wireless technologies, can help significantly accelerate sustainable growth in cities. Therefore, there should be a national agenda when it comes to broadband and concerted efforts to improve the business case for these investments.

By releasing more spectrum with sustainable economics to the key players in the market, governments will better enable broadband investment from private industry. Education in terms of digital literacy and new technologies is also needed. This combination of infrastructure and capability will help create smart cities.

Can smart cities also be sustainable?

So what of sustainability? ICT projects alone won’t necessarily make cities sustainable.

Our experience has shown that to successfully transform into a smart, sustainable city, five critical considerations are necessary:

  • Defining an agreed vision, strategy and targets
  • Creating informed networked governance structures
  • Developing organizational capacity
  • Engaging with all relevant stakeholders
  • Forging and fostering long-term partnerships

Partnership, planning and engagement can make all the difference between a city that owns and controls its transformation, and one that is a victim of a fragmented, unsustainable change.

Forming strong partnerships with ICT companies and NGOs with a global presence and high levels of expertise, particularly in systems integration, can allow cities to accelerate their transformation journey.

Early last year we announced our partnership with Arup, an independent firm of planners, designers, engineers, consultants and technical specialists working across the built environment, to transform a pilot district in Hong Kong to become its first…

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