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Shift in smart city focus amid growing budgets

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The focus of smart cities has changed, becoming more ambitious as budgets increased to trillions of dollars overall, unaffected by COVID-19.

This is according to market research firm IDTechEx, in its 2020 Smart City Highlights report, which notes the original concept of smart cities was based on widespread deployment of information and communication technologies such as the Internet of things and 5G.

However, in 2020, smart cities have been pivoting to reinvented hardware and associated systems, says the research firm, adding there is a realisation that these may take up to 90% of the investment.

“That means smart buildings even in the sea and in deserts. It means new forms of transport, such as autonomous cars travelling at speed in underground tubes (Elon Musk Loop).”

The report comes as SA is building a new South African city driven solely by smart technologies, which is taking shape in Lanseria, Gauteng, as highlighted by president Cyril Ramaphosa during his State of the Nation Address earlier this year.

This city, which he referred to as a truly post-Apartheid city, will have 350 000 to half-a-million people who will call it home in the next decade, he said.

Yesterday, communications minister Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams represented Ramaphosa at the ninth Smart Africa Virtual Board Meeting.

According to the department, the Smart Africa Board is the highest decision-making body under the Smart Africa structure, consisting of heads of state and government, as well as the International Telecommunication Union.

Smart Africa’s mission is to define the continent’s digital agenda and drive the continental single digital market, through a series of projects and activities.

Seeking radical change

Meanwhile, Markets and Markets notes the global smart cities market is expected to grow from $410.8 billion in 2020 to $820.7 billion by 2025, at a compound annual growth rate of 14.8%.

Smart cities are also projected to create business opportunities worth $2.46 trillion by 2025, says a recent Frost & Sullivan report, with these cities predicted to be spending $327 billion on technology by 2025.

According to Frost & Sullivan, the smart cities market is expected to grow, owing to the increasing demand for public safety, rising urban population, carbon emissions from cities and global government initiatives.

Many governments are now offering incentives and grants with this in mind, says the market analyst firm.

A report published by Market Growth Insight, which looked at growth of the smart infrastructure market − the sector responsible for the technologies adopted by smart cities − places businesses as key players for this period.

UN Habitat notes the impact of COVID-19 has seen the acceleration of smart city initiatives across the globe, as society now sees the need to radically change the way it interacts with urban surroundings.

It points out that the need to ensure built environments are greener and more sustainable has led to the World Economic Forum announcing last month that 36 cities across 22 countries and six continents have agreed to pioneer a new roadmap for safely adopting a new technology as part of the G20 Global Smart Cities Alliance.

Jeff Merritt, head of the Internet of things and urban transformation at the World Economic Forum, says: “This roadmap is not about theoretical ideas and pipe dreams; it is built on practical, real-world policies from leading cities around the globe. City governments are on the frontline of a global crisis and need to be able to act quickly and decisively to curtail this pandemic and set course for their economic recovery.

“Technology is an essential tool in this fight but governments cannot risk falling into the usual traps related to privacy, security and vendor lock-in. That’s where the G20 Global Smart Cities Alliance can help.”

In keeping with this drive to a greener future, software firm Cityzenith recently launched the “Clean Cities – Clean Future” initiative aimed at helping the most polluted urban centres become carbon neutral, by donating the company’s Digital Twin platform to key cities.

UN Habitat notes cities produce 70% of the Earth’s greenhouse gases but Cityzenith CEO Michael Jansen says the use of cutting-edge data and artificial intelligence will change this dramatically.

“We know the issues and now have the right data aggregation, analysis and visualisation capabilities to help solve them for cities, and those who design, build and manage them,” Jansen concludes.

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