The United Nations (UN) expects that 6 billion people will be living in cities by the year 2050 which will put a significant strain on existing resources. The magnitude of challenges that cities face will be phenomenal: food scarcity, water security, pollution, affordable housing and employment just to name a few- all of which have a negative impact on citizens in one form or the other. These alarming scenarios have caught the attention of the media. The National League of Cities in a recently released report confirms as well the reality of some of these challenges. It is therefore imperative that effective solutions are developed to improve the liveability of cities. One of these options is the reliance on technological transformation to manage some of these risks. The introduction of smart and resilient cities is a manifestation of this transformation.
Indeed, smart cities has gained a lot of traction of late. This concept represents an urban development vision to integrate multiple information, communication technology and Internet of Things (IOT) in a secure fashion to manage a city’s assets which are not limited to a local departments’ information systems, schools, libraries, transportation systems, hospitals, waste management, law enforcement, and other community services. While the concept of smart cities looks really good on paper, there has been critique about its failure as well. For example, in purpose-built smart cities such as Dholera, India, farmers have been dispossessed of their land in order to build the city; in Masdar in the United Arab Emirates, which sacrificed its zero-carbon features after the global financial crisis; and in Songdo, South Korea, which has so far remained a ghost town. Could it be that the framing of smart cities with a focus on technology alone is insufficient? Perhaps so, as some would argue.
As of September 2015, 193 member states have signed up to the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) reaffirming their commitments towards addressing some of the world’s most pressing issues. One mistake often made by stakeholders is to interpret each of the SDGs in isolation rather than to be see them as a nexus or a set of “connected” goals. Likewise, the development of a smart city should not be seen as only in fulfilment of Goal 11 (building sustainable and resilient cities) but also the other broader goals. A smart and resilient city requires as well clean supply of water (Goal 6), renewable energy (Goal 7), proper waste management systems (Goal 12), safe social spaces for citizens to mingle (Goal 3) and provision of jobs/employment (Goal 8). Planning and development of cities should consider the interaction between these issues. While there is no one single or direct prescription for smart cities, its “mould” at the very least should be guided by the SDGs. Looking at the development of smart cities through the lens of the SDGs could possibly address some of the afore-mentioned failures.
A group of scientists who contributed to the Global Sustainable Development Report (2016) seem to align to this thinking and have identified relevant technology clusters (i.e. digital- tech; nano-tech; green-tech) that will deliver the aspirations of the SDGs within the context of smart cities:
|Technology cluster||Crucial emerging technology||Opportunities|
|Digital-tech||Internet of Things (IOT); 3D printing manufacturing, cloud computing problems; open data technology; remote sensing data; satellite||Employment; environmental monitoring; global data sharing; social networking and collaboration|
|Nano-tech||Nano-imprint lithography; nano technology applications for decentralized water and
wastewater treatment, desalination, and solar energy (nanomaterial solar cells);
promising organic and inorganic nanomaterials, e.g., graphene, carbon nanotubes, carbon nano-dots and conducting polymers graphene, perovskites, Iron, cobalt, and nickel nanoparticles, and many others;
medical and pharmaceutical
resources saving; CO2
|Neuro-tech||Digital automation, including autonomous vehicles (driverless cars and drones),
IBM Watson, e-discovery platforms for legal practice, personalization algorithms,
artificial intelligence, speech recognition, robotics; smart technologies; cognitive
computing; computational models of the human brain; meso-science powered
|Health, safety, security
(e.g., electricity theft),
new types of jobs,
|Green-tech||· Circular economy: technologies for remanufacturing, technologies for product lifecycle extension such as re-use and refurbishment, and technologies for recycling; multifunctional infrastructure; technologies for integration of centralized systems and decentralized systems for services provision; CO2 mitigation technologies; low energy and emission technology.
· Energy: modern cookstoves with emissions comparable to those of LPG stove; Deployment of off-grid electricity systems (and perhaps direct current); mini-grids based on intermittent renewables with storage; advances in battery technology; heat pumps for space heating, heat and power storage and electric mobility (in interaction with off-grid electricity; smart grids; natural gas technologies; new ways of electrification; desalination (reverse osmosis); small and medium sized nuclear reactors; biofuel supply chains; solar photovoltaic, wind and micro-hydro technologies; salinity gradient power technology; water saving cooling technology; LED lamps; advanced metering.
· Transport: integrated public transport infrastructure, electric vehicles (e-car and e-bike), hydrogen-fueled vehicles and supply infrastructures. Water: mobile water treatment technology, waste water technology, advanced metering infrastructure.
· Buildings: sustainable building technology, passive housing.
· Agriculture: Sustainable agriculture technology; Innovations of bio-based products and processing, low input processing and storage technologies; horticulture techniques; irrigation technologies; bio-organometallics which increase the efficiency of biomimetic analogs of nitrogenase.
resources; clean air
and water; energy,
water and food
Table 1. Technology clusters that will deliver the aspirations of the SDGs.
It would be difficult to deny the importance of technology as a catalyst in addressing some of these aspirational goals, let alone the development of smart cities. We need to move beyond smart cities which are defined solely by economic indicators to include broader indicators highlighted in the SDGs for the benefit of the next generation.
Dr Renard Siew is a researcher based at the Centre for Energy and Environmental Markets (CEEM). His research interest lies in sustainability/ integrated reporting, ESG research, socially responsible investment (across different asset classes: equities, infrastructure and property/real estate), climate change, sustainability strategy and green construction for the building/infrastructure sector. Renard did his PhD at UNSW with the support of the Australian Postgraduate Award (APA) Scholarship. He has published in international refereed journals on various sustainability issues in Asia.