Smart cities must lead the way to a sustainable future

Today over half of the world’s 7 billion population live in cities, and more than two-thirds of people are expected to live in urban areas by 2050. Forecasts say that by 2050 about 64 percent of the developing world and 86 percent of the developed world will live in metropolitan areas. Furthermore, nearly all the global population growth up to 2030 will be absorbed by cities — leading to around 1.1 billion new urbanites in just under a decade.

New solutions are urgently needed to manage scarce resources and space as a result of this trend. Governments and city planners must understand how to build sustainable cities that address the challenges of our time — from managing climate change, easing poverty, providing quality education, and protecting natural habitats. The cities of tomorrow must be more efficient and environmentally friendly to boost the quality of life of their inhabitants and reduce the ecological footprint of their urban spaces. And hence, the concept of smart sustainable city was born.

According to the UN definition, a smart sustainable city is, “an innovative city that uses information and communication technology and other means to improve the quality of life, efficiency of urban operation and services, and competitiveness, while ensuring that it meets the needs of present and future generations with respect to economic, social, environmental as well as cultural aspects.

”The smart city concept is a solution to address the challenges of urbanization while providing an urban ecosystem that integrates digital technology, with knowledge, assets with minimal impact on the environment. However, smart cities must address technological, economical, and governing barriers that still exist.

A recent study looked at different cities around the world and their provision around issues such as — technology, the environment, social, economics, social development, air quality, energy transition, quality of living, waste per population, and water sustainability.This study concluded that Denmark’s Copenhagen was the most sustainable smart city, followed by Oslo in Norway and Zurich in Switzerland. Copenhagen tops this list for using technology to make the city greener, making clever use of wireless data, GPS in buses, and sensors in sewers and garbage cans to assess the state of the city in real-time. This data can then be used to cut traffic, air pollution, and CO2 emissions. Denmark is also committed to becoming fossil fuel free by 2050, with over 30 percent of all transport fossil-fuel consumption already removed through the use of sustainable transportation.

However, the concept of smart and sustainable cities is also a hot topic in The Middle East and North Africa /GCC region, where environmental considerations are becoming increasingly important, due to high population growth. Almost every major city in the GCC has a smart city road map. Riyadh, for example, has a smart city initiative that aims to allow the Riyadh municipality to manage its public services and utilities through a central control center that integrates with systems in various municipalities and departments.

Also, some smart sustainable cities in the GCC are being built from the ground up. In Dubai, The Sustainable City is a 50-hectare development, and is the first net-zero energy development in the UAE. Its masterplan amalgamates energy-efficient designs with a people-centric philosophy that includes nature and animals, making for better public spaces. For example, parking areas are topped by solar panels that are connected to the electrical grid to supply energy to different parts of the city.

Also, Saudi Arabia unveiled plans to build a zero-carbon, hyper-connected city in a 170-kilometer strip in NEOM in the northwest of Saudi Arabia, called The Line. The $5-billion futuristic megacity is being designed around people, without cars and streets. But it will also be built around nature, rather than over it, preserving large areas of land for conservation. With sustainability in mind, The Line will comprise carbon-positive urban developments powered by 100 percent clean energy, providing a pollution-free sustainable environment for residents.

“We plan to transform the concept of a conventional city into that of a futuristic one. A city of a million residents that preserves 95 percent of nature with zero cars, zero streets and zero carbon emission,” said Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, during the launch of the development in January 2021.Saudi Arabia also launched the Prince Mohammed Bin Salman Non-Profit City last November, which is to be built to the west of Riyadh. This city is the first nonprofit city in the world and is expected to be a model for the development of the nonprofit sector globally. While the focus of the city is nonprofit, it will also be a first-class sustainable city, with over 44 percent of the project’s 3.4 square kilometers dedicated to open green spaces.

Sustainability is a powerful force for positive change in our world — one that drives transformation, innovation, and improvement across all aspects of society, including smart cities.As the world’s population is expected to jump by an estimated 33 percent by 2050, and with nearly 70 percent of those people living in urban areas, sustainability will be a key component for smart cities everywhere.

• Fuad Al-Zayer is an independent energy consultant with expertise in energy transition, digitization, and innovation. He is the former Head of the Data Services Department at OPEC and a former Global Coordinator of the JODI Data Transparency Initiative at the IEF.

Source: Arab News