Will Tech Giants Own Smart Cities?

Who owns smart cities? Are citizens the owners of our cities? Citizens should be the real owners of smart cities but it seems like they have become customers, and even worst slaves! Slaves to technology and consumption beyond what is needed. Do you agree? Leave your thoughts in the comments below:

Today I am in conversation with Hazmi Yosuf on Smart Cities.

Sapan: Why is there so much focus on smart cities right now? And what do people mean when they describe a “smart city”?

Hazmi: Let me answer the first part since it is very critical to understand why is there such a growing interest in Smart Cities.

We live in the era of urbanisation with 75% of the world population moved and moving into cities. There are pressures on Cities globally to manage the pace of urbanisation. With such exponential growth, cities need to managed smartly to maintain

  • Economic Sustainability
  • Environmental Sustainability
  • Social Sustainability

Smart is a concept to marry technology and leveraging and maximising infrastructures intelligently to managed sustainable and inclusive growth.

Coming back to the second part of your question, smart city has such a wide definition and scope for interpretation that it likely means different things to different people. If you asked the tech giants smart cities are all about technology while the government stakeholders may place more weightage on policies as facilitators. To the common man a smart city may be the ecosystem that helps him/her improve the QoL.

Sapan: Who owns our cities? Is it the tech giants? Citizens? Governments?

Hazmi: We agree somewhat that Smart cities are essentially built on data and ubiquity of data. The question then arises as to who owns this data? In my opinion as the Governments are “of the people”, the data Governments collect should also belong to the citizens (on an anonymous basis of course). What this essentially does is it nurtures the environment to innovate based on this vast amount of data by citizens

Let me give you an example – Vancouver, Canada: Citizens can vote through British Columbia’s VoteBC app—the government’s ploy to attract youth votes. With this, citizens can vote for various crucial decisions, particularly for aspects such as increased bus routes, public infrastructure, and so on; this hands control to citizens, gives them information about their candidates, and gives them the confidence of having change-making power.

We have to understand that we are dealing with a new class of citizens who have already emerged and who want to be engaged, proactive, and demand more involvement in how a city’s services and policies are defined.

In summary, technology is driving Citizen empowerment in managing Cities. Governments are moving towards providing platforms to enable the Citizens to take charge. And that’s the only way it is going to work

Sapan: How will smart cities influence and change social behavior?

Hazmi: Smart Cities provides a higher degree of connectivity between its citizens. Technology will make citizens more accountable and transparent in their actions. Platforms will make crowd sharing and sourcing pervasive among its citizens.

Groningen, Netherlands, for example, suffered from earthquakes due to gas extraction. As the government refused to publish the necessary data, its citizens installed their own sensor network, creating open data that not only benefited them, but also journalists and the government.

In yet another instance – Citizens living around Schiphol Airport, Amsterdam, constantly suffered from noise pollution, which the government refused to address. Finally, they started to install microphones on their own roof. Their data initiative was embraced and reinforced by several municipalities.

With smart cities, there will be a bigger sense of ownership within society and sense of identify based on lifestyle or interest.

Sapan: What are the biggest challenges cities in Malaysia are facing to become smarter?

Hazmi: For any country and not just Malaysia, I think the biggest and the most crucial challenge is balancing between economic, environment and social sustainability in the face of smart city evolution.

  • How do you make sure that in the journey to smart, farmers and rural people are not marginalised or left out because of the digital divide
  • How do you synthesising the various government and public sector roles and responsibilities to develop a seamless government smart platforms to enhance user experience and thus, their participation.

We will be discussing these and more issues during our upcoming forum at GIL Malaysia. I will be moderating a panel of distinguished stakeholders and will gather their thoughts in the same context of your question

Sapan: What is your favorite smart city and Why?

Hazmi: Let me begin by saying that cities are always work in progress. It is always in a state of evolution so what may be at the top today may be playing catch up tomorrow.

Having said this, if one has to look around there are several examples that have been able to achieve inspirational progress with regards to transforming into Smart. Cities such as Boston – named as the most efficient large city, Copenhagen – on the road to achieving carbon neutrality in the next 7 years. Then there is Tokyo and Seoul closer to home that have made great progress with regards to connectivity and have been ahead of the curve globally.

Coming to my favorite – it is none other than Singapore and its Smart Nation. They are learning and evolving as they embark in their journey. Today, their approach is built around áctive citizenry’. The Singapore citizen have key roles to play and have the biggest responsibility in determining the success of this transformation. So citizens supercede the government as the biggest stakeholder.

Thanks Hazmi.

If you are keen, do register (http://www.frost.com/GILMalaysia) for GIL Malaysia – flagship event by Frost & Sullivan where Encik Hazmi will be discussing about “A Day in the life of a Smart Citizen”. Whatsmore use code “MAGPS” at online registration to claim a free seat!

In the meantime I am very keen to have your thoughts on “who owns smart cities” especially when citizens are largely becoming consumers of technology. Do leave your arguments in the comments below


Sapan Agarwal drives content and marketing for Frost & Sullivan. Sapan is based out of Kuala Lumpur Malaysia and can be reached at sapan.agarwal@frost.com | +603 6204 5830

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