With urbanisation on the increase, governments must implement smart city plans that make urban areas liveable, inclusive, sustainable, and prosperous, which is even more important in the time of the Covid-19 pandemic, write Joao Zoio and Kennedy Mogotsi.
Urbanisation in South Africa has been on a steady growth path for the last decade. In search of employment and a better life, more citizens are moving to cities. According to Statista, as of 2020, 67.3% of South Africa’s population reside in urban areas, including cities. The five largest municipalities in the country – the City of Johannesburg, the City of Cape Town, eThekwini, Ekurhuleni, and the City of Tshwane – all have over three million residents each.
Projections show that nearly 70% of the world’s population will live in urban areas and cities by 2050. The UN World Cities Report 2020 says that done correctly; urbanisation can create economic, social, and environmental value that supports the fight against poverty, inequality and other global challenges.
Cities can harness the power of urbanisation towards sustainable development, but left to chance; urbanisation can result in social unrest and infectious disease outbreaks.
With urbanisation set to continue, local governments can’t ignore what needs doing. Governments must implement smart city plans that make urban areas liveable, inclusive, sustainable, and prosperous. The World Cities Report 2020 shows that well-planned and well-financed cities create unquantifiable value that can vastly improve the quality of life for all.
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We know that Covid-19 has made the poor poorer and the vulnerable even more so. It has exacerbated inequalities, depleted resources and morale, and challenged every government and local municipality on earth. In some cases, service delivery has taken a battering, as have city budgets and infrastructure maintenance, with governments grappling with the increased demand for city living.
As we recover and rebuild our cities after the recent social unrest and the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, it’s essential to rebuild stronger and find innovative ways to manage and develop our cities.
South Africa is heading to local government elections on 1 November 2021. The focus of these elections is service delivery and the state of the wards where we live. Political parties should think about what our cities should look like, not just for tomorrow, but for the next five to ten years.
What does a smart African city look like?
Before we can start implementing smart cities plans in Africa, we need to ensure that we are getting the basics right, like service delivery and infrastructure maintenance, because these form the foundation for our future African smart cities.
We believe it’s not just up to local government officials but citizens have an important role to play in ensuring high service delivery standards are maintained within their cities. By not letting bad service levels slide but reporting them, by not giving up but staying involved, and of course, by voting in local government elections, citizens can add pressure and hold local government accountable.
A smart city uses technology and innovation to improve service delivery standards, enhance efficiencies, reduce running costs, and employ technology and smart data to do smart town planning for expansion and urbanisation. At the same time, smart cities utilise sustainable solutions for renewable energy, reduced traffic congestion and improved waste management.
The focus of a smart city will be different for each country, depending on the challenges they face. For example, in South Africa, delivery of essential services such as electricity and water, housing, education, and unemployment are priorities.
At the core of its planning and development, a smart city must be inclusive of all citizens and not further widen the digital divide. To this end, African smart cities should prioritise creating jobs and opportunities for individuals to offer their private or contracted services in the form of disruptive, non-traditional services.
Technology can be used to provide valuable insights to allow for the effective management of resources and assets. Insights collected primarily from citizens can be used to analyse traffic and transportation systems, power supply, water supply, waste disposal, and other services that make a city tick.
Smart Cities can also promote safety and security by allowing for better monitoring of citizens through CCTV cameras that come with biogenic recognition and motion and smoke detectors. Opportunistic criminals are less likely to act on their impulses when someone is watching.
Cities must utilise technology to build back stronger, not just smarter.
Cities are at the centre of technological change spurred on by the rapid advancement of the Fourth Industrial Revolution. New technologies and innovations like e-hailing, food delivery and service delivery apps provide opportunities for cities to prioritise the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDG’s).
With innovative technologies, there is hope for those who feel voiceless, those who have informal jobs but feel disenfranchised and those battling to access opportunities like quality education, tutoring, and employment.
Smart City platforms provide access to improved service delivery for all, including lower-income citizens. Furthermore, these platforms break down communication barriers. For citizens with disabilities, tech-enabled assistance can help leverage services by making them accessible in a way that wasn’t possible before.
Smart cities and the platforms that drive them are enablers and show no favouritism. They have the power to level the playing field by uplifting citizens and the communities where they live. Like the advent of public transportation created broader access to mobility, smart cities, if planned correctly, can create greater access to a higher quality of life, for everybody.
– Joao Zoio is the CEO and Kennedy Mogotsi the COO of Acumen Software, the founders of the My Smart City platform.
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