We are entering month seven of living with the Coronavirus and it’s fair to say life has changed considerably. From remote working to wearing a mask and having your temperature taken when entering restaurants, COVID-19 has forced us to reevaluate how we live in and interact with our cities.

 

The past five years has seen the growth of smart cities across the globe and there is no doubt this pandemic has only further accelerated this.

What are smart cities?

The past five years has seen the growth of smart cities across the globe and there is no doubt this pandemic has only further accelerated this.

The IMD-STU Smart City Index defines a smart city as “an urban setting that applies technology to enhance the benefits and diminish the shortcomings of urbanisation for its citizens”.  The IMD-STU used this definition to guide their latest smart city rankings, with Singapore taking the number 1 spot for the second time in a row. Singapore’s winning title is courtesy of the tech-driven solutions they’ve introduced since the beginning of the pandemic. These solutions include:

  • DistributingCOVID-19 contact tracing wearables to all residents and introducing new measures, like the mandatory use of Bluetooth-enabled wearables.
  • Introducing a contact-tracing app, TraceTogether, to facilitate digital check-in procedures at some locations.
  • Deploying four-legged droids equipped with cameras at parks and other open areas to remind people to observe social distancing and track number of people visiting the parks.

These solutions are in line with other smart city innovations seen over the past few months, including:

“This year’s Smart City Index suggests that the cities that have been able to combine technologies, leadership, and a strong culture of ‘living and acting together’ should be able to better withstand the most damaging effects of such crises.” – IMD SCO’s president Bruno Lanvin.

As much as smart cities can be used to serve citizens, people’s behaviour needs to change as well. According to Associate Professor of Technology and Operations Management at INSEAD, Sameer Hasija, one way governments can help this is by building “systems of trust” between the city and it’s citizens.

Providing citizens with timely and credible information about important issues and busting falsehoods goes a long way in creating trust.” – Sameer Hasija

By using social media platforms effectively, governments can share important news and updates about COVID-19 with citizens. In countries like India, where there are inequalities in access to education, they’ve introduced smart city initiatives that seamlessly provide citizens with information in their local language via a smartphone app. These include an AI-based myth-busting chatbot.

How is Australia fairing?

The IMD-STU index ranked Brisbane at #14, Sydney #18 and Melbourne #20. There is clearly more work Australian cities need to do in order to meet reach the same heights as the top 5 cities.

According to columnist Paul Budde, Newcastle in NSW is also a city to watch. Budde explains that the past few years have seen the city use smart city tech to being a number of projects together.

“ … the smart city concept has penetrated all levels of the city from education to sustainability to smart energy, tourism, the arts, start-up innovations, digital city-based infrastructure and so on.”

However, Budde also warns that for real progress to be made nationally, more collaboration is needed. This is the same argument we heard at last year’s CEBIT Conference in Sydney. Team Mobi attended a panel discussion focused on strategies that should be taken to create and build smart cities in Australia and beyond. The panellists included some of the biggest names in smart technology research in Australia, who called on vision from Federal and State governments to plan and invest in future cities. ARUP Cities Leader for Australasia and Chair of Open Cities Tim Williams noted that government has often been blamed for constraining innovation and that “smart cities really require smart governance.”

From the above, it’s clear that COVID-19 has provided more scope for smart cities to start operating. And as the Coronavirus continues to affect our daily lives, now is the time for cities to start developing and building the kind of smart cities that can not only help stem this virus but also help prevent future ones.

The pandemic crisis is giving us an ideal opportunity to stop procrastinating and get on with this job.” – Paul Budde

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