Nº 6 2015 > Pathway for smart sustainable cities
A guide for city leaders
By Silvia Guzmán, Chairman, ITU Focus Group for Smart Sustainable Cities
Since the Iron Age, the human race has advanced steadily towards becoming a sophisticated manipulator of all factors of production. Man’s move from agriculture to capitalization, industrialization and specialization of labour has led to growth in modern-day cities, bringing with it both positive and unwelcome consequences. Socio-economic growth has exploded at unprecedented rates, but alas, at equally unprecedented environmental cost. People are moving to cities for better educational and employment opportunities and higher incomes. The global urban population has been rising by an average of 65 million people annually during the past three decades, the equivalent of adding seven Chicagos a year.
As of 2014, there are 28 megacities in the world, home to 453 million people. With 54 per cent of the world’s population now living in urban areas, cities are experiencing a range of different problems emanating from an ever increasing rural to urban migration. These include acute scarcity of basic amenities, environmental crises, and rising pollution levels — all of which seeming to burst the seams of already suffocated cities and their ageing infrastructure.
Projections indicate that these trends will continue. The total global population living in cities is expected to rise to 66 per cent by 2050. Cities can usually account for up to 75–80 per cent of a country’s gross domestic product (GDP), and are considered the primary engines of global economic growth. The flip side, however, which may not be sufficiently factored in by city planners, is that cities account for 50 per cent of global waste along with 60 per cent of global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.
There is increasing pressure on the availability of natural resources such as water, land and fossil fuels. There are now growing concerns on the viability of existing transportation infrastructure, the provision of adequate health care, access to education, and overall safety for the increasing population in urban areas.
Urban stakeholders are faced with daunting dilemmas as to whether to promote cities as drivers of economic growth or to pay heed to issues related to the increasing population, such as resource overuse and dependence. It is in response to this challenge that the ITU’s Focus Group on Smart Sustainable Cities (FG‑SSC) sought to set out a path for guiding cities to become both smart and sustainable.
“Smart Sustainable Cities” (SSC) is a concept which emerged more than a decade ago. It intends to leverage the potential of information and communication technologies (ICTs) in urban governance systems to create cities which are not only economically and socially advanced, but are also designed to achieve environmental sustainability.
ITU acknowledges that for cities wishing to become smart sustainable cities, each one starts from a different baseline. However, it is important to understand that building an SSC means embarking on a continuous journey of ongoing holistic improvement, rather than achieving an “ultimate solution”.
A guide for city leaders
Bearing in mind the above, a pathway has been outlined in the FG‑SSC “Technical Report on Smart sustainable cities: a guide for city leaders”, based on which urban stakeholders can envisage and establish their very own smart sustainable cities. This guide has been officially referenced in the Habitat III Issue Paper on Smart Cities as an input to the UN‑Habitat III Conference on Housing and Sustainable Urban Development, to be held in Quito, 17–20 October 2016.
The pathway to SSC presented by the FG‑SSC redefines the way in which smart city infrastructures are planned and built, services are offered, citizens are engaged, and systems are linked. The aim is to transform cities into more sustainable, smart, robust and resilient living environments, taking into account as well disaster resistance, reduced GHG emissions, protection against crime and ensuring cybersecurity.
ICTs and smart sustainable cities
The integration of ICTs into key SSC processes is pertinent to achieving sustainability. ICTs can assist with the establishment of SSC through innovation, as well as redesign existing processes. This can include new applications, technologies and systems for smart energy, smart transportation, smart buildings, smart water management and smart government.
ICTs can provide an integrated strategic approach to sustainability and smartness in SSC, making them key enablers of urban development. ICT integration into the existing urban infrastructure also plays a vital role in the achievement of the UN post-2015 sustainable development goals (SDGs), with particular reference to Goal 9 aimed at building resilient infrastructure, promoting inclusive and sustainable industrialization and fostering innovation; and Goal 11 aimed at making cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable. It can also play a crucial role in improving levels of education, attaining gender equality, raising awareness on human rights issues, and strengthening global cooperation for development.
In essence, ICTs act as catalysts in achieving the three pillars of sustainable development — economic growth, social inclusion and environmental balance. In terms of environmental issues, ICTs can provide support through monitoring and reporting schemes on greenhouse gas emissions and energy consumption. ICTs also help provide sustainable products using environmentally conscious design principles and best practices, covering development and manufacture as well as end-of-life treatment.
The ITU Focus Group on Smart Sustainable Cities concluded its work in May 2015, and in June 2015 ITU members established the new ITU–T Study Group 20 to look at “Internet of Things and its applications including smart cities and communities”. ITU–T Study Group 20 will develop, inter alia, standards that leverage IoT technologies to address urban-development challenges.
Towards this end, the smart sustainable city vision can fulfil the dreams of billions of citizens to enjoy a better quality of life. The smart sustainable city option is no longer an option — it is a necessity.
Information on the work of the ITU Focus Group on Smart Sustainable Cities can be found at: www.itu.int/en/ITU-T/focusgroups/ssc