By Architect Felino A. Palafox, Jr.

CITIES are for people. How they are planned and designed should simultaneously adapt to the existing and forthcoming shifts and challenges, while creating a safe environment that enhances people’s quality of life. Smart city solutions help solve urban challenges and problems. Conscious urban planning elevates and transforms cities to be smart and future-proof — to be resilient, well-connected, self-sufficient, socially inclusive and compact.

Above all, smart cities are citizen-centric, utilizing information and communications technology to rationalize and support development planning to deliver more efficient and high-quality urban services that ultimately improve people’s lives. Smart cities are driven by big data collected by various technologies. The data is transformed into smart programs and systems that are tailored to address our needs.

According to the IESE Cities in Motion Index 2019, London is the smartest city in the world followed by New York, Amsterdam, Paris, Reykjavik, Tokyo, Singapore, Copenhagen, Berlin and Vienna. London, the No. 1 city in the index, has released a road map that will guide its objective to be the world’s smartest city. The road map is known as London’s “flexible digital master plan.” It lays out how the city government can work with the tech community, Londoners, the academe and even other cities to enhance public services, strengthen and expand data sharing and cybersecurity, and boost public Wi-Fi and fiber connections in homes, among others.

Smart cities consist of several components, namely smart government, smart economy, smart living, smart people, smart mobility and transportation, smart environment, smart communications, and smart security. Each one has an integral role in making a smart city effective. Smart government refers to transparency, availability of open data, ease of doing business, no red tape and no corruption. We hope more government transactions and services can be decentralized, expedited and completed online, so customers do not need to show up in government offices to accomplish their transactions. A great example is the DubaiNow portal where customers can seamlessly and efficiently access more than 55 government services provided by 24 of Dubai’s government agencies in just one portal. DubaiNow allows customers to receive personalized and secure government-to-consumer services like bills payment, visa tracking, car registration, and renewal of trade licenses, among others.

Smart economy supports and strengthens entrepreneurship, innovation and interconnectivity — allowing small and medium enterprises, and big companies to prosper. With its thriving digital business ecosystem, Seoul has become an example of a successful smart economy. Meanwhile, smart living promotes the security, health and vitality of communities. In Kashiwanoha Smart City in Japan, improving health and well-being has been a focal point of its smart city initiatives. Kashiwanoha promotes systematic and extensive application of wearables that monitor health and the development of virtual communication between patients and health care professionals, among others.

Smart mobility encourages faster, environment-friendly and more affordable transportation options. Adults need to take at least 10,000 steps or walk 7 kilometers per day to stay healthy. Smart mobility lessens our dependability on private vehicles by making cities more walkable and bikable, and developing transportation systems to be safe, equitable and with clean technology.

Hong Kong is known for its world-class public transportation system. It is one of the world’s most densely populated cities, yet it competently meets the mobility needs of its commuters. In fact, Hong Kong’s public transportation system that includes, among others, high-speed rail or mass underground train systems, is famous in the world for being modern and highly organized. Its Mass Transit Railway can accommodate 12.6 million passenger journeys each day, but still, it is consistently praised to be one of the world’s most efficient and convenient transport infrastructures.

In relation to smart people, world-class education is made accessible to everyone regardless of location and time, which strengthens human capital. Singapore developed its Intelligent Nation master plan that gives importance to technology-supported learning.

Through the master plan, Singapore hopes to ensure that 100 percent of homes with school-going children have computers, have broadband available to at least 90 percent of homes and create 80,000 more jobs. With this initiative, lifelong learning and self-improvement are made available even to the less privileged, elderly and people with disabilities.

Smart environment deals with urban plans and innovative ways that protect the environment and the city’s natural resources. New York utilizes an automated meter reading system to determine the city’s water consumption. Devices can be installed in residents’ properties, so they are notified several times each day how much they are consuming. For air quality management, the city uses monitoring stations that can identify air pollution causes, allowing the city to ban certain oil products and reduce specific types of heating systems. With this data, residents are duly informed of their resource consumption, which allows them to take steps on how they can help the city protect the environment and save its resources.

A lot of best practices and smart city principles can be learned from these model cities. If you will notice, even the top smart cities have yet to fully implement smart systems in all aspects of their urban plans and services.

When applying smart city approaches to the Philippine setting, let us study the specific challenges, opportunities and threats that each city has. Nowadays, we are forced to reassess how we plan and manage our cities’ preparedness and response to health crises and other foreseeable threats.

We need to share general principles, resources and technical expertise, but we have to avoid generic and inflexible plans. Solutions that were successful in some cities may not be the best for others. Let us use available data, technology and expertise to assess our towns and cities to solve the inequalities in housing, health care, food supply and job security, among others. We still have a long way to go compared to the top smart cities in the world. However, it is important to note that these cities first started with incremental yet evolving smart city plans and programs that led to long-term positive effects.