Why the SA government should ramp up smart city rollouts

7 Jan, 2017
Mark Harris, marketing director of XON

By Mark Harris, marketing director of XON

The South African government’s ability to deliver services will be severely hampered unless it continues the shift to smarten up its major towns and cities. Johannesburg, Cape Town, and Durban already have varying degrees of smartness to their daily operations.

The massive influx of people to major towns and cities puts these metropolitan areas under pressure to cater services to their needs. In fact, 65% of South Africans are already urbanised according to The World Bank. That puts over 33 million South Africans in just over 70 towns and cities if we assume the population is 51 million. Cape Town, Durban and the combined Johannesburg already have in excess of 3 million people each and the number grows dramatically each year as more people look for work in major centres.

The growth trend is set to accelerate. In 1800 only 3% of the entire world’s population lived in cities. But by 1950 there were 83 cities with populations greater than 1 million. Today there are already 36 megacities, which are cities with populations of 10 million or more. The largest is the greater Tokyo metropolitan area with over 38 million inhabitants.

There are more than 3,2 billion urbanised people worldwide. The UN expects that to increase to 5 billion by 2030. The growth will be most keenly felt in what are currently the least urbanised continents: Asia and Africa.

Rapid urbanisation is a problem because cities cannot keep up with delivering services to the quickly expanding number of inhabitants and people end up living in slums. Large proportions of the populations of many African cities already live in slums, for example, leading to all manner of socio-economic problems, such as little to no access to education, good quality healthcare, or the urban economy.

Slums and poor service delivery breed discontent and foster crime as seen in megacities from Karachi to Mumbai, and Cairo to Lagos. Homelessness, traffic congestion, urban sprawl, pollution, and disparate energy and material consumption are some of the major problems major metros must conquer in the face of rapid urbanisation.

Smart cities help government and municipalities manage the urbanisation – effectively managing the influx of people while actually improving service delivery – by automating a lot of the daily operations of running cities then overlaying an array of information-gathering sensors with an intelligent software platform to help officials make informed decisions.

The foundational technologies for smart cities are connectivity, such as the high bandwidth fibre currently rolling out across South Africa’s major metros, an army of connected Internet of Things (IoT) devices (the array of sensors) providing basic information to the central intelligence platform, and the nerve centre from where officials can implement centralised, co-ordinated, and collaborative inter-agency responses to dynamic situations.

Essentially, smart cities use technology to cleverly and effectively marshal existing employees, emergency services, response units, equipment and infrastructure to provide much higher levels of services and responses to fluid and dynamic environments. The same number of personnel and equipment can be used to provide more effective services to citizens, not just for emergency services, but also for sanitation, water supply, security, commerce, transport, healthcare, electricity, telecommunications, and environmental protection.

The beauty of the evolution of smart cities and the technologies that support them is that, once the basic network connectivity and control centre intelligence is provided, the system can grow as required, focusing on a city’s most crucial requirements to effectively and immediately meet the needs of its citizens.

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