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30/11/2017 07:20 SAST | Updated 30/11/2017 09:25 SAST

How Can We Build Safe, Smart Cities (On A Budget)?

A study by Frost and Sullivan shows that the smart cities market globally will grow from just over $900-billion in 2016 to $1.57-trillion in 2020.

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While expanding communications –– whether high-speed cellular or low-power wide-area (LPWA) network –– enable both safe city and smart city solutions, partnerships that bring together government and business interests to share the costs and benefits are growing in popularity to drive adoption.

Open-source and open-community projects provide the capabilities to invest collective time and effort to emulate solutions from well-funded projects.

An example of this is in Sicily, Italy, where they are using Kickstarter to raise funding for smart city initiatives. Their open-source project allows residents to hail taxis, track local buses and find parking, as well as report potholes on roads, via a crowdsourced app.

The same Internet of Things (IoT) network can be used for a myriad public safety applications, like traffic monitoring, perimeter location access, smart manhole covers and emergency notifications.

Government departments typically have a large trove of information in both digital and paper formats, which when combined with geographic information system (GIS) mapping enable new services for public and private use.

For example, using connectivity and technology to improve communication and cross-agency collaboration along with traffic cameras on key intersections, means better dispatching and routing through GPS and mapping applications. Simple GPS tracking devices on buses can not only help residents with accurate schedules and routes, but can alert the relevant authorities in case of any incidents.

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Realising cost savings with safe and smart cities

Apart from providing a secure environment for local residents and businesses, safe city solutions are essential in attracting investment, particularly where tourism plays a critical role.

Safer public spaces mean people stay outside for longer, creating opportunities for local small business such as delivery services, hotel and lodging, food outlets and restaurants that can reach customers easily – and this in turn encourages more people into an area.

While generating a return on investment from safe and smart city initiatives can appear challenging, there are areas where this can reduce costs, eliminate waste and earn new revenues. Smart street lighting reduces municipalities' energy costs by up to 80%, while smart grids and advanced metering improves reliability of supply and cuts cut overall energy consumption. Similar technologies are used on water wastage –– including providing mobile apps to report leaks.

Delivery of waste management using IoT instead of set schedules gives twofold benefits: residents aren't stuck with full refuse bins, and cities don't waste time and money sending trucks to empty bins.

Ageing IT infrastructure and ineffective paper-based processes can be replaced with more cost-effective open-source solutions on a shared platform, eliminating redundant and duplicated systems, and helping a city move toward digitally enabled government and services.

Driving new revenue

A study by Frost & Sullivan shows that the Smart Cities market globally will grow from just over $900-billion (around R12.3-trillion) in 2016 to $1.57-trillion (R21.4-trillion) in 2020.

According to the research firm, smart cities need to lead in multiple priority areas: smart infrastructure, energy, building, technology systems, mobility, governance, education, smart healthcare and smart citizens.

Having a holistic view of government operations allows cities to create online service portals for government services, public transport schedules, healthcare services and educational resources, helping to drive sustainable growth in these areas.

Building on open-source technologies allows smart cities to provide local startup companies with low-cost access to databases and cloud computing solutions, which they use for new services, including digital banking and payment systems. These incubators can be seen in Nairobi, Kenya, and Dubai.

Areas of revenue generation include offering broadband internet connectivity, providing business users with access to databases, GIS mapping and IoT infrastructure, and working with private-sector partners to identify new areas for shared revenue.

Safe and Smart Opportunities and Vision

Altogether, this introduces a range of areas where communities, business and government can work together to enable smart and safe city initiatives. Budget limitations can be overcome using innovative ideas to find funding or provide compelling investment returns and new revenues.

These partners can also learn from what other cities around the world are doing to overcome these challenges, by identifying what projects were successfully implemented, and then seeing if a similar solution can be adapted for local implementation.

Globally, digital transformation and positive change are accelerating. Residents now have more opportunities to access fast communications services and their advantages –– including safer and smarter lifestyles.