We are currently living in an era where excessive rates of growth are being witnessed across cities worldwide over multiple sectors. Ideas and proposals for transition to Smart Cities have been rapidly progressing and are on the main agenda of governments and institutions globally.
However, why is the demand for Smart Cities growing exponentially, and what are the different implications of introducing Smart Cities?
Firstly, what is the exact definition and understanding of a Smart City? There is no universally accepted definition as the concept can vary from city to city and country to country.
However, the underlying elements are similar, in terms of infrastructure, quality of life and a clean and sustainable environment.
The focus is mainly on sustainable and inclusive development which is in line with Bahrain’s Vision 2030. Therefore, many of these elements and targets can be met by implementing ‘Smart’ solutions. These solutions can be divided into their respective segments, and can include areas such as e-governance, urban mobility and energy management and all aim to improve the above elements such as infrastructure and sustainable development.
Essentially, we can infer that the purpose of Smart Cities is to drive economic growth, sustainable development, improving the quality of life and harnessing technology, especially technology that leads to smart outcomes.
Moreover, there are other essential specifications of Smart Cities to consider, such as features, financing, strategy and implementation as well as challenges.
Strategic direction and implementation are critical to ensure optimum functionality of these Smart Cities, where specific models of Smart City development can apply to certain areas, such as retrofitting (introduce planning in an existing built-up area to achieve Smart City objectives), redevelopment (replacing the existing built-up environment and enable co-creation of a new layout with enhanced infrastructure), greenfield development (introducing most of the Smart Solutions in a previously vacant area) and pan-city development (application of selected Smart Solutions to the existing city-wide infrastructure).
For example, the recent initiatives launched by His Royal Highness Prince Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa, Crown Prince and Prime Minister, concerning urban development can play an essential role in setting the foundations for Smart Cities.
Financing also plays an important role throughout the life-cycle of Smart Cities, as the project cost for each Smart City proposal will vary depending upon several factors such as the model and level of Smart applications.
There will surely be challenges faced during the journey of Smart Cities but with accurate assessments, all risks can be minimised and dealt with accordingly. For example, understanding the different concepts of retrofitting, redevelopment, greenfield development and pan-city development by policymakers and other stakeholders will ensure that the correct specifications are applied to developing different Smart Cities.
There shall also be challenges in terms of financing and investments, as they will be required across different stages such as planning, development and launch. Citizen involvement is also critical for the process, as they are a key component of Smart Cities, especially since they will have a role in determining the deployment of Smart Solutions and implementing reforms which will be achieved by participation.
Ultimately, the Smart Cities mission will lead to many economic developments such as maximisation of city functions and promoting economic growth. Therefore, these can be summarised into four pillars: Social Infrastructure, Physical Infrastructure, Institutional Infrastructure and Economic Infrastructure. Hence, Bahrain should ideally advance its Smart City initiatives in line with Vision 2030, government initiatives and sovereign plans.
* Mr Al Sarraf, executive Master of Business Administration, is a member of the Institute of Engineering and Technology, UK, the Bahrain Society of Engineers and the Bahrain Management Society