A bird's-eye view of Wuxiang New District in Nanning, capital of Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, on May 4 (XINHUA)
Unmanned cars automatically avoid traffic jams, air temperatures and pollution particles at construction sites are monitored in real-time, and firefighters can see video footage of fires from the scene, before setting out to tackle the flames.
That's not a dream world, but a real prospect for smart cities, which became a hot topic and one of the proposals put forward at a recent APEC forum on urbanization.
Themed on urbanization and inclusive growth, the First APEC High-level Urbanization Forum was convened in Ningbo, a coastal city in east China's Zhejiang Province, from June 2 to 3, attracting more than 200 government officials, scholars and enterprises from 21 countries and regions.
Currently, a new round of scientific and technological revolution and industrial reform is gaining momentum, and urbanization is accelerating throughout the world. In the next three or four decades, there will be tremendous opportunities for APEC members to collaborate on urbanization projects, said Xu Shaoshi, Chairman of China's National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC), at the opening ceremony.
In 2014, the urban population of APEC member economies hit 1.77 billion, 61 percent of their combined population. According to estimates by the World Bank, those urban populations are expected to reach 2.38 billion in 2050, 77 percent of the APEC member economies' total.
At the forum, APEC economies jointly released the Ningbo Initiative, acknowledging that urbanization is a necessary path toward modernization and a major engine for sustainable development.
The Asia-Pacific economies are in different urbanization stages yet share potential for complementary development and cooperation. Therefore, urbanization has been recognized as a frontier for regional cooperation, according to the Ningbo Initiative.
An exhibitor introduces a video parking guidance system at an intelligent cities and building materials fair held in Hangzhou, capital of Zhejiang Province, on March 17 (XINHUA)
"Smart cities are a strategic path leading toward urbanization, and it's also an important feature of urbanization," said Wan Yong, Mayor of Wuhan, capital of central China's Hubei Province.
A smart city is an urban development vision which integrates multiple information and intellectual technology solutions in a secure fashion to manage a city's assets. This includes, but is not limited to, information systems of local departments, schools, libraries, transportation systems, hospitals, power plants, water supply networks and other community services.
Smart cities can tap into both the potential for domestic consumption contained in urbanization, as well as the drive for informatization.
"Smart cities should not only feature high efficiency, but also make life more comfortable for urban citizens," said CY Yeung, Director of Corporate Responsibility at Intel China, which believes that community residents should be the main force pushing forward the building of smart cities, rather than enterprises or governments.
This view echoed that of Zhang Liming, General Manager of electronics manufacturer China Hualu Group, who suggested that governments should play a guiding role, enterprises should serve as constructors, and citizens should be the hosts of smart cities, with the final aim of improving people's living standards. "Citizens should be the largest beneficiaries," said Zhang.
Moreover, smart cities are large systems, and can only be built with systematic design and the participation of all the people involved, said Zhang, arguing that no single enterprise can really undertake the entire task of building a smart city.
In addition, a smart city should be based on intelligent infrastructure, which, to a large extent, means a network system of things in broad sense, said Chen Zongnian, President of electronic security technology company CETHIK Group. He said that data transmission, storage and processing make up a vital part of the system.
"Without such intelligent infrastructure, smart cities would be more in name than in reality," said Chen.
Internet Plus is a new engine for the construction of smart cities, said Wan, stressing that efforts should be made to tackle problems with new thoughts and methods featuring big data and cloud computing.
Compared with one or two decades ago, data is now ubiquitous. "Data is just like the blood of a city, helping people get an idea of the general operation of the city, find problems and work out solutions," said Liu Tianwen, President of iSoftStone, a leading provider of innovative technological services in China.
As to how to push forward the construction of smart cities by using big data and cloud computing, Liu suggested that a single city "cloud" network should be created. Such a system would encompass various kinds of customers and cover government affairs, industries and people's daily lives, so that things can be correlated and integrated.
Aside from that, data standards should also be unified. "At present, urban data is mostly dispersed throughout different government departments, such as land and resources, housing and transport. Unifying this data will contribute to city planning," said Liu.
Since all smart services need data, and governments hold the most public data, measures should be taken to open up this information to the public. That could add to the competitiveness of a city and attract more investors and industries to settle down, Liu noted.
Last not but least, citizens should develop the habits necessary to build smart cities, Liu stressed. For example, when a well's lid is missing, nearby citizens should report it immediately to prevent accidents.
From data generation, transmission to application, there is another important link—data management, which has not yet been given enough attention, said Xie Yun, Vice President of Digital China Information Services Co. Ltd.
At the current stage, data management mainly revolves around different applications. That's to say, personal data is locked in different applications and can't be exchanged amongst them. Take urban management for example. There are various applications specializing in transport, safety, environment and so on, and their data is collected separately.
"To solve the problem, a model should be put in place. When data are collected from the Internet of Things or even virtual networks, they will be put into the model. In this way, the combination of information can give a full description about the current condition of a city," said Xie, stressing that people can find anything in a model with no isolated information "islands."
While data can greatly prop up the construction of smart cities, some people have also shown concern over the security of their personal information.
"The security of personal data is not just a matter of management, but also relies on technology," said CETHIK President Chen. On one hand, information managers should leave no stones unturned in preventing information leakages. On the other hand, endeavors should be made to promote encryption and ensure information safety in transmission and storage.
"If the information storage system is insecure, it's just like depositing your valuables in someone else's safe," said Chen.
Ningbo Initiative Proposals
To encourage member economies to deepen the Asia-Pacific urbanization partnership and realize the Asia-Pacific goal of common development, prosperity and progress, representatives at the First APEC High-level Urbanization Forum put forward the following proposals:
- Promote inclusive and dynamic urban growth. Explore new urbanization pathways that suit local conditions and respect the different urbanization stages among APEC member economies. Build an open and inclusive environment for urban development. Adopt policies conducive to employment, including enhancing the protection of rights and interests of laborers. Deliver basic public services to all urban dwellers including new and existing migrants and guarantee opportunities for all groups to live and develop in the cities, with a focus on improving people's sense of growth and happiness. Facilitate the coordinated development of small and medium-sized cities and small towns to narrow the gaps in levels of development between urban and rural areas and among regions.
- Improve urban infrastructure. Scale up public-private partnerships (PPP) with larger public and private investment to strengthen the development and management of infrastructure such as clean, renewable and sustainable energy, communication and broadband/Internet access, transportation, urban waste management, water supply and drainage and other facilities. Enhance the role of cities in helping promote connectivity throughout regional infrastructures, facilitate the flow of economic factors and people, and implement the APEC Connectivity Blueprint for 2015-25. Attach importance to the quality of infrastructure development, and promote the application of good practices and people-centered approaches into infrastructure planning and development. Create conditions favorable to the positive role of the private sector in investing, building and operating infrastructure, including by addressing regulatory environments, and encourage the member economies to share their experience in infrastructure construction, management and market operation.
- Build smart cities. Share best practices in smart urban planning and the development of habitable and sustainable cities. Join hands to promote the application of smart technologies into urban management, governance and construction, and improve people-oriented services by fully tapping the advantages of digital connectivity. Encourage city governments' efforts on open data and promote the innovative use of data by governments, businesses and the society. Achieve the systematic integration of smart homes, buildings, communities, transportation and cities. Strengthen exchanges and cooperation among APEC member economies to explore diversified paths to build smart cities.
- Develop green cities. Promote the transition of cities toward green, environment-friendly, dynamic, resilient and sustainable communities. Encourage city developments that reduce resource and energy consumption. Develop low-carbon economies centered on new energy sources, new energy smart technologies and new industries, build energy efficient and low-carbon cities and towns, advocate a green lifestyle promoting low energy consumption, low greenhouse gas emission, and conservation. Promote green industries and help small and medium-sized enterprises take advantage of green growth opportunities. Promote policy communication, joint research and project cooperation among cities of APEC member economies in protecting the environment, addressing natural disasters and climate change, and increasing the resilience of cities.
- Encourage urban regeneration and retrofitting. Renovate aging urban areas, rural-urban fringes, and concentrated dilapidated housing, as well as renew the old urban areas with modern infrastructure. Promote a city layout with an organic integration of residential, business, office, culture and other functional quarters. Encourage transit-oriented development to raise the share of public transportation, public facilities and open spaces in the city. Highlight the characteristics of cities to preserve their traditions and cultural diversity.
- Drive innovative urban development. Promote innovative concepts, models and mechanisms of urban planning, design, construction and management that respect the landscape, history and cultural heritage of different cities and towns. Improve the ecosystem for urban innovation and entrepreneurship to make innovation the primary driver of urban development, including through the promotion of intellectual property protection.
- Advocate for good urban governance. Increase capacity for governments and other stakeholders to share best practices on good urban governance. Innovate in terms of urban governance by creating open and transparent channels of dialogue between governments and citizens to enhance public engagement in urban planning and management. Develop norms that can be put into operation based on best practices and experiences.
- Boost APEC cooperation on sustainable urban development. Under the guidance of the SOM (Senior Officials' Meeting) Friends of the Chair on Urbanization, member economies are encouraged to establish a cooperative network of sustainable cities, with each economy voluntarily nominating cities interested in sustainable development, to share best practices, experience and lessons on sustainable development and carry out demonstration projects among APEC cities.
Copyedited by Bryan Michael Galvan
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