It is no longer enough for cities to provide adequate transportation, housing, water and sanitation. The cities of the future, aka ‘smart’ cities, will have to be engines for innovation and growth.
But what does this mean for African cities like Johannesburg, Accra or Nairobi and their entrepreneurs?
Michael Fletcher, a sub-Saharan Africa sales director for Ruckus Wireless, a global Wi-Fi technology company, discusses where entrepreneurship, innovation and technology meet, and the impact the creation of ‘smart’ cities will have on each.
What is the definition of smart cities in an African context?
Africa still has many challenges that make the development of smart cities difficult, but we are working towards getting the foundational elements right – infrastructure, broadband access, business-led development, and sustainability for example.
Part of creating this environment means that cities need to embrace all the technological innovations available to them. In fact, African cities have the opportunity to start with the latest technology, bypassing older and more well-established cities elsewhere in the world.
And if you look at the strides that Africa has made from a broadband capacity point of view, not to mention the fact that we are seen as a mobile continent, we are fast moving into a connected framework from a personal, business and even governmental perspective.
What kinds of infrastructural changes would African cities like Johannesburg, Accra or Nairobi have to undergo to be considered ‘smart’?
While countries operate differently and citizens have different needs and requirements, traditionally, however, smart cities are ranked with the following areas in mind:
- regional competitiveness
- transport and ICT economics
- natural resources
- human and social capital
- quality of life, and
- participation of citizens in the governance of cities.
As such, in order to be truly considered ‘smart’ these cities need to focus on these elements, and while some are strong in a few of these areas, to be smart means to have a strong drive in all of these areas.
“Providing infrastructure and connectivity allows smaller businesses to gain a footing and to thrive”
What is the relationship between the smart cities and innovation, entrepreneurship and socio-economic development?
Essentially they are all linked. Providing infrastructure and connectivity allows smaller businesses to gain a footing and to thrive as opportunities grow. Smart cities drive innovation which is at the heart of entrepreneurship.
What is the role of information communication technology (ICT) sector in the creation of smart cities? Just how important is connectivity in establishing future cities?
The ICT sector plays a significant role – connectivity means citizens have access to information, knowledge to innovate, and to do business differently, and ultimately build a knowledge-based and socially connected community.
Data is currently very expensive locally which limits access. This has a direct effect on businesses especially SMEs that can’t afford it.
Projects like Project Isizwe and City of Tshwane Free Wi-Fi project, for example are providing free Wi-Fi to communities. They are already in phase two, having rolled out an additional 213 new Free Internet Zone (FIZ) sites. They have also recently launched the Western Cape Free Wi-Fi project.
The MTN/City Power project is using street lamps to expand coverage. The project has already started in western and northern Johannesburg, with an objective to improve network coverage and quality which has been negatively affected due to the density of the buildings in these areas. This is a step in the right direction; a bottleneck that was affecting development was identified and an innovative solution using existing resources was implemented to ensure that citizen connectivity remains a priority – this is the mind frame we need when we think of connectivity driving smart cities.
What about non-urban areas, where do they fit in such developments?
Smart cities are about urbanisation, and non-urban areas are faced with far greater challenges that need to take priority before one can look at connectivity.
The reality is that, as a developing continent, it would be unrealistic to expect all cities to be connected and urbanised, not all areas would want to be urbanised.
In such areas development is more focused on education, community upliftment and service delivery for obvious reasons – so you will find projects on a much smaller scale, which will be able provide access to health and educational services.