The impression many people hold of an Asian city is one of unplanned, unregulated, and uncontrolled growth.
Whether this is fair comment or not, the rapid and increasing pace of urbanization across the region means Asian cities have no choice but to become more organized and efficient. Improved management of every aspect of city life, from socio-economic issues to the provision of infrastructure, the delivery of public services and the ensuring of public safety and security is essential if Asia’s vast urban conglomerations are to fulfil their potential.
How are these lofty aims to be accomplished?
Smart governments are starting to recognize that a significant investment in Information and Communications Technology—ICT—is needed to tackle the huge variety of issues their cities face. In order to transform themselves into efficient, people-centric metropolises, they will increasingly need to leverage data analytic technologies across various information sources. This will allow them to extract reliable, predictable and actionable insights, assist in strategic decision-making, and deliver improved performance management.
According to IDC, 92% of public sector offices in the region believe in using ICT as a means to meet their operational and strategic objectives.
Asia Pacific, ahead of the curve
A good example of a city that is already putting ICT technologies to work is Singapore. Here, the government has embraced the potential of data analytics to help solve the multi-faceted challenges of urban planning in the 21st century.
Singapore’s reputation as one of Asia’s best-managed cities is the result of a constant pro-active effort by the authorities to stay ahead of the curve, managing the demands of population growth against a constant factor of space constraint. With a mere 710 sq km at its disposal, the government must allow for both city and country functions, taking into account the sometimes conflicting needs of housing, recreational space, industrial land, commercial and retail space, military training, transportation, and more.
Another city that is ahead is Hong Kong. Here, the government’s Digital 21 Strategy forms the blueprint for the development of ICT in the Special Administrative Region of Hong Kong (SAR). It sets out the framework for Hong Kong to leverage the use of data analytics to help solve the multi-faceted challenges of urban planning in the 21st century.
Similarly, with an area of just over 1,100 sq km at its disposal, Hong Kong is the fourth most densely populated city on earth. The SAR needs a constant pro-active effort by the authorities to stay ahead of the curve, managing the demands of population growth against a constant factor of space constraint.
The question is how the application of ICT can translate raw data into effective action, to improve the lives of citizens in the real world.
The new urban map
Hong Kong’s 2030 Plus planning strategy is a case in point. The Plan, published in October 2016, envisions transforming the city into a more livable place with larger flats, more public space for relaxing, a cycling- and pedestrian-friendly transport system, and scenic country parks protected from development. These moves will require land reclamation as well as tackling the difficulties in developing brownfield sites—degraded agricultural land occupied by things like car parks, container storage, vehicle repair sites, and recycling yards.
While for Singapore, the Urban Redevelopment Authority is using urban planning and predictive systems to understand the implications of different land use scenarios, and new predictive tools for city planning are also being tested locally. The URA sees geospatial technology, data, and analytics as strategic tools for urban planning.
Security is another area that will benefit from the application of data analytics. For example, accurate high-resolution feeds from building sensors and CCTV cameras can allow a city to make decisions on how to improve district-level security.
Technology as an enabler
A starting point in this, as well as all implementations of technology, is to recognize that technology is only an enabler, to be driven by business outcomes. These outcomes are integrated planning, optimised infrastructure, and engaged stakeholders.
The technology to gather and analyze massive amounts of data is already here, and is constantly evolving. What is needed to put this to practical use for the residents of Asian cities is a commitment on the human level—to share data feeds and sensor information among different agencies and authorities, in both the public and private sectors.
City planners need to embrace the technology that is available and demonstrate a willingness to experiment and test-bed new ideas, using analytics to measure the effectiveness of each idea in contributing to a process of constant improvement.