Eric Dai
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Smart City: The Future of Cities in Southeast Asia

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    Eric Dai

The whirlwind pace of urbanization in Southeast Asia has brought about new challenges. In the 19th and 20th centuries, the rapid urbanization of European and North American cities such as London, Paris, and New York, led to a substantial amount of pollution and congestion. Today, major cities in Southeast Asia similarly struggle to adapt to urbanization amidst growing populations and economic dynamism. Such challenges are not impossible to solve. With the help of smart technologies, the situation in these cities can be managed. “Smart cities” are the key to the future of sustainable development in emerging economies like Southeast Asia.

So, what are smart cities?

Smart cities are powerful and efficient. They utilize a combination of big data and digital technology to make better development decisions and enhance the quality of life. As defined in a report by McKinsey Global Institute, there are three essential “layers” to a smart city. The first layer is the technology base, which utilizes high-speed communication networks to connect smartphones, sensors, and other ICTs (Information and Communications Technology). The second layer consists of certain applications that translate and process raw data into alerts, insight, and decisions. The third layer is the implementation, or usage, of these applications by the companies and the public.

How can this seemingly complex system actually help develop and run cities? The answer lies in the concept of The Internet of Things (IoT), which enables objects to communicate with each other through the internet. The creation of this network, which connects objects ranging from normal cell phones to electric outlets and even cars, provides access to data that can improve public transportation systems, give traffic reports, and provide real-time energy consumption data. These insights are crucial because they will allow cities to reduce costs by identifying issues before their emergence. Furthermore, these insights will enable cities to allocate capital and resources with more precision, to increase efficiency and maximize impact.

Smart cities have enormous potential for the future. The heavy integration of technology and infrastructure means that as cities grow and technology improves, smart cities will become increasingly efficient. Smart solutions could reduce greenhouse-gas emissions by an estimated 270,000 kilotons annually and prevent about 5000 lives lost each year through car accidents, fires, and other infrastructural failures. Furthermore, the solutions informed by data could save citizens a significant amount of time spent commuting, and residents in smart cities are projected to save $16 billion in energy bills.

The arrival of 5G will make smart cities even more possible. While most Southeast Asian countries already have adequate internet infrastructure needed for smart cities, some countries such as Cambodia are currently building their 5G systems to prepare for the integration of smart technologies. 5G will play an integral role in developing Cambodia’s planned smart city in Phnom Penh. This 100-hectare development will be built in partnership with blockchain developer Pundi and cloud services provider Limestone Network. Phnom Penh is designed to be Cambodia’s central business district, and the city’s infrastructure will be heavily combined with blockchain, which will be drastically enhanced by 5G capabilities.

The need for smart cities exists outside of Southeast Asia as well. As of today, more than half of the world’s population resides in urban metropolitan areas. According to the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs, by 2050, 2.5 billion people will join these cities’ populations. The utilization of smart technologies to solve macro-level infrastructural issues can, therefore, help build a more hopeful and beautiful future.

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