New approach — a smart sustainable city

Alexey Shadrin, managing director for Russian Carbon fund and Evercity co-founder, about the essence and difference between two concepts of megapolises development for Plus One portal.

What is the first thing that comes to your mind when you hear «smart city»? You probably imagine a megapolis with innovative houses, unmanned vehicles, robots in shops and cafes; in other words, the city of future suggested to us by cinema: films «Island», «I, Robot», «In Time», «Blade Runner»… The latter, created almost half a century ago, shows us year 2019, where robotised hybrids live side by side with humans, where animals are artificial and cities are «smart». For some reason, however, immersing into fantastic world of this «almost-present», makes you more and more depressed, and you come back to the reality (where none of it exists yet) with relief. So what is the problem?

The thing is that a «smart» infrastructure is not enough to meet the needs of humanity. A city has to be sustainable and comfortable.

In scientific circles the concept of an automised high-tech city space, organised with usage of artificial intelligence, big data analysis and other instruments gained its popularity over two decades ago. Since then the most advanced cities of the world, Singapore and Dubai, have come very close to becoming really «smart», effectively increasing life quality by means of informational and communicational technologies.

It should be noted here that life quality is not synonymous to comfort and satisfaction. The first term rather represents material and physiological parameters. The second is directly connected with psychological state of a person. And it’s not at all easy to reach harmony and high levels of these indicators.

During the last decade it became obvious that in such economically, politically and socially unstable world, where the number of natural cataclysms grows every year and climate changes increase pressure on human lives, «smart city» concept turns out to be insolvent. It is not able to solve problems of rapid urbanisation and to provide people with high life quality in long-term perspective, even in 15–25 years frame.

Already 56% of the globe’s population lives in cities which are forced to fight air pollution, lack of resources, food and pure drinking water. Thus, Johannesburg is now standing on the verge of a catastrophe due to the exhaustion of water resource in the city territories. In this case «smart city» concept is useless. Cities also need to be able to react to nature forces, such as hurricanes and tsunamis, volcano eruptions and earthquakes. Let’s remember New Orleans for example, which became a city of dead after hurricane Katrina in 2005. By 2050, when 66% of Earth inhabitants will be living in cities, pressure on cities will multiple.

Initiative groups within international organisations have developed a new model: a smart sustainable city.

Classical definition of this term reads: “A smart sustainable city is an innovative city that uses information and communication technologies (ICTs) and other means to improve quality of life, efficiency of urban operation and services, and competitiveness, while ensuring that it meets the needs of present and future generations with respect to economic, social, environmental as well as cultural aspects”.

What is the major difference between the two systems?

A smart city is rather an instrument for reaching high quality of life by means of implementing 4.0 technologies and efficient work with information. A smart sustainable city is a strategy with a full set of mechanisms and new approaches to the organisation of city’s vital functions as a living ecosystem, where every element (actor) changes with time and collaborates with other in order to provide comfortable living.

If the first one is a system or, in other words, a rather rigid structure, which is hard to modify, a smart sustainable city is an ecosystem that is always changing, taking natural and social conditions into account; moreover, it stabilises the system and finds equilibrium points.

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