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Building Smart Cities in Pakistan

Shahzaz ud din

Jun 12, 2017
Building Smart Cities in Pakistan

By Shahzada Irfan

There is a pressing need to deploy new technologies for city governments for better management of urban centers.

The concept of a “Smart City” is a relatively new one in the realm of modern day urban development and is being adopted by different cities in the world in the pursuit to serve their citizens in the best possible manner.

Simply, smart cities embrace information communication technologies (ICT) and the Internet of Things (IoT) solutions to manage the use of resources in the best possible way and acquire automated feedback through specialized ICT based infrastructure. Besides providing quality of life to the citizens, the purpose is to gauge the effectiveness of different urban systems and service delivery models in place and make required improvements on the basis of this feedback. All this also involves handling of big data—something not possible to do manually—so dependence is overwhelmingly on the use of technology.

In Brief

  • The conceptualization of a smart city varies from city to city and country to country, depending on the level of development, willingness to change and reform, resources and aspirations of the city residents. In our local context, maximum and efficient use of technology for good governance and better service delivery are some of the very important components of a smart city.
  • While a number of tech-based initiatives especially by the Punjab government seem in isolation are in fact part of the greater smart cities project. This is evident from modern transportation infrastructure like Metro Bus Service, smart monitoring of schools and healthcare facilities and dengue activity tracking system, e-vaccination program, solid waste management, citizen facilitation centers and above all, increasing and efficient use of technology by police for smart policing.
  • The term ‘smart city’ has a lot of buzz around it but a lot needs to be practically done in Pakistan.
A commonly quoted definition comes from Bakici, Almirall, and Wareham (2013) who describe smart cities as “cities that utilize information and communication technologies with the aim to increase the quality of life of their inhabitants while providing sustainable development.”

Cities have been aptly termed the engines of economic growth. Their importance was realized after the industrial revolution. Urban development and economic growth in many cities during these times often came at the price of the quality of life of citizens, as many aspects of citizens’ well-being were ignored. This type of development does not qualify a city as smart. A city has to develop infrastructures and systems that provide holistic solutions to urban issues backed by strong technological support.

Though developed countries have been fast in adopting technologies and moving towards building smart cities, the developing world is also trying to catch up with them. For example, India plans 100 new smart cities and will develop modern satellite towns around existing cities under its smart city program. The country would need $1.2 trillion over the next 20 years to build smart cities and the expectation of rise in employment opportunities is also 10 to 15 percent in the country.

Smart Cities in a Local Perspective
“Smart cities have evolved as an urban development vision to collect and integrate multiple ICT and the IoT solutions in a secure model to manage a city’s assets – the city’s assets include, but are not limited to, local departments’ information systems, schools, transportation systems, hospitals, water supply networks, waste management, law enforcement, and other community services,” says Dr. Javed Nasir, chief executive officer of the Urban Unit Punjab. The Urban Unit is “redefining urban settlements to make socially cohesive and economically sustainable communities.”

According to Dr. Nasir, the goal of building a smart city is to improve the quality of life by using urban informatics and technology to improve the efficiency of services and meet needs of the residents. ICT, he says, allows city officials to interact directly with the community and the city infrastructure and to monitor what is happening in the city, how the city is evolving, and how to enable better quality of life. Through the use of sensors integrated with real-time monitoring systems, datasets are collected via different tech devices and then processed and analyzed. The information and knowledge gathered are vital to tackling inefficiencies in service delivery.

“The goal of building a smart city is to improve quality of life by using urban informatics and technology to improve the efficiency of services and meet needs of the residents.” –Dr. Javed Nasir, CEO The Urban Unit

“Information technology is the principal infrastructure and the basis for providing essential services to residents,” asserts Sajid Latif, director general, e-Governance at the Punjab Information Technology Board (PITB). In his opinion, a smart city is an urban region that is highly advanced in terms of overall infrastructure, sustainable real estate, communications and market viability.

There, he says, are many technological platforms involved, including but not limited to automated sensor networks and data centers. He believes, in a smart city, economic development and activity are sustainable and rationally incremental by virtue of being based on success-oriented market drivers such as supply and demand. “They benefit everybody, including citizens, businesses, the government and the environment.” Sectors that have been developing smart city technology include government services, transport and traffic management, energy, health care, water supply and sanitation, innovative urbanization, agriculture and waste management, he adds.

Read more: Introducing Smart Policing

World’s Smartest Cities
Having defined the concept and discussed definitions in detail, it is now pertinent to look at the examples of cities that have won the title of being the world’s smartest cities. Every year, their rating is done on the basis of studies of indicators that include the technology adopted by a city, availability of open data, transport management, energy efficiency, smart parking and lighting facilities, efficient energy consumption and so on. A study into what makes these cities smart will make the concept clearer and highlight the utility of going for this option. Though, a costly option due to the initial investments involved, the accumulated benefits offered by smart cities far outweigh the costs.

On May 17, 2016 Juniper Research, a market research firm based in Basingstoke, U.K., announced the world’s five smartest cities for the year 2016. The result was finalized after thoroughly analyzing data available with the research team headed by Steffen Sorrell, senior analyst at Juniper Research. The names and strengths of these top smart cities follow in the order of their ranking:

This year, Singapore was declared the smartest city of the world. The researchers at Juniper ranked cities by factors, such as their adoption of smart grid technologies, intelligent lighting, the use of information technology to improve traffic, Wi-Fi access points and smartphone penetration, etc. Interestingly, the city can even detect if people are smoking in unauthorized zones or if people are throwing litter out of high-rise buildings. The city has a high smartphone penetration and broadband availability. A local company Singtel is rolling out a 10 gigabits per second fiber broadband service that would enable residents to download a two-hour HD movie in 90 seconds.

Barcelona has made extensive use of sensors to help monitor and manage traffic. Earlier, this city had been ranked the smartest city of the world, but this time it managed to get second position on the list. The city has installed smart parking technology, as well as smart streetlights, and sensors for monitoring air quality and noise. It is also expanding a network of free Wi-Fi in public spaces. Execution of smart grid pilot projects, installation of smart meters and the city’s plan for reducing carbon emissions give it extra grades. “On top of that, it is rolling out smart LED lighting,” says Sorrell, senior analyst at Juniper Research.

The way, Barcelona has addressed drought through the intelligent use of technology, has won it accolades from all over the world. The city ran out of water a few years ago, making it develop a smart city sensors system for irrigation. Sensors placed on the ground analyze rain alongside the predicted level of rain forecasted to occur and modify the city’s sprinklers accordingly to help conserve water.

London has always been ranked high for the broadband availability it offers. Now, the city planners have a plan to implement information technology to curb congestion. The city began to take early action in using technology to help tackle congestion and make parking simpler. Many other cities have followed the example of London and modeled their smart parking initiatives on it. This year, it has been ranked the third smartest city on the world map.

London has also committed that it will make the data from its smart city initiative public via its London Datastore. Access to this data will facilitate citizens and they will be able to use it for different purposes. For example, city planners have built an app based on open data that will take a person’s location, receive and inquiry about where he or she wants to go and advise the routes that could be followed.

Read more: Changing the Way You Ride

San Francisco
San Francisco is fast developing into the United States leading technological hub and has been declared the fourth smartest city this year. Its Connected City initiative enables residents to locate parking spots through sensors. The city also has one of the highest densities of Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED)-certified buildings in the country and scores fairly high in terms of bus availability. Another plus is that San Francisco has a good payment system allowing people to pay online or even use the contactless payment system.

The city, however, has been a leader in terms of smart parking. The SF Park initiative, which was launched in 2011, leverages sensors to monitor parking spaces. The city officials use the data for dynamic parking system that adjusts the cost of parking based on whether spots are occupied or are vacant. “They might say that there is low occupancy in one area and then try to lower the price of it,” Sorrell explains.

Oslo is the fifth smartest city in the world according to this year’s rating. It has installed sensors to help monitor parking. The city has installed a sensor network to help improve the care of sick or elderly patients and has also established a network of smart street lighting, which has reduced energy consumption by nearly two-thirds.

Enabling Technologies
The conceptualization of a smart city varies from city to city and country to country, depending on the level of development, willingness to change and reform, resources and aspirations of the city residents. Sajid Latif believes a city is said to be smart if smartness is imparted to it. This, he says, can be done by imparting technology, which is possible through the corporate sector. Instead of bringing all those technical resources from outside, it is better to develop a domestic capacity through local partners, he adds.

Sajid Latif points out that the core infrastructure elements in a smart city would include:

  • Adequate water supply
  • Assured electricity supply
  • Sanitation, including solid waste management
  • Efficient urban mobility and public transport
  • Affordable housing, especially for the poor
  • Robust IT connectivity and digitalization
  • Good governance, especially e-Governance and citizen participation
  • Sustainable environment
  • Safety and security of citizens, particularly women, children and the elderly
  • Health and education
To achieve these objectives, a smart city needs an enabling environment, technological advancement, broadband connectivity, a supportive economic system, High-Tech equipment, a political will to share important data with the public for its benefit and so on.

A white paper released by Escher Group—a globally renowned provider of point of service software discusses five essentials for Smart Cities. These are deployment of broadband networks, use of smart devices and agents, developing smart urban spaces, developing web-based applications and e-services and lastly opening up of government data.

Smart City Vision in Pakistan
At present, the concept of smart cities remains a novel idea in Pakistan while a comprehensive understanding of what smart cities mean also seems to be lacking. Furthermore, the eco-system, the leadership, the institutional arrangement and public opinion do not seem to be fully mobilized.

In Pakistan, increasing urbanization and rising income trends indicate that by 2030, the percentage of urban population will increase from the current 45 percent to nearly 60 percent. At present, nine cities of the country have populations over 1 million and 75 cities with population between 100, 000 to 1 million. Urban Pakistan contributes 78 percent of the GDP. So, the need to develop systems and technologies that help city governments manage urban centers better and serve the citizens are becoming crucial with the passage of time.

Arshad Rafiq, Team Leader, Sustainable Cities Project at Leadership for Environment and Development (LEAD-Pakistan) says satellite-based mobile technologies and Geographic Information Systems (GIS) are the most promising technologies and easily available to developing countries. Since, he says, Pakistan has one of the highest levels of mobile phone penetration; this strength can be capitalized on to promote the concept of smart cities in the country. Furthermore, he says, the examples of some municipalities in Western countries can also be followed. They have joined hands with technology giants like Cisco and Google to introduce smart technologies for better connectivity of cities with the purpose of bringing resource efficiency, emissions reduction and so on.

However, he also gives a word of caution. Regarding the usage of technology for economic growth, he cautions Pakistan has to move cautiously; the wave of technology can also result in a reduction in job opportunities, income disparities and social exclusion.

Read more: Building the Cities of Tomorrow

Due to competing demands of job creation for a bustling population, he says, we need a more job oriented economic growth with the focus on manufacturing and agriculture rather than simply the automation of its economy. “Under the same considerations, our neighboring India has modified its Smart Cities Program by balancing its growth objectives and social inclusivity targets with technology utilization and smart solutions for selected cities,” he argues.

The Role of Government in Smart Cities and Enabling Infrastructure
The federal government’s Vision Champions initiative under the Pakistan Vision-2025 is a step in the direction of smart governance where individuals with leadership and contributions in community-based initiatives will be selected from the district, provincial and federal level and inducted into a network of professionals who will collaborate and improve the existing city management model. A public sector developed initiative for urban uplift called URAN is also in the pipeline, to complement this work. Additionally, the Vision-2025 envisages smart cities in Pakistan as the cities that are capable of adapting to increasing complexity and demand for knowledge communication while able to cope with increasing populations and city size. Of particular importance are providing public services, real-time updates on city traffic patterns, pollution, crime, parking spaces and the provision of water and power.

Vision 2025 seeks to ensure that Pakistan’s cities are digitally connected, equipped with wireless network sensors and the free flow of information which allow laying down the foundation for the cities of Pakistan to be smart and creative.

Smart City Challenges
Dr. Javed Nasir enumerates some challenges and hurdles in the development of smart cities in the country. He says, in general, the move to smart cities is beset with all sorts of budgetary constraints. Citywide smart technology deployments come with high price tags. The existing infrastructure such as in transport, health and education has improved but the integration of city systems is pending, he adds and also points out that there is a lack of an overarching institution to create a governance structure for smart city projects. The other impediments on the road to successful smart city development that he highlights include: general lack of awareness of operational understanding of smart city projects, lack of consensus on the right model for smart cities in Pakistan’s socio-political context, social acceptability, and livability and sustainability concerns given a resource-constrained environment, lack of integration with other urban sector programs (especially at the provincial and local level), lack of a cohesive roadmap, process and scale of the Smart Cities Program, funding strategy, program design, operationalization and institutional arrangements and the lack of institutional capacity to deliver technology-centric reforms that are part and parcel of smart city transformation.

Smart City Initiatives in Different Provinces
In 2015, the Government of Sindh signed a memoranda of understanding with three investors from the United States, China and the United Arab Emirates to turn Karachi into a ‘smart city’ by equipping it with solar streetlights, closed-circuit cameras and free Wi-Fi connectivity.

The Government of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (KP) has also started moving towards the safe/smart cities project. The project will be rolled out to entire Peshawar valley and entire central belt comprising five districts including Peshawar, Nowshera, Mardan, Charsadda, Swabi and then extend to militancy-hit areas of the province. Other ICT-based projects in KP include ‘Citizens Portal’, CM Complaint Cell, Online FIR Registration, Online Admissions for Public Sector Universities, and Online Application for Driving License. In health specifically, the KP health department has established the Independent Monitoring Unit (IMU) to regularly evaluate the performance of the public sector healthcare facilities and take measures to improve the quality of services at government hospitals in the province.

There is also a discussion about smart cities in the Balochistan province and it is said smart cities project would be part of the province’s uplift projects under the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC).

Punjab Leads the Way
Nevertheless, Punjab province is perhaps the most advanced in various ICT based initiatives, with strong institutional base in the shape of PITB with support from various federal agencies. In Punjab, holistic city-wide smart city smart city projects have not been initiated but sector wise work on various aspects of city services have been improved and made smart using the ICT platform. Punjab Safe City Authority is a big step in this direction as it offers a robust platform for development and integration of various ICT initiatives at the city level. GIS-based mapping and automation of the Urban Immovable Property Tax (UIPT) system in Punjab is again a milestone in developing IT based services. Being a very comprehensive and authentic database, it has the potential to be used as a basis for numerous citizen-centric services.

Province-wise smart city projects have facilitated citizens to a great extent, increased transparency and have significantly improved departmental efficiency since real-time data availability ensures accurate planning and budgeting, remote access ensures there are no middlemen, are effective for decision making on a larger scale and provide data aggregation of various city services and projections. This helps in better planning and anticipating emerging volume through trend analysis.

Read more: Connecting the Unconnected

Specifically, it can be seen that Dengue Activity Tracking System introduction by the PITB has led to the diminishing incidence of disease spread as witnessed in recent years. Similarly, Citizen Portal in KP province has ensured access to government services is significantly improved and has been appreciated by various stakeholders. In contrast, although provinces through their official publications and websites have generously documented their ‘Success Stories’ for such initiatives, an independent study is nonetheless, required to assess the actual efficacy of these projects in terms of government efficiency and transparency as well as benefits imparted to citizens.

“A city is smart when information technology is the principle infrastructure and the basis for providing essential services to residents.”
–Sajid Latif, DG e-Governance PITB

According to Sajid Latif, cities around the globe evolve to become smarter with the advancement in walks of life including modern infrastructure, transportation, trafficking, urban development and provision of citizen services in modern ways. However, he says in Pakistan the concept of a modern city is in its initial stage, though, Pakistan has one of the best IT infrastructures in the region, enabling environment and modern systems that can be put together to make a city as modern as it can be.

At the moment, the needs of big cities are being identified and many initiatives are being taken by different departments that may converge into a conceptual definition of a smart city.

In Punjab, PITB is enabling the city of Lahore with Wi-Fi-hotspots in major areas. These include 12 parks, 17 markets, metro bus stations and 20 colleges and universities, the city railway station and the airport. The modern e-ticketing for Metro Bus system is another initiative to make the public tech savvy. There is a large project being initiated in Lahore and other main cities of the province called “Punjab Police Integrated Command Control and Communication Center – PPIC3” which aims at providing security and safety to its citizens with modern tools and technologies.

Lahore is also being equipped with modern infrastructural facilities like Metro Bus Service and Orange Train etc. Punjab IT Board is also establishing modern, state-of-the-art Citizen Facilitation Centers named e-Khidmat Markaz in all divisional headquarters of Punjab. All of the police systems in Punjab have also been automated by PITB. Police is using PITB made modern tools and technologies for identification, investigation and interrogation.

Shahzada Irfan Ahmed works for The News on Sunday (TNS)—a weekly magazine of The News International. He is also a Daniel Pearl Fellow and has written extensively on a variety of topics.

Trango Towers

Oct 29, 2016
United Kingdom
You can have the city as smart as you like. Unless there are laws to ensure people follow the rules the smart city has no value. Example. People of Pakistan drive like lunatic. No lane discipline and most people do not have driver training. Most vehicles are not road worthy either

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