Smart City – Is it a Pipe Dream for Jamaica?

Smart City – Is it a Pipe Dream for Jamaica?

Last year, the government of Jamaica committed to establishing the country’s first “smart city,” with the business district of New Kingston as the pioneer city. However, urban planners and academia are of the view that while these plans are aspirational, they will be hindered by limited infrastructural readiness, lack of proper urban planning and unified data collection.

Smart cities are generally defined as urban spaces which use internet technology to collect and use data to manage the city’s resources.

“… When it comes to our society, as one of the Small Island Developing States, we are just embracing the use of data, technology and the decision-making, to arrive at what is a generally accepted benchmark for smart cities”, said Dr Carol Archer, associate professor in the Faculty of Built Environment  at the University of Technology, Jamaica (UTech).  “We are way off, I can tell you, because as a Small Island Developing State, we have not given serious consideration to data collection in a uniformed manner”.

Supporting his colleague, associate professor, Laurence Neufville, head of the School of Building and Land Management at UTech, said that the successful implementation of smart city hinges on three pillars.

“These are: technology, governance and policy. The technology is known, accessible and becoming increasingly affordable. However, Jamaica’s greatest risk is likely to be overcoming the bureaucratic inertia, which hampers good governance and policy implementation,” he said.

In explaining the concept of a “smart city,” Dwight Williams, manager of Local Area Planning Branch at the National Environment and Planning Agency (NEPA), said that it is an urban space, which incorporates Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) to meet and enhance the quality and performance of urban services for its citizens and reduces resource consumption, wastage and the overall cost of the city’s operations.

“These urban services include energy, transportation and utilities. And, the over-arching aim of a smart city is to enhance the quality of living for its citizens through interconnectivity of data and technology. Smart cities also help municipal corporations and local authorities provide improved and sustainable services and safeguard their infrastructure,” he added.

Mr Williams pointed out that smart cities are tied to the country’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and are manifested through the Vision 2030 for Jamaica National Development Plan.

“For instance, the Urban Planning and Regional Development Sector Plan, Vision 2030, identifies and promotes the use of smart growth principles in the preparation of development orders, development plans, planning guidelines and standards. This is to promote the framework that supports and encourage positive and proactive planning that actually shape places through sustainable development,” he argued.

He further noted that the concept of the smart city promotes smart infrastructure development, which are sensor technologies embedded in infrastructure and the equipment they interact with. These infrastructure include: smart parking, smart lighting, smart buildings, smart cars, smart roads and other transportation innovations. The sensors in each infrastructure are interconnected and the information gathered is shared, analysed, and interpreted for the users to make better-informed decisions, he explained.

He also stated that the smart city principle promoted mixed-use in urban spaces, which means support for compact urban spaces with compatible land use activities.

“This principle improves the town economic viability, lowers infrastructure costs,  utilizes less land space for development, thus conserving open spaces, preserving historic resources and reducing the impact of vehicular transit,” he added.

There are more than 50 smart cities worldwide. These include cities, such as: London, United Kingdom; Singapore; Seoul, South Korea; New York, United States of America; and Montreal and Toronto in Canada.

Pointing to these smart cities, Dr Archer noted they were developed in collaboration with private and public researchers, who helped in the development of these cities.

“Smart cities will function best when you have the partnership with entities that are in the forefront of technology, research and data collection. Which are those institutions? Universities. Therefore, I would urge the government and policy makers that when they are talking about advancing technology… the universities, which are at the forefront of analyzing data, should be at the table leading the charge,” she said.

Dr Archer is also of the view that Jamaica’s first smart city should be the Papine University Town.

“That I believe is the perfect place to start with this notion of smart city, because you would have had the semblance of technology through the universities [and] through the School of Computing (at UTech), where we can build in and synchronise traffic and transportation,” she said, pointing out that, the universities, UTech and The University of the West Indies, collect data in a unified and consistent manner.

She said these data sets will help with the benchmark and would provide a level of consistency as to how the data is collected; as well as, the type of data that is collected, which can be used to pilot smart cities.

Benefits of Smart Cities include:

  • More effective, data-driven decision-making
  • Enhanced citizen and government engagement
  • Safer communities
  • Reduced environmental footprint
  • Improved transportation networks, modes and facilities
  • New economic development opportunities
  • Improved infrastructure, and
  • Increased workforce engagement

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