‘Century vision’ guides forward-looking smart city builders

October 26, 2018
To shape urban centers of the future, private companies and governments need to invest more, work together—and think of their children's children.

In the “Connectivity and QoL” report series, we examine how digital consumer habits and ubiquitous technology are driving smart city development in the Asia-Pacific region.

It is sometimes difficult to coordinate the efforts of municipal government smart city developers with those of private investors and technology firms. One has improving public services as a motivation; the other, revenue objectives. As has been mentioned, private firms have found ways to approach smart city development in ways that align with their own goals—either by investing directly in the development and management of such projects (as with Panasonic’s efforts in Fujisawa) or by utilizing them as R&D labs (as with Alibaba in Hangzhou).

But while these new public-private collaborations are gaining traction, many believe that even forward-looking planners may not be looking far enough into the future. Smart city developers “have spent a lot of time considering how data technology can aid smart cities, but not as much time thinking about what the potential applications in the next 10 years will be,” says Posterscope’s Benjamin Milne, observing that even if some such applications seem futuristic—“space ports, for instance”—they could very well be realities by the time current smart city initiatives fulfill their roadmap objectives.

“Smart city developers have spent a lot of time considering how data technology can aid smart cities, but not as much time thinking about what the potential applications in the next 10 years will be.”
Benjamin Milne, Head of Platforms & Partnerships, Asia Pacific, and Japan MD, Posterscope

This concern is echoed by Tomohiko Miyahara, Panasonic’s Representative Director of the Fujisawa SST Management Company. Panasonic’s master plan for Fujisawa—a 19-hectare sustainable community intended for 3,000 residents, based on an old manufacturing site—was developed in a traditional fashion: “smart infrastructure and buildings were first planned, upon which applications were designed, and services on top.” But the company found things to be more complicated in the execution, not least because a large undertaking with various government stakeholders and 18 separate companies participating in shared technology development created a project management challenge. “We had to continuously ask ourselves what ‘smart life’ would actually be like in the future—and needed to look at defining the functions we thought the infrastructure would have to support over a much longer period of time,” Miyahara says, pointing out that “a new generation inhabits a city” every 30 years, necessitating a “century vision” to anticipate future requirements.

The need to fuse the commercial motivations of the private sector with the civic and governance responsibilities of municipal governments and the state will continue to present a coordination challenge.

Smart urban spaces can become magnets for creativity, talent, and innovation—making them more globally competitive. Smart cities in Asia Pacific have set their sights far beyond basic efficiency gains, to increasing their competitiveness as an economy overall.