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Smarter cities call for foresight

Author  :  PAN YUEFEI     Source  :    Chinese Social Sciences Today     2017-09-05

A group of pilot smart cities have emerged in China. Experts suggested that construction of smart infrastructure should be integrated with the cities’ culture to better serve communities and individuals.

Smart cities have become a hot topic for urban development around the world. In an interview with CSST, experts and scholars pointed out achievements and challenges in building smart cities.

Liu Zhiyan, a research fellow of the Institute for Urban and Environmental Studies at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said that smart cities evolve from digital cities and represent an advanced level of urban development driven by human wisdom. They rely on new technologies, including the internet, cloud computing, internet of things, and 3S: RS, GPS and GIS. 

Smart cities are capable of perceiving and responding to new situations, and regulating accordingly, which helps to realize sustainable urban development.

“Smart cities can boost national economic and social development,” said Zhang Yi, a professor of public administration at Huazhong University of Science and Technology. They can facilitate urbanization while improving its quality. They also can revolutionize the economic growth model, promote industrial transformation, and introduce new lifestyles and ideas. 

Smart cities have long been a priority on the national agenda. Since the Notice on Establishing National Pilot Smart Cities was issued by the Ministry of Housing and Urban-Rural Development in 2012, 290 pilot sites have emerged at the district, county and town levels.

Smart cities develop in four stages: the application of a wide range of electronic and digital technologies to communities and cities; the use of information and communication technologies (ICT) to transform life and working environments within the region; the embedding of ICTs in government systems; and the territorialization of practices, which brings ICTs and people together to enhance the innovation and knowledge that they offer. 

In China, the smart cities initiative started early and it had an instant effect, Liu said. Achievements have been made in the IT sector. After reaching the first two stages, smart cities are closing in on their destination.

Zhang pointed out the major progress achieved in this sector after years of efforts in China. Great strides have been made in economic development models and industrial restructuring. The application of ICT has been expanded in cities. Social governance and public services are becoming smarter, and a group of excellent pilot smart cities has emerged. 

“Despite large-scale and rapid progress, smart cities in China face problems,” Zhang said. Currently, imbalances have been observed during the process. Most of the focus is on infrastructure, while short shrift is given to the core aim of smart cities: improving citizen’s minds, values and lifestyles. Meanwhile, investment tends to flow toward intelligent technology in government departments and social governance, leaving less for extensive public services.

In addition, application of intelligent technologies is less effective because some cities fail to realize the importance of industrial upgrading and talent, Zhang said. Planners in different places also tend to follow suit and ignore their own situation and uniqueness, thus building similar smart cities.

“Rare opportunities await us, so do daunting challenges,” Liu said. In terms of technology, monitoring systems, data-sharing platforms and application systems require more efforts. Information security remains an issue. 

Moreover, it is essential to protect the privacy of citizen’s information when building convenient cities and to properly deal with moral and ethical problems when applying artificial intelligence. He also noted that ICT infrastructure should be properly integrated with cities’ culture.

Zhang Hongyan, a professor of social and behavioral sciences at Nanjing University, said that smart cities must be built on humanity and high moral standards. They should better serve communities and individuals, especially city migrants.

Editor: Yu Hui

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