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Opportunities, challenges in smart city construction coexist

Author  :  Liu Zhiyan     Source  :    Chinese Social Sciences Today     2017-05-18

In 2008, when the entire world was going through a financial crisis, IBM put forward the concept of “smarter cities” as part of its Smarter Planet initiative and by 2009, various countries around the world had begun considering this idea. Today, lots of countries and regions, including the United States, Japan, the Republic of Korea, Singapore and the European Union, are taking steps to make their cities smarter.

The essential feature of smart cities is development driven by intelligence. Digitization is the first phase for developing a smart city, and then the Internet connects various digitalized components of a city, forming different networks. E-commerce and e-government are manifestations of these networks. The third phase is intellectualization, including intelligent transportation and intelligent plants. The last phase is the realization of the Internet of Everything, in which all functions of a city are operated through human intelligence.

China started early in building smart cities and some of its technologies are now leading the world. According to my investigation, most Chinese cities have completed the first and second phases and are entering the third and fourth stages. But, there are still problems.

First, there have been heated discussions and extensive coverage of the smart city concept, but there is a lack of updated interpretations of its connotations. Also, more attention is focused on hardware, while investment in development of application software is inadequate. At the same time, different governmental departments stress data collection, but their collaboration is insufficient to build information-sharing platforms.

Furthermore, most places pay much attention to research and development while neglecting to explore the human implications of smart cities. Another issue is that there is much more government engagement while the market is playing an inadequate role. At the initial stage of smart city construction, government guidance is important, but specific projects should encourage diversified financing and the participation of a variety of market players. Lastly, more efforts are exerted on specific projects while there is a lack of top-down design for projects.

Despite these problems, there are still opportunities. For one thing, the acceleration of urbanization and the emergence of new information technologies create opportunities for developing green and smart infrastructure, public services and industries. Also, China is in the process of comprehensively building a well-off society and transforming into a modernized country, so people’s consumption needs are increasingly taking the form of learning, art, entertainment and other soft consumption rather than material and productive consumption. Smart city building can concentrate on fulfilling these needs.

To grasp these opportunities, we should build the perception systems and data-sharing platforms, develop the application system and ensure information safety. At the same time, we should strike a balance between the convenience brought by smart cities and the need to safeguard the privacy of citizens’ information; between applying artificial intelligence technology and maintaining social ethics and morals; and between building Internet hardware facilities and exploring the human connotations of smart cities. In this way, we could create cities capable of intelligent perception, reaction and regulation to realize sustainable development.


Liu Zhiyan is a research fellow from the Institute of Urban and Environmental Studies at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.

Editor: Yu Hui

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