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Fragmented approach not feasible for smart city construction

Author  :  LI TIE     Source  :    Chinese Social Sciences Today     2018-10-12

A smart city involves the two following aspects: One is a way to cultivate the “smart elements” pertinent to the internet, internet of things, information technology, artificial intelligence and big data; the other is to integrate these elements into the urban space so as to serve urban governance and social life.

The so-called urban space can be divided into units such as family, building, community and industrial zones, which, by different means, constitute cities and towns in different sizes. If we see intelligent technology being applied in the units of a city, it can be said that the city has the foundation for becoming a smart city. 

The application of intelligent technology, however, is currently more a phase in which the technology is being adopted in a fragmented way. Each smart element is developed by different enterprises and then enters the market and is directly presented to the user. These elements could conduct systematic smart services on their own, but they do not satisfy the need for multi-dimensional urban governance and social use. On the other hand, if smart elements are injected into an urban unit as much as possible, integrated in a systematic way, and coordinated and commanded through an “urban brain” or smart center for systematically conducting public and market services, then we can say that the unit of space has the nascent prerequisite for becoming a smart city.

Take the smart family as an example. In the fragmentary phase of the introduction of smart technology, the Color TV, refrigerator and laundry machine still require independent manual operation. But if we make a cellphone able to manipulate all the electric appliances through an intelligent model, and able to automatically adjust the consumption of electricity and the room’s temperature and able to set predictive laws based on collected data, then the family truly enters the stage of being smart. The same goes for the whole city, including transportation, security management, emergency service systems and the monitoring of the pipe systems of various infrastructure. All these, if controlled by the “urban brain,” have begun the process of smart city construction. 

Indicating the direction of the smart city in the future, this is a more systematic integrated solution to the status quo that sundry smart elements flow into the city in a fragmented way with competition. The solution needs to be practiced in some trial cities or in some basic units of urban space.

Relevant research is currently being conducted, but the point is to determine which urban spaces or areas could take the lead to run the trials. This necessitates decision-making and judgment from the government, support from entrepreneurs and cross-sector cooperation. More importantly, to ensure effective results, the traditional concept should be transformed following a market-oriented method, and the service should be precisely targeted to urban citizens. 

Meanwhile, there exist some misconceptions in the current practice. For example, some enterprises intend to dominate the smart city with their own products; some enterprises place a higher premium on the public relations of government projects; and the government focuses more on the improvement of office systems. In fact, since the market is the best benchmark, taking social needs as the ultimate aim is the only method to effectively foster research and development in smart city construction.



Li Tie is chief economist at the China Center for Urban Development. This article was edited and translated from the Overseas Edition of People’s Daily.



(Edited and translated by BAI LE)









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