WITH URBANISATION ON THE INCREASE around the world, just over half of the planet's population now live in cities. They also produce 75% of carbon emissions worldwide. As urban populations have mushroomed during the last 50 years, "smart" information and communication technologies (ICTs) have led efforts to improve the efficiency of urban systems and services.
The quest for sustainable urban development has led to the loosely defined concept of the "smart city" (also called "digital" or "connected" city). Although Europe and North America led the way in the 1980s and '90s, attention is turning to Asia and the Middle East, where the concept is gaining momentum and smart cities are being built from scratch.
Smart cities use ICT to build new or adapt existing infrastructure, buildings and systems to make better use of energy and resources in meeting the challenges of climate change, population growth, demographic change, urbanisation and resource depletion, and contribute to reducing emissions while increasing living standards.
A 2011 report from Pike Research, a US firm that analyses global clean technology markets, forecast that investment in smart city technology infrastructure would total $108 billion in the decade from 2010 to 2020. By the end of that period, annual spending will reach nearly $16 billion, the forecast anticipates.
Ali Al Khulaifi, market development manager at ictQATAR, the country's telecoms regulator and technology advocate, defines a smart city as an "intelligent ecosystem employing integrated technology to provide public and private services". They tend to be long-term projects, usually taking between 5-10 years, which require significant investment.
In the Middle East, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the UAE have earmarked more than $63 billion over the next five years for development authorities, infrastructure companies, governmental and corporate entities to develop smart city projects.
At the Arab Future Cities Summit in Doha in April 2012, participants agreed on the importance of developing smart and sustainable cities in the Arab region, given that the majority of the population in the GCC region now live in cities. While global corporate giants such as IBM, Cisco, Siemens and Orange look for their slice of the smart city pie, commentators also see social aspects such as investment in human and social capital and participatory governance as vital elements.
The GCC countries are leading the way in implementing...