Smart Cities: Unleashing economic growth and social capital through open data | Pakistan Today

Smart Cities: Unleashing economic growth and social capital through open data

Written by Zaigham Abbas

–Adding at least $5bn in new economic revenues through a smart capital initiative

LAHORE: With increasing urbanisation, city managers across the world are looking for smarter efficient ways at addressing urban challenges. Technology is making governance across the world more efficient, and public management becoming more effective because of the gradual introduction of stakeholder collaboration in management.

Today, public managers are resolving urban crises in an effective and efficient manner because of co-governance strategies being adopted through open, transparent and accountable leadership.

Smarter data collated through connected devices is driving effective, efficient and smarter public decisions. By leveraging on technology and open data, Pakistan’s leadership can lead better and provide efficient public utilities through better citizen engagements and participation across the cities and municipalities. For instance, social media, and other communication platforms are providing easy channels for better collaborative cooperation between leaders and citizens; crowdsourcing citizen ideas, participatory budgeting, and sharing of information that can enhance public utility provision and the economy.

Tourism is the most recognisable driver of economic growth in Pakistan, it is at the epicentre of many supporting industries and firm rivalry; and the pivot on which many government policies and economic reforms are based.

The government’s responsiveness to open data on tourism in Pakistan is of significance to improving the metrics of its services, improving the opportunities for micro-businesses, enhancing feedback, improving its budgetary plans, allowing for the expansion of supporting industries, and allowing for strategic plans towards sustainable economic growth.

Smart cities are built on smart economic agenda, incorporating an overarching economic long-term strategy that bolsters economic growth and advances social class mobility of citizens.

Pakistan’s ambitious smart city initiative can be built on existing strategies for Smart Cities, by gleaning from existing frameworks, learning from their flaws and mistakes, and leapfrogging them through efficient utilisation of resources; without losing the social, cultural, and aesthetics fabric that holds it together.

During my studies in Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, I got a chance to work with Thailand Government on building Chiang Mai, one of its fantastic cities, into a smart city hub by transforming its tourism industry, its transport sector and improvement in governance.

While India is establishing almost 100  smart cities with the help of World Bank, Pakistan has not progressed in this direction so far. In my opinion, we can at least start with our beautiful capital city of Islamabad. It can evolve from a laid-back city to become modern, integrated, sophisticated, and still traditional; morphing into a shareable city using open data to promote new collaborative governance while addressing urban challenges that confront it.

As a future shareable city, defined through collaborative living of connected communities, Islamabad’s managers can drive sustainable living and optimise resources efficiently, allowing a framework of technological innovations to address urban challenges, so that people live smarter, work smarter and perhaps earn smarter.

Urbanisation of cities is imposing a deep challenge for public managers in their quest to efficiently solve urban challenges using new public management tools and methods. Today, cities, with increasing urban migration, are highly congested, dirty, mismanaged, and citizens (alongside foreigners) are competing under groaning public infrastructures posing challenges for management. Urbanisation, in itself, is an indicator of economic and productivity growth; and cities, like Islamabad, are centres of concentrated economic activity and incubators for businesses, new ideas, technology, and creativity.

A developed Islamabad Smart City strategic plan utilises an enhanced technology framework with open data to develop a cohesive collaborative governance plan with urban stakeholders towards the development of the city.

Connectivity is at the heart of today’s urban solutions. Towards a Smart Islamabad City initiative, a network of sensors, technology, data, policy (regulations) and government-aided infrastructure enabling a free flow interplay of citizen ideas (new public governance) and strategically innovative private sector involvement is needed.

The resounding success of smart cities critically depends on the commitment of city leaders to data-driven principles – starting with the Mayor/CDA, but extending to every public official, civil servant and resident stakeholder (citizens and private sector).

The ultimate goal of smart cities initiatives is to address public challenges, ensure productivity and sustainability – economic growth and social capital – and make citizens happy and fulfilled. Thus, smart cities have to adapt and develop (technology) tools that tap into the skills and knowledge of citizens.

Of Pakistan’s 210 million population, there are 164 million Cellular Subscribers, 74 million 3G/4G subscribers and 76 million broadband subscribers as per official data of Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA).

The future, evolution and rapid integration of smart cities are dependent largely on the providing of public and private solutions through data-driven information.

Crucial data enables public managers, entrepreneurs, citizens and other municipal stakeholders to act reliably and reasonably in providing solutions for urban challenges.

How can Smart Islamabad unleash economic wealth and improve social capital through open data? How can the government harness the power of citizens and the private sector through technology and open data?

In Part-II of this article, I will look at the six core Cohen rubric indicators of Smart Cities with a view to proposing ways of generating sustainable economic productivity in Islamabad. The implications of rapid (sustainable) growth in a smart city concept are limitless.

(To be continued…..)

The writer is a civil servant and a graduate of Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, Singapore.