Resilient Smart Cities: Towards Realizing Safe, Comfortable Cities in an Era Living With COVID-19 and After COVID-19
Aug. 14, 2020
Through use of digital technology, smart cities aim to optimize city infrastructure and facilities, operational work, and the like, and to improve convenience and comfort for companies and residents. As smart cities move from the conceptualization phase to the actualization phase, what kind of impact will the COVID-19 pandemic have? We asked NRI urban planning and smart city experts Takamasa Mataki, Keitaro Ishigami, and Eiichiro Takami about the present state of smart cities and the challenges being faced.
Using smart technology to respond to new needs arising from the COVID-19 pandemic
--- Has there been any change in the past year in efforts relating to smart cities?
We feel that in the latter half of 2019, there was a shift from a phase of building the concept of a smart city to a phase of thinking concretely about city design, necessary infrastructure, data acquisition methods, and achievable business. As the level of specificity increased, more in-depth challenges came to light. For example, how to merge and differentiate super applications, which enable use of all kinds of daily life-related services, and individual portal applications (city applications) for each city, or what kind of smart infrastructure can we design for a small area of just a few hundred to a few thousand hectares.
--- Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, we now have more opportunities to experience a new lifestyle. Will this have any impact on our approach to smart cities?
Challenges include securing digital general contractor functions and making “smart X” profitable
--- What are some important challenges to address in creating cities that are resilient towards infectious diseases?
I’ve always said this, but securing a “digital general contractor function” that links equipment, data, systems, and activities in the city is critically important. In bringing smart cities to life, we must combine a multitude of elements, such as ICT and digital functions, construction and design functions, heavy electric and engineering functions, and the like, and so in the actualization phase the need for a role that combines all of these elements into a whole has become ever more clear. For example, Sidewalk Labs, which is under the same parent company as Google, uses external human resources, and Singapore’s ST Engineering brought together related group companies, each thus forming a digital general contractor team. These examples can serve as a reference for thinking about how to organize participating players in Japan.
If we work within a single company or group like Sidewalk Labs and ST Engineering, we can take an approach where departments running a deficit are covered by departments making a profit, but if various external players are involved, we need to think about how to design an ecosystem where each player displays its strengths in its area of expertise and brings in a profit.