The Earliest Smart Cities

In 2020, it will be 22 years since one of the first and most successful smart cities took off in Singapore.
The term ‘smart cities’ actually debut in the city space in 1997 with a publication titled “A tale of smart cities” by Shetty., V. This report written in 1997 was set in the time of significant economic growth in the ASEAN region, and following their entry, albeit late, into the coveted group of industrialized nations. For the region, this was a declaration of a spirited and inspired vision led by Singapore to create a city where “knowledge” as economic capital will be created, utilized and exported. They were hopeful for a global city that represents the “knowledge capital” of the world and to attain a quantum leap into post-industrialization like other economies, whose competitive advantage had transcended the traditional, into the digital spheres. Given that the ASEAN countries arrived late in the game, investment in ICT was the main avenue for them to realise this ambitious goal. They decided that leveraging the advantages of their current upsurge of economic abundance to build a digital infrastructural might would ultimately help them become one of the biggest economic capital cities in the world, despite their inherent disadvantages, such as the factor of size for Singapore.
Singapore and Malaysia provided the first recorded evidence of the proposed use of ICT and Knowledge (what would become “Big Data”) to design an urban system. For Singapore, the government was clear in its vision to make the city ‘super smart’ and the first investors (committing a sum of $150 million USD) into this city were actors in the computer, science and tech, telecommunications, the economic development board and the broadcasting authority. The government of Singapore was unequivocal in what the project deliverable must be. This was the earliest use of the construct, ‘smart city’ to depict “a city that is powered by ICT”. They envisioned that this type of city would shift the paradigm of “working”, “living” and “learning”. They also used the term “intelligent island” to describe the planned city.
Singapore realized that it would need an information superhighway or gateway to power this infrastructure and they made a plan to create what was tagged “Singapore One” which involved a telecommunication and high-speed fibre backbone infrastructure. This city broke through many barriers and great lengths to more or less build and synchronize this infrastructure from scratch. Though it was already established that such new fields of technologies, such as ICTs and biotechnologies are the areas of opportunities for countries seeking to leapfrog towards technological and economic development (Perez & Soete 1988) this idea was radical and bold for any country to undertake at this time. One of the ways it could have pulled through this embryonic smart city idea and successful deployment of the projects could be attributed to the government having the autonomy for the project planning, execution and control i.e. the political leadership was the project sponsor. In no ambiguous terms when examined from the point of view of the parameters and goals that was set at the onset of this vision, Singapore, not only became a smart city and a global economy, it now ranks as the smartest city in the world.
On the part of Malaysia: Taking a cue from the Singaporean smart city vision, it envisioned its own ‘knowledge city’ but with a slightly different deployment model. It decided to earmark a segment (a place called Klang Valley) – a city that was already a “hi-tech corridor” – to implant a smart city that will develop organically in the way that Silicon Valley grew. The latter as we know, grew from an enclave where innovators and manufacturers of the silicon-made computer components famously clustered, to become the global capital of technological innovation in the US. Thus, Malaysia envisioned this city of Klang Valley as a multimedia super corridor (MSC) that would feature innovative applications such as e-Government; e-Medicine; Smart Schools; Smart Cards; R&D clusters (Silicon Valley model) and e-Business. Its own governance strategy was also protective of the actors in this eco-system that it was building up organically. Thus, it passed across-the-board IP and Cyberlaws and provided incentives to foster public-private partnerships with tech giants across the world and took several steps in addition to these efforts to help secure capital for investment in the city.
Although, Klang Valley never became a smart city as Singapore or a global brand as Silicon Valley, there are significant knowledge to be captured from its implementation as well. Remember that with Singapore, nothing was guaranteed, so how did it become quite so successful in reality? The exploration of the success criteria will be explored further in subsequent sections of this series.
The next city with a well-developed smart city program is Amsterdam. The Amsterdam Smart City (ASC) collection of smart city projects and social experimentations was conceived in 2008 and it kicked off in 2009. By 2016, it had become known as the European Capital of Innovation by the European Commission. To this end, as a learning outcome, the city’s Amsterdam’s City Data project that was an open database platform of city departments evolved into the ‘Amsterdam Smart City Web Platform’ in what can be described as a value chain integration framework to include cross-sector actors from the public and private industries, and citizens for smart collaboration. For this project, Amsterdam adopted a bottom-up approach focused on smart growth, helping tech start-ups to grow, inclusion and enhancing citizen’s quality of life in a quad helix model of the four institutions public, private, research and academia, and citizens believed to be integral components of a smart city eco-system. These components were deployed in a strategic adaptation of the smart city structure as characterized in (Manville, 2014).
A similar momentum can also now be found to have risen in India with its recent ‘smart city challenge’ experimentation program launched for their transformation into a smart driven economy. Thus, two decades into the era of smart cities, every city wants a piece of the smart mantra in their appellation. The idea has continued to gather intense steam worldwide (Albino, Berardi & Dangelico, 2015) and with the advanced state of technologies today, we are definitely poised to see more fully operational nonutopian smart cities, that are megaprojects by nature and unlike existing ones by nearly all degrees of comparison. Smart cities are megaprojects, and, as such, they pose a herculean challenge with adoption, resilience and sustainability; which are essential qualities of project success, especially, in environments that will host ‘smart people’ (Manville, 2014).
The series on this topic will unveil why the variations of smart city modelling (planning and deployment) constitute a significant part of their outcomes. For project management professionals, there is a need for an understanding that the scope of conventional project management processes and knowledge areas could be useful in managing these projects but are inadequate.

Shade Adepeju-Joseph
May 2019

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