How Dubai is becoming a smart city

by Cecilia Di Marzo
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Baharash Architecture, the award winning design studio behind projects such as The Sustainable City in Dubai and the Oasis Eco Resort in Liwa, have recently provided insights on how Dubai is becoming a smart city.

Over the last century, Dubai has been through an extraordinary and visionary transformation. The city has evolved from a 10,000 desert-dwelling population in the early 1900, into one of today’s most cosmopolitan cities, with a population of over 2.7 million people.

A fast-growing urban population, coupled with climate change, has created significant challenges on how Dubai can improve the quality of the lives for its citizens, whilst also reducing their impact on the environment. Thus Dubai becoming a smart city is no longer a choice, it has become a necessity. This is why Dubai has an ambitious plan to become one of the smartest cities in the world.

What is a smart city?
A smart city is a destination where hard and soft infrastructures are integrated with technology and securely connected together. The objective is to make our networks and services more efficient and intelligent, whilst allowing collaboration between the public and private sectors. It’s about creating a digitally collaborative ecosystem that will also improve the social, economic and environmental sustainability of the city; thus ultimately improving peoples’ quality of life and protecting the environment. New York City is a good example of such a smart city and has been ranked as the smartest city in the world in the “IESE Cities in Motion Index 2016”.

Dubai is learning from NYC’s “collective collaboration” and “people-centred” approach, which is why in 2016 Dubai launched the future accelerator programme. The initiative invites innovative companies to join forces with government departments, with the objective of finding solutions to challenges of the 21st century; the aim of the program is to provide a dynamic environment where companies and entities can explore new opportunities to deliver transformative technologies and services.

Dubai also developed a set of seven smart strategies to aid it’s pursuit of becoming the smartest city. The seven strategies are: Smart Economy, Smart Living, Smart Mobility, Smart Governance, Smart Environment, Smart People and Smart ICT infrastructure. These strategies will be delivered through its smart city initiatives.

What about the next generation of Smart cities?
The next generation of smart cities will provide an affordable and accessible Internet infrastructure to all citizens. This includes both wired and wireless networks. Any “thing” that has the ability of transferring data over a network could essentially become part of the Internet of Things (IoT). In fact, the possibilities are endless with IoTs. Integrating technology that can transfer data into any object, machine, or even a living thing can bring many benefits to our lifestyles. The Oasis Eco Resort is an example of a project that will be embedded with sensors to provide real-time data.

IoTs can significantly improve the sustainability of buildings. For example, indoor lighting and temperature can automatically be adjusted based on various variables. These variables include the number of occupants in a room, the time of day as well as exterior weather and light conditions. Embedding sensors in buildings to detect motion, temperature, noise, moisture, fire, smoke, etc. will provide real-time data and help improve operational efficiency, safety and security. Once these sensors are connected to the IoTs, buildings can communicate real-time data to various departments within the city. For example, waste should only be collected upon receiving automatic notification that they are full. Real-time user data should be analysed to provide an estimate of the day and time for waste to be collected. This will maximise efficiency and ensure that services are available exactly when they are needed.

What about smart cities for resilience?

The next generation of smart cities should have the capacity to analyse the exact amount of resources and services that is being consumed in real-time. This means understanding the exact amount of water, energy or waste that is being consumed in each part of the city, as well as understanding where key services, such as emergency and security are most required. This allows for better management and efficient use of resources and services. This analytic data will also ensure that the city is aware of the amount of resources and services that are needed for the various parts of the city to function to the same capacity during any event. This data will help the city to prepare itself in becoming a resilient city. Ultimately, transforming our cities into smart destinations is an important step for creating resilient cities.

The key to the success of a Smart City will depend on how well the people who live in them are engaged in the process. Local residents have the best knowledge of the needs and demands of their local areas. This bottom-up approach will ensure that there is a strong understanding of what’s really happening on the ground; as each community will most likely have different needs. It will also ensure that all initiatives are “people-centred”, which is the common theme shared by the smartest cities in the world. Ultimately, a bottom-up investment will create more green jobs & will most likely result in a new way of thinking about smart cities. Thus the success of Dubai becoming a Smart City will depend less on the implementation of technologies and more on the engagement of the people who live in them; a collaborative collective innovation.

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