From overburdened infrastructure to the struggle to adequately provide much-needed services, rapid urbanisation in South East Asia has given rise to a whole host of challenges.
However, a new report from the McKinsey Global Institute (MGI), in collaboration with the Centre for Liveable Cities in Singapore suggests that new data and digital technologies could be the answer to the region’s growing issues.
According to the report, Southeast Asia’s smart cities could deliver an impressive array of benefits, improve some quality-of-life indicators by 10-30 per cent. Not only can smart solutions aid the environment, reducing greenhouse gas emissions by up to 270,000 kilotons per year, but intelligent traffic and transit solutions could save up to 8 million man-years in annual commuting time. Mobility solutions, crime prevention, and better emergency response could slash the number of unnatural deaths by up to 5,000, while smart healthcare solutions for the urban population could reduce the region’s disease burden by 12 million disability-adjusted life years – not extending the overall life expectancy but adding years of good health.
Citizens can also look forward to more employment opportunities, as more efficient and productive environments for business and hiring could add almost 1.5 million jobs, the report states – the equivalent of 20-30% of the workforce in Jakarta, Bangkok and Manila. Smart solutions could also reduce the cost of living by $16 billion annually.
Southeast Asia’s cities could certainly do with the benefits. The region’s cities collectively house one-third of its population and generate two thirds of its economic growth.
However, the report notes, cities across Southeast Asia have different starting points and priorities that will shape their deployment of smart solutions. It identifies four archetypes – smart city sandboxes, prime movers, emerging champions and agile seedbeds – that capture the differences.
The first, the smart city sandbox, refers to a highly developed city equipped with robust high-speed communications and dozens of smart applications which can now turn its attention to developing next generation technologies. At present, Singapore, one of the world’s most advanced smart cities, stands out as the only “sandbox” in the region.
Southeast Asia’s largest primary cities, such as Bangkok, are prime movers, meaning that major physical and social infrastructure systems are in place but are strained beyond capacity and in need of retrofits and expansions. These cities could benefit by employing smart solutions to address quality of life inefficiencies.
Midsize cities such as Hanoi with infrastructure that can benefit from more integrative solutions to deliver high- value, cost-effective impact and expand access to services are termed emerging champions, while agile seedbeds, such as Phuket, are relatively small cities which can be nimble in piloting and scaling up targeted smart city applications, the report says.
Both the government and private sector have a role to play in implementing and taking full advantage of the opportunities presented by smart systems. City governments will have to continue providing many critical services, but they do not have to fund and operate every type of service and infrastructure system. Smart cities will change the parameters of how cities across Southeast Asia approach public-private partnerships.