A City’s journey towards Smart Sustainability

blog imageWe see cities today grappling with the impact of climate change, while at the same time tackling issues of waste management, health, outdated infrastructures, resource scarcity, air pollution, congestion and inadequate housing, etc.  The international community has realized the urgency linked to various urban challenges leading to exploration of diverse approaches to deal with urban management issues. As information and communication technology (ICT) has shown considerable promise for improving efficiency in the urban domain, the concept of smart sustainable cities (SSC) has been heralded as the savior for urban residents.

I have witnessed several theoretical and technology based discussions on smart cities over the years at ITU. However, the initial surge in discussions and research were not conducted in a concerted manner and did not lead to concrete results. This also led many, including myself, to believe that not enough progress has been made in terms of coming to an agreement on defining a global vision for smart cities.

The key to this problem lay in lack of adequate advocacy and promotion among key stakeholders.  To be able to successfully overcome these problems, multiple and diverse stakeholders at various levels need to be involved, which will ensure that habitable conditions are provided for the citizens, within the context of rapid urban population growth.  Realizing the importance of multistakeholder involvement in smart cities, the ITU-T Focus Group on Smart Sustainable Cities (FG-SSC) was established as an open platform for smart city stakeholders in 2013.

Through ITU-T FG-SSC, we were also able to work successfully with another committed UN agency, the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE), to formulate an internationally accepted definition for smart sustainable cities:

“A smart sustainable city (SSC) is an innovative city that uses information and communication technologies (ICTs) and other means to improve quality of life, efficiency of urban operation and services, and competitiveness, while ensuring that it meets the needs of present and future generations with respect to economic, social, environmental as well as cultural aspects”

Measuring progress towards smart cities

While conducting work on smart cities, we discerned the need to equip urban stakeholders with the means to assess their progress towards their smart city ambitions.  Our collaboration efforts were soon rewarded with a detailed list of feasible key performance indicators (KPIs) published by FG-SSC, which can be utilized by interested parties to determine the extent to which a city can be referred to as a ‘smart sustainable city’.

A smart sustainable city cannot be established overnight. It is a continuing and evolving long-term process that each city embarks upon voluntarily. Importantly, there is a need to continuously update SSC research to keep up to date with new emerging technology. Following the conclusion of the work of FG-SSC, ITU-T Study Group 20 (SG20) on ‘IoT and its applications including smart cities and communities’ was established in June 2015. SG20 deals with the development of international standards to enable the coordinated development of Internet of Things (IoT), including machine-to-machine communications and ubiquitous sensor networks and to address urban development challenges for upcoming smart sustainable cities in an IoT context. The next meeting of ITU-T Study Group 20 will be held in Singapore from 18 to 26 January 2016 preceded by a Forum on Internet of Things in Smart Sustainable Cities: A New Age of Smarter Living which will take place on 18 January 2016.

Our contribution to the global Smart Sustainable City dream

ITU has taken a unique approach to assist urban administrators in their journey towards becoming ‘smart’ and ‘sustainable’. While we have always catered to improving the overall understanding of the functioning of smart sustainable cities, more recently, we have also been dealing with cities who are interested in transforming into SSC directly.  As such, we would like to call on smart city stakeholders to closely follow the work of the SG20, which is expected to propel the global SSC dream.


NOTE FROM ITU: ITU helps cities to become smarter and more sustainable

ITU and the city of Dubai are collaborating on the Smart Dubai initiative to convert Dubai into a smarter city. This collaboration is a part of the international standardization process of ITU’s key performance indicators (KPIs) on Smart Sustainable Cities. The KPIs focus on the elements of a smart city by relying on ICT, and offer a measure of progress relevant to the transition to becoming a smart sustainable city.

Singapore has joined a two year pilot project to evaluate the feasibility of implementing ITU’s key performance indicators for smart sustainable cities. The project will contribute to the international standardization of the indicators and the development of a ‘Global Smart Sustainable Cities Index’.

Click here for additional information on ITU’ smart sustainable city activities.

Chaesub Lee

imageChaesub Lee is the Director of ITU’s Telecommunication Standardization Bureau, following his election at the 2014 Plenipotentiary Conference in Busan, Republic of Korea. He took office on 1st January 2015. He acted as Vice-Chairman of ITU-T Study Group 13 ‘Future Networks and Cloud’ from 2001 until 2008, becoming Chairman of that group in 2009.

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