Successful Cities Must Bridge the Infrastructure Gap

James Clough
As the smart city race reverberates around the world, Dubai is leading the way in the Middle East.

When RICS president Amanda Clack announced that her term would focus on global infrastructure needs and city development, notes of resonance sounded for Dubai. The emirate has ambitious plans to create the region’s most advanced smart city, aligning well with the RICS president’s call to action, which includes including the creation of smart and sustainable cities.

The concept of smart cities began in the late 1990s, advocating new policies for urban planning. More recently, the concept has become a call to action under the Future Cities banner, focusing on achieving dramatic improvements in city living through technological innovation. These include:

  • Setting a city vision
  • Providing the right governance structures
  • Engaging all aspects of society in defining the outcomes — users, citizens, business and commerce
  • Applying collaborative leadership and data sharing
  • Attracting finance and private sector engagement
  • Working across disciplines and city systems
  • Delivering improvements that provide better services and quality of life

Here in Dubai, the impetus to create a smart city is being driven not only by the RICS focus, but also by the anticipated increase in population (currently 2.736m, with 3.3m predicted by 2020 and 5.2m by 2030, according to the Dubai Statistics Centre), the increase in visitors due to events such as Expo 2020, and increased numbers of tourists as the economy shifts from oil dependency.

Infrastructure improvement is a priority and there are many projects under way to address this.

Infrastructure improvement is a priority and there are many projects under way to address this. There are clear links to smart city initiatives — for example, the intelligent mobility solutions demonstrated by the forthcoming Hyperloop high-speed train link between Dubai and Abu Dhabi, and the already operational driverless metro and Salik electronic road toll system.

According to RICS, the race to deliver a successful intelligence-driven urban strategy will be won by cities with the most data, the fastest servers and the most processing power. Dubai is keen to meet these aspirations and is implementing technology innovation in many sectors. Examples of the way in which digital approaches are shaping the local urban environment include the Salama electronic medical record system, the solar-powered beach changing rooms, and smart recycling centre. Residents are encouraged to contribute new innovative ideas through a crowdsourcing portal, echoing Amanda Clack’s assertion that a truly smart city is one where the citizens are engaged.

Smart cities are not just about using technology, but about creating a better quality of life. The way in which a city ultimately becomes smart depends on the needs of the particular location and population. Alongside the emphasis on smart initiatives is the UAE’s ministry for happiness, created in response to the 2011 United Nations (UN) call for member states to prioritise happiness and well-being in their social and economic development plans. The ministry aims to promote happiness at an institutional level, with government employees working towards a national charter of happiness and positivity. UAE was ranked as the world’s 28th happiest country in the 2015 UN World Happiness Report.

Dubai has some advantages in its efforts to become smarter. There is an urban master plan in place, which aims to provide a flexible, sustainable and competitive approach to Dubai’s urban development to 2020 and beyond. Every building here is new and offers the potential for smart construction and operational methods and features.

“By 2050, we will have 6.3bn people living in our cities. These enduring structures hold the key to meeting the challenges presented by climate change, resource scarcity and growing populations. Through the development of smart cities and large-scale infrastructure projects, the industry can help make these cities a success. RICS has the opportunity to lead on the issues of attracting finance, managing risk and being more sustainable.”
Amanda Clack FRICS, RICS President 2016-17