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Smart cities in Asia grow amid urbanization

Smart cities in Asia grow amid urbanization
Smart city is a growing trend in Asia. As more and more people in the region migrate to cities, municipal officials turn to smart technology to address some of the issues and challenges that arise with urbanization.

Needless to say, urbanization is a global phenomenon as more people are moving from rural areas to urban environments. And the trend is expected to continue in the mid- to long-term. According to the 2018 Revision of World Urbanization Prospects report by the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, today 55 percent of the world's population lives in urban areas, a proportion that is expected to increase to 68 percent by 2050. “Projections show that urbanization, the gradual shift in residence of the human population from rural to urban areas, combined with the overall growth of the world's population could add another 2.5 billion people to urban areas by 2050,” the report said.

Nowhere is the urbanization trend more noticeable than Southeast Asia, where cities are expanding rapidly at a quicker pace than the global average or the rest of Asia on average, according to a report compiled by McKinsey Global Institute, titled “Smart Cities in Southeast Asia.” “Today there are more than 230 cities across the region, each with more than 200,000 people,” the report said. “By 2030, another 90 million people are expected to move to cities across ASEAN. That would be more than 2.5 times the growth rate of population expected for the region, indicating that cities will become even more central to Southeast Asian economies and societies.”

Inevitably, with rapid urbanization come various negative effects associated with it. “Cities are coming under strain, and in many places, the quality of life has taken a hit. Residents spend hours each day stuck in traffic or stuffed into overcrowded trains and buses. They struggle to find decent affordable housing, and millions make do with slum dwellings. Air quality is poor, and sanitation services cannot keep up with the amount of waste being generated. Effective management of city operations and agencies is not always a given,” the McKinsey report said.

And Asia, with its cities getting bigger and more crowded, is also subject to the damaging effects that urbanization brings. In the area of transportation, for example, Bangkok and Jakarta were ranked by Tomtom Traffic Index as having the world's No. 2 and No. 3 worst traffic congestion, respectively.

To tackle these issues, Asian cities are increasingly turning to smart technologies and solutions which offer various benefits. “Smart solutions can contribute to a wide range of outcomes. They can save lives, prevent crime, improve the flow of traffic and transit and reduce disease burden. They can be used to improve air quality, reduce carbon emissions, cut water consumption, and reduce waste. Digitizing government functions can create a more efficient business environment, removing some of the barriers that hinder startups and housing development,” the McKinsey report said.

The report further cited the potential of smart technologies in helping cities solve their problems. “Smart solutions could remove up to some 270,000 kilotons of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions annually. Some 5,000 lives lost each year to traffic accidents, fires, and homicides could be saved through mobility solutions, crime prevention, and better emergency response. Intelligent traffic and transit solutions could save up to eight million man-years in annual commuting time. Smart healthcare solutions could reduce the region's disease burden by 12 million disability-adjusted life years – in other words, not only extending overall life expectancy but adding years of good health,” it said.

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