The city of Dubai has ambitious plans. It plans to transform itself into a truly smart city, and not just any old smart city, but the best in the world. About this time last year, it announced the formation of a committee to develop ‘Smart Dubai’, with a strategy involving six key pillars and 100 different initiatives across transport, communications, infrastructure, and others. Around 1,000 government services were expected to become smart over the next three years.
One year on
Dubai set itself a very challenging agenda, so it will be interesting to see what has emerged, not least because it has a track record of fast-moving technological progress and innovation.
Back in 1990, Dubai had a few skyscrapers. Even in 2003, although there were high rise buildings, the majority of the city was low-rise. But in the last 10 years, Dubai has suddenly changed. Whole new cities have been built, including Burj Khalifa, Dubai Marina and Jumirah Palm Island. Describing this as ‘Dubai Phase 2’, the city administration is now keen to emphasise the move to Phase 3: Smart Dubai, over a three-year period.
Dubai Smart City has four strategic goals:
- Efficient Dubai, improving the use of the city’s resources;
- Seamless Dubai, weaving integrated and data-rich smart resources into everyday life;
- Safe Dubai, with innovative security services to anticipate problems and protect citizens; and
- Experience Dubai, a collaborative approach encouraging citizens and other stakeholders to innovate.
Smart cities are all different
Each and every smart city has its own specialty area. Barcelona, for example, has focused on being business-friendly. Rio de Janeiro’s focus is on crisis management. None has really managed to achieve right across the board. Dubai plans to fill that gap by focusing on the use of technology to make it the happiest city in the world.
Dubai already has some serious advantages in the smartness stakes: huge areas are enabled for superfast broadband, its metro is one of the largest driverless transit systems in the world, and it began to move to mGovernment over 10 years ago. However, the committee responsible for Smart Dubai has identified six areas crucial for smartness: economy, living, mobility, environment, governance and people. Although it’s ahead in some of those areas, there is work to do in others.
For example, Dubai’s ruler has introduced a ‘Happiness Meter’, which will allow citizens to provide feedback on their general happiness with services wherever they are, whether airport, mall or on public transport. This real-time feedback will allow the leading council to see where services are falling short immediately.
Above all, the vision for Dubai is personalised smartness. Aisha bin Bishr has described in an interview the idea of every citizen being able to make decisions about their activities based on a personal dashboard displaying data that matters to them. Whether that’s transport routes or knowing what’s happening to their child at school, it’s about enabling a personal experience of Dubai.
Across a smart city platform, initiatives for smart education, smart living, smart economy and so on will come together to enrich city life. This is considered to have four dimensions: living, working, learning and leisure. There are initiatives specific to each, such as e-learning and mHealth, and also those that cut across several areas. Examples of these include free wi-fi, city payment cards which are mobile-enabled, and various energy initiatives. These have resulted in city-wide CO2 reductions of more than 37,000 tonnes, the equivalent of planting more than 8,000 trees and an average saving of 19% across all facilities.
Fast-moving and ambitious
Dubai has already demonstrated to the world that it can move extremely fast when it wants, especially in terms of building and infrastructure. It has also shown that it has an enormous appetite for technological innovation and implementation. It seems likely that Aisha bin Bishr will report considerable progress in the creation of Dubai Smart City when she attends the ITU Forum panel in March. She is also likely to be able to describe some innovative and thoughtful solutions to some of the problems facing cities around the world. It will be well worth hearing.