Dreaming Smart City Living into Reality – Tech advances and investments ‘make it so’

The Middle East has a reputation for presenting plans for the most eye-catching, headline-making smart city projects. However, sceptics are quick to point out that many of these bold plans fail to make it off the ground, or else spend years in the doldrums for lack of investment. In 2022, smart city planning is rapidly translating into smart city living, but why? 

A leap in technological prowess

While the ‘Metaverse’ from Meta (formerly Facebook) might be suffering from a rocky start since the idea was launched, the concept of harnessing digital twinning and the metaverse (in the wider sense, not Facebook’s specific product) to overcome the physical constraints of urban planning is more attractive than ever.

When smart city dreams fail, it is usually because the process has suffered from inadequate risk management, a lack of proper ICT structure and governance, poor communication between stakeholders and solutions providers, and a general atmosphere of highly unrealistic expectations all combining to kill the project before it can truly take flight. In the excitement of utilising new technologies, design concepts and, yes, new buzzwords, the fundamentals of urban planning can often be forgotten.

Increasingly, however, digital twinning and metaverse elements are coming together to prove their worth in improving not just the design and construction processes of urban environments, but also their post-delivery usage and optimisation. Together, these technologies can improve collaboration and monitoring efforts between all stakeholders, allowing them to make optimal use of their data, make better decisions when delivering city infrastructure and find out exactly how the urban environment is affecting the people who actually live in it.

Ultimately, this lets smart city planners avoid mistakes in the early stages of the project, when it’s most crucial to get things right. Digital twinning, with its ability to map out the current state of the city and predict its future usage and growth trajectory, gives designers an unprecedented ability to shape their city optimally, without running into the brick walls that have stymied even the most impressive and well-resourced smart city efforts in the past. 

A question of good governance

Of course, technology is only as smart as the hands and minds that direct it. Increasingly, smart city planners are finding that a lack of data and technological means to make sense of it isn’t the problem – a lack of fundamental data governance principles is.

This is what makes international collaboration efforts like the G20 Global Smart Cities Alliance such a boon to current and future smart city development efforts. This alliance of over 200,000 cities and local governments, companies, start-ups, research institutions and non-profit organisations are sharing their expertise and resources to pool their collective experience of bringing smart cities to life.

Chief among their efforts is the creation of smart city governance rules and structures that can guide the creation of any smart city being built anywhere in the world. Typical efforts include the Dig Once initiative, which ensures that digital infrastructures are integrated into construction projects, improving planning methodologies, speeding up delivery while reducing emissions and general inconvenience for those living nearby.

As smart city planning becomes the norm for urban development across the world, collaborative efforts like this will be essential in sidestepping avoidable mistakes and fully realising the potential of technological breakthroughs for the common good of all humanity.

Landmark smart city developments in mid-2022

AlNama – the zero-carbon city: Yet another ground-breaking smart city project has emerged from Saudi Arabia this month. Small but perfectly formed, the initial phase of AlNama will provide around 11,000 residential units capable of comfortably hosting a population of 44,000 people. Technically, AlNama will be an addon to the Saudi capital, Riyadh, as it will be located on the capital’s outskirts and may quickly become a ‘smart appendage’ of it. The designers, Dubai-based developer URB, are thinking big, and plan to make AlNama run on 100% renewable energy while also providing all its population’s food calorie intake on site, eliminating the need for costly and unsustainable imports.

Masdar City square (MC2) project breaks ground: July 27th saw the official start of construction works on Abu Dhabi’s MC2 project, a 29km2 smart city construction area of seven single and multi-tenant office buildings with a gross floor area of about 50km2. Upon completion, MC2 will boast the world’s first net-zero energy office building, highlighting its credentials as a provider of an alternative, sustainable urban lifestyle.

Plans announced for The Line: NEOM’s unique smart city concept of The Line has finally been fleshed out beyond the initial details we received way back in January 2021. This month, HRH Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman confirmed key details about the design and construction methodology that will be employed. He confirmed that it will be just 200 metres wide, but 170km long, comprising an area of 34km2. The initial planned population is 9 million, while every citizen will have everything they need within 5-minutes walking distance. The high-speed rail link running down the spine of the city will cross its entire length in just 20 minutes. The Crown Prince also highlighted how The Line’s construction will utilise the most advanced construction technologies and manufacturing processes, including extensive use of digital twinning and BIM.

New smart city plans for Egypt: French group Schneider Electric is partnering with real estate company Tatweer Misr to deliver three Egyptian smart city projects. Building information modelling (BIM 5D) will be used extensively throughout each project, minimising mistakes while optimising performance. This is part of Egypt’s wider 2052 vision that envisages the creation of 61 new cities, 24 of them as sustainable smart cities.