Future infrastructure designs will need to be anticipatory and proactive to be truly sustainable.

Much like an ecosystem, these will contain many small-scale, networked elements that serve a multitude of uses, rather than one single guiding purpose for their existence.” This is a quote from a 2014 BBC article titled Smart cities: The future of urban infrastructure. It sought to explain how the cities of the future will have to adapt to survive. In today’s world, however, the future is with us faster than we thought it would be. More  cities, neighbourhoods and homes are turning to technology to keep up with the times. 

Many in the third world are barely staying with their heads above water. Some players are, however, doing something about it. Earlier this month Safaricom and the Kenya Alliance of Resident Associations (Kara) partnered to see to deploy technology including fibre optic cables, CCTV cameras, Electromagnetic Fields and to address emerging challenges. 

 “We are slowly getting into this pervasive digital system that is found in smart cities around the world in homes and work stations where internet is transforming our neighbourhoods into some of the most desirable places,” says Henry Ochieng, Kara CEO. “We will be connecting our local residences with fast internet-enabled systems to make life in our neighbourhoods more efficient and more green and convenient,” says Ochieng. Planned roll out Ochieng says that together with Safaricom, they are putting up a high-tech telecommunication infrastructure, fibre optic cable lines in selected neighbourhoods before the plan is rolled out to all city neighbourhoods. 

Safaricom’s CEO Bob Collymore says their cooperation with Kara will provide a framework to leverage on smart technology, address challenges in the neighbourhoods. “Technology offers a huge opportunity to enhance the quality of life in neighbourhoods across the country. This partnership opens the door in creating solutions that will promote sustainable development in our neighbourhoods. This is in line with our agenda of transforming the lives of Kenyans,” Collymore says. But this is only the first step. 

In the next one decade, life will be more challenging than it has been for the last one millennium. This is according to Paul Munuve, a lead engineer with SoiTech Technologies, a Nakuru-based software company. Munuve says as more people troop into the cities and live in the small spaces, smart ways of survival are inevitable both at home and work, which will require people to change the way they work by embracing wireless ecosystems. The World Bank projects that Kenyan urban centres with populations of 100,000 people will have an additional population of between 21,000 people and 37,000 by 2020. 

This will ultimately lead to a high level of both investment and business activities in these urban centres, which call for a more complex way of solving things like transportation, architectural designs of buildings, telecommunication systems, security management and environmental management systems. 

Open data initiatives like apps, high-tech waste management systems and sustainable energy programmes will consequently be required to efficiently keep our life moving. This will mean before stepping out of your home for work, you will an app facilitated to show you which route has habitable air. The same app will help calculate the route where traffic is flowing to avoid traffic snarl-ups. 

A parking app will help you locate the nearest available parking slot to save commuter time. In addition, an alert will come by automatically to show the safety score of the building you are walking into, courtesy of the regular reviewing of building inspection scores of that metropolis.

Around the world, technology firms such as IBM, Siemens, Microsoft, Intel and Cisco are busy selling software to solve a range of city problems ranging from water leaks to air pollution to traffic congestion. Recently, the Daily Mail reported that Samsung has unveiled a smart home management system which will enable televisions and other home appliances to be connected by a smartphone. 

Smart devices

 The smart devices will alert their owners of any faults in their appliances and will keep an eye on their homes while away. The system connects to cameras in smart TVs, fridges and dish washers which can give the owner a glimpse into their home from anywhere via Smartphone.

 A gadget called device control will allow householders to turn air conditioning or lighting on or off by phone even when away. Initially, Samsung will work with its own brand home appliances before working with other brands. In Singapore, Stockholm and California, IBM is gathering traffic data and running it via algorithms to predict where a traffic jam will occur an hour before it has happened.

 This is also seen on the security front. Safaricom has also partnered with the national government to fight crime through Smart Security Systems Programme that is already working in Nairobi and Mombasa. Collymore says through the 1,800 surveillance cameras they installed in Nairobi and Mombasa, they have been able to bring a change in the security situation around the two cities. The cameras can instantly read and recognise licence plates, IDs and can reveal the identity of someone. The infrared cameras have a capability of identifying crime scenes even in tunnels with little light. 

Pope Francis’ visit to Kenya in 2015 was managed through the Safe City Project, a smart city security model that was run by Huawei, which helped Kenya deploy a safety solution that integrated a call-taking and dispatching system that incorporated eLTE broadband trunking, video surveillance, and intelligent analysis. Since its deployment and operation, the Safe City solution has drastically improved safety conditions. Through this system, recent annual report from Kenya Police indicates that such technologies have managed to reduce crime by 46 per cent in the areas that they have covered.

What needs to change 

 Meanwhile, as our cities incorporate these dynamics, will this involve transit and the building architecture to achieve the holistic picture of a smart city? “Technology is what drives smart cities. There will be new buildings, new materials, and more interactive facades, but overall, the key components and purposes of buildings will remain the same,” says Munuve. All that is required, he says, is changing the culture of planning our developments to accommodate the use of technologies such as faster transit systems for mobility, which sometimes is hampered by clumsily planned cities.

The Nairobi County Government is on the way to adopting a non-motorised system as part of achieving the smart city goal. “Nairobi will soon adopt a non-motorised system of mobility once the policy we pushed to be implemented by the county government is adopted by the County Assembly,” says Ochieng of Kara. As the policy awaits adoption, motorists should be ready to embrace this way of life that is common in smart cities. 

Use of shared bicycles around town can make short distances more efficient and attractive within the city centre. “Kara pushed for this programme two years ago since it is the only key element to a clean urban transport system,” says Ochieng. “It will help in reversing the trend of using private vehicles into making walking and cycling attractive especially within the city centre.”

Kenya’s neighbour Tanzania has already adopted a number of smart-city technology initiatives through an app called the OpenStreetMap, which is being used to monitor urbanisation in Dar es Salaam. In South Africa, the smart slum being developed in Stellenbosch outside Cape Town is powering homes with roof-mounted solar panels and allowing people to purchase electricity though their mobile phones. 

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