In the picturesque Barcelona district of El Born, residents can get a better night’s sleep nowadays because garbage trucks pass only when bins in the street are full, thanks to high-tech sensors that detect when they need to be emptied.
Meanwhile, a few streets away, magnetic sensors under the road surface allow drivers to find out in advance if a parking space is free — saving them time and cutting back on vehicle emissions.
Other high-technology solutions for street lamps, traffic lights and parking meters have been deployed in Spain’s second-largest city in recent years.
Illustration: Mountain People
One theater is even decked with a smart vertical garden on its outer wall, which collects its own rainwater via a solar-powered system on the roof.
As one of Europe’s richest cities, most of Barcelona’s inhabitants already have good access to municipal services and a high quality of life.
However, in poorer parts of the world, urban experts say efforts to improve cities with cutting-edge technology can run into challenges, particularly when applied in slums.
“A 24-hour smart water meter can only be possible if you’re connected to the water system in the first place,” said Ayona Datta, a reader in urban futures at King’s College London.
In developing countries, technology might be introduced across a city to make transport or water services more efficient, but will likely only work in its richer areas, she added.
The idea of giving the same thing to everyone in both middle-class and low-income neighborhoods can be problematic, she said.
“IT companies will sell [smart technology] as a package without any kind of customization at a grassroots level,” she said.
Smart technology installed like this is “giving the icing on the cake to people who are already connected,” Datta said.
In many cases, those who lack access to electricity or the Internet cannot benefit from high-tech infrastructure, she added.
“You really need to engage with the social context [and] social issues first,” she said.
In India, dozens of smart cities are planned as the South Asian nation seeks ways of coping with rapid growth in its urban population.
By 2050, India will have an additional 300 million urban residents, according to UN-Habitat, the UN agency that deals with cities.
However, one high-profile “smart city” strategy for Dholera, in Gujarat state, has sparked opposition.
It involves a new 920km metropolis on the edge of the ancient port city, set to run mostly on solar power and intended to become a global manufacturing hub.
Critics say it will displace subsistence farmers, is at risk of inundation due to it being built on a floodplain and will cost more than planned.
“A lot of smart city projects are real-estate projects,” University of Cape Town associate professor of urban planning Nancy Odendaal said.
“On the African continent this becomes particularly poignant as it is seen as the last frontier for property speculation and development,” she added.
In most of Africa, smart cities tend to be “top-down” projects to create satellite cities, like Konza Technopolis in Kenya and Eko Atlantic City in Nigeria, Odendaal said.
Dubbed “Africa’s Dubai,” Eko Atlantic is being built on Victoria Island next to Lagos. Developers say it will become a new financial headquarters for Nigeria and solve chronic housing shortages in Lagos.
Detractors argue that shiny urban centers like Eko Atlantic are designed for a wealthy elite, and do nothing to help poor communities living on their doorstep.
Elsewhere, smart city strategies have received a mixed reception.
Rwanda’s capital, Kigali, was praised for becoming one of the first cities in Africa to roll out free wireless Internet in some areas in 2013.
However, it has also been criticized for building new housing ordinary Rwandans cannot afford.
In South Africa’s Cape Town, some people see smart city projects as an excuse for gentrification — “just another way of turning old neighborhoods into swish, consumer zones,” Odendaal said.
KNOW YOUR CITY
Some of the most effective schemes are those that harness technology, but are not marketed by governments as “smart,” she said.
They include Map Kibera, which began as a free, open digital map of Africa’s largest slum, in the Kenyan capital, Nairobi. It has grown into an interactive project pinpointing local services and providing information about security in Kibera.
Its developers, Map Kibera Trust, said the initiative gives visibility to marginalized communities, with two other Nairobi slums replicating the idea.
Non-governmental groups like Slum Dwellers International (SDI) are also doing useful work at grassroots level, Odendaal said.
The network of community-based organizations representing the urban poor in 32 countries across Africa, Asia and Latin America runs a “Know Your City” campaign.
Slum residents collect data and information about where they live, which is held in a central database and can be used by governments and other decisionmakers.
SDI says the data are owned by the community, and gives an “informed and united” voice to the urban poor.
“Smart technology has very utopian intentions, but it’s really about how it’s implemented on the ground,” Datta said. “It is very universal, but has to be rooted in the context of a place in order for it to work.”
Community-led initiatives can function especially well, as in India where local people have started sharing photographs of suspected sex offenders on instant messaging service WhatsApp, she said.
“Smart technology has had all sorts of unintended consequences,” she added. “What emerges can exist completely outside of state regulation.”
Since COVID-19 broke out in Taiwan, there has been a fair amount of news regarding discrimination and “witch hunts” against medical personnel, people under self-quarantine and other targets, such as the students of a school where an infection was discovered. Quarantine breakers are almost certainly on the loose and it is only natural for people to be vigilant. One in Chiayi was found by accident at a traffic stop because his helmet was not fastened. However, those who follow the rules by quarantining themselves should be encouraged to keep up the good work in a difficult situation, instead of being
Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Legislator-at-large Wu Sz-huai (吳斯懷) has said that there is a huge difference between Chinese military aircraft circling Taiwan along the edges of its airspace and invading Taiwan’s airspace. He also said that whether it is US or Chinese aircraft flying along or encircling Taiwan’s airspace, there is no legal basis to say that such actions imply a clear provocation of Taiwan, and asked the Ministry of National Defense not to mislead the public. People who hear this might think that it is not a very Taiwanese thing to say. US military activity in the vicinity of Taiwan
As the nation welcomes home Taiwanese who had been stranded in China’s Hubei Province — arguably one of the most dangerous places on Earth since the novel coronavirus outbreak began in its capital, Wuhan, late last year — problems surrounding the “quasi-charter flights” that brought them back have been largely overlooked. The media used the term to describe the two flights dispatched by Taiwan’s state-run China Airlines because they do not count as charter flights. Taiwanese wanting to board those flights had to travel — most likely by train — more than 1,000km from Hubei to Shanghai Pudong International Airport
As the COVID-19 pandemic spins out of control, many parts of the world are experiencing shortages of medical masks and other protective equipment. I am studying in Washington state, which at the time of writing is the US state that has suffered the largest number of deaths from the novel coronavirus. The week before last, UW Medicine — an organization that includes the University of Washington School of Medicine and associated medical centers and clinics — sent its volunteers an e-mail asking the public to make masks and donate them to hospitals. Attached to the message was a mask donation