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“Smart” more than just technology for cities


Technology is a tool designed to pull together smart systems to aid urban efficiency in cities, the City of Johannesburg Executive Mayor Councillor Parks Tau said on Thursday, June 4, 2015.
He was speaking during discussions on building smart cities in Africa at the World Economic Forum (WEF) currently underway in Cape Town, Western Cape.
“Smart is much bigger than just technology. It is part of a bigger picture to align the public sector priorities with private sector incentives in a bid to optimise how space is used to grow a city’s economy,” Mayor Tau said.
He said: “Smart is about understanding cities as complex, interlinked systems that can be made to work better. A typical example would be moving from a city which is running out of landfill space with energy constraints to one that redirects waste flow in order to extract energy, such as methane or biogas, from it.”
Mayor Tau added that “smart” is also about pricing and managing resources creatively in an inclusive manner.
“There are many variables that contribute to urban efficiency. The ones that are probably most topical for city dwellers relate to movement, which includes time and cost of moving goods, as well as people, across the urban system,” he said.
Another variable for city governments, Mayor Tau said was the relationship between the cost of providing services and revenue generated from the consumption of those services.
He said: “In both these variables, the discipline and practice of urban planning and the physical environment have a direct contribution. This challenge can of course be breached by an effective public transport system and logistics infrastructure.”
Mayor Tau pointed out that a more effective intervention, however, was urban planning - in as far as this locates these uses relative to each other to either reduce or minimise commuting time and distance.
He added that while this may seem like a straightforward response, it was fraught with various difficulties such as apartheid spatial form in South African Cities, the dominance of the car in North American cities, as well as Nimbyism in middle income societies, among others. 
“In the context of African cities, and South African cities in particular, mobility and spatial patterns have a direct impact on how efficient cities are as living spaces and sometimes more importantly - as livelihood generators for those at the bottom of the pyramid,” said Mayor Tau.