SUNDAY TIMES - China doing smart thing
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Sunday Times Business By Dineo Tsamela, 2017-03-19 00:00:00.0

China doing smart thing

A man walks on a bridge in the financial district of Pudong in Shanghai, China March 9, 2017.
Image: ALY SONG REUTERS

For emerging-market economies with rapid urbanisation and large populations, China could provide much-needed guidance on developing smart cities.

The challenges China faces - with a population of more than one billion, many of whom are flocking to cities - include ensuring that city residents are well housed, have efficient transport and contribute meaningfully to economic growth. In bigger cities, going green is a priority.

In China, developing smart cities focuses on growing the economy, efficient and convenient mobility and establishing a comfortable environment. The smart city also has to educate the public, ensure safe living and tackle governance problems.

More than 300 cities in China are earmarked for smart-city pilot projects. Qingdao, one of the first to embark on a smart drive, launched an online iCity Network using public service data to improve administration. This tells residents about government activities and new initiatives, and allows the government to communicate with residents through suggestions and feedback.

One of the benefits of iCity - in a country that strictly controls internet use - has been in the property business. Citizens who want to move can use the location of the house they want to buy to find out which school district it falls under. This curbs false claims about school districts made by estate agents. Citizens are also able to find, for example, the nearest doctor and see how much a visit costs.

Shanghai has embarked on a three-year "Smart Shanghai" plan. Some of the goals realised include migrating health records from paper to a digitised system, and starting an e-billing system for water, electricity and gas .

Smart Pudong, or iPudong, is a mini development in Shanghai where the city is experimenting with integrating smart devices with infrastructure data, such as train schedules.

The plan has helped to improve food safety - customers can collect food they have ordered online from centralised fridges throughout the city.

Hong Kong has teamed up with firms like global design and engineering firm Arup to conduct a feasibility study into transforming Kowloon East into a pilot smart hub .