Adopt standards for smarter cities

The world is projected to have 41 megacities with populations of 10 million or more by 2030. According to the United Nations (UN), urban areas are also projected to house 60 per cent of people globally and one in every three people will live in cities.

More statistics paint a picture of increased urbanisation. In fact in 2016, an estimated 54.5 per cent of the world’s population lived in urban settlements. The United Nation Development Programme (UNDP) says more than half of the world’s population now live in urban areas. By 2050, that figure will have risen to 6.5 billion people – two-thirds of all humanity.

Closer home, in 1990, the Nairobi population was estimated at 1.4 million. This has more than quadrupled approximately to over 4 million and by 2030 there will be 14.3 million people residing in the city. Indeed, every day, the world’s population grows by nearly 250,000 people. Kenya is not an exception and the country cannot survive the pressure of population, meagre resources and quality of amenities unless we plan our cities sustainably.

With such exponential population growth there is need to review how we plan cities with a goal of ensuring we have sustainable smart cities that have adequate amenities such as water, electricity, ability to travel efficiently from one point to another and other pressing challenges such as waste management. Sustainable development cannot be achieved without significantly transforming the way we build and manage our urban spaces.

Each year on 14 October, the members of the IEC, ISO and ITU celebrate World Standards Day, which is a means of paying tribute to the collaborative efforts of the thousands of experts worldwide who develop the voluntary technical agreements that are published as international standards.

This year’s theme“standards make cities smarter” is opportune given most cities, Nairobi included, are facing similar challenges of building a smart city which is a complex exercise. Every city faces its own challenges and requires its own mix of solutions. However, there is one common denominator that greatly simplifies this task.International Standards support the development of tailor-made solutions that can be adapted to particular circumstances of a given city.

They contain expert knowledge and best practices, and are essential enablers in ensuring quality and performance of products and services. In addition, they drive compatibility between technologies and help users to compare and choose the best solution available.

International Standards such as ISO make things work safely and smoothly together at every level in cities. They provide the foundation for electricity access and all the many devices and systems that use electricity and contain electronics. They support the information and communication technologies that enable data collection, exchange and analysis, and information security. Last but not least they provide important guidance for all aspects of city life, including energy-efficient buildings, intelligent transportation, and improved waste management, building sustainable communities and much, much more.

According to ISO, cities need to make better use of resources and become more efficient: Policies, regulation, citizen involvement and standards are all key components needed to build a viable Smart City. While all these are important, in a path towards smarter cities, standardization will play a key role in ensuring consistent outcomes of clean and safer cities.

For instance in today’s cities much of the infrastructure is installed by a diverse set of suppliers and maintained by different agencies who sometimes work in isolation. To connect them both physically and virtually, standardized interfaces need to be put in place, and this is where standards organizations and others will have an important role to play.

For city planners, utilities, service and technology providers, standards are essential enablers, facilitating an expected performance and quality level, consistent reproducible outcomes as well as compatibility between technologies.

A perfect example is how a road would be constructed and finished and within two months, other suppliers would be found excavating the road to install other infrastructures such as underground cables, water pipes and sewer systems in the process messing up the whole environment and at the same time inconveniencing the users.

For instance, the city of Nairobi was planned for a small population, but with rural-urban migration, the city is now a home to over four million people. In fact the city of Nairobi is using a master plan developed in 1973, which legally expired in 2003.

A master plan is usually valid for 20 to 30 years, which means that structures constructed in Nairobi since 2003 may technically be classified as illegal. The main goals for the 21st century are to deal with solid waste management, water and sanitation supply, provision of energy and air pollution, housing, land use planning and the rise of urban agriculture. Through development of an integrated urban infrastructure system in Nairobi and its suburbs the migration back to rural areas should be guaranteed.

Standards are relevant in the physical world, where they allow for the interconnection of hardware and technologies, but also in the virtual space where they facilitate data collection/sharing as well as city operation.For instance ISO 37120:2014 defines and establishes methodologies for a set of indicators to steer and measure the performance of city services and quality of life.

The standard follows the principles set out and can be used in conjunction with ISO 37101, on Sustainable development in communities, management systems.

In fact, ISO 37120:2014 is applicable to any city, municipality or county government that undertakes to measure its performance in a comparable and verifiable manner, irrespective of size and location.

However with standards, all these challenges around city planning and management can be alleviated or controlled. The future looks bright for cities and communities that use standards during planning and service provision.

– Standards on Smart Cities and Communities –

ISO through ISO TC 268, Sustainable Cities and Communities has developed standards on Sustainable Cities and Communities. These standards contribute to the UN Sustainable Development Goals through its standardization work. The proposed series of International Standards also encourages the development and implementation of holistic and integrated approaches to sustainable development and sustainability.

The standards developed aims at addressing the following areas; Management System, City indicators, City anatomy and Sustainability, Strategies for Smart cities and Communities, Smart Community Infrastructures for use by cities and communities.

China is already undertaking pilot smart cities projects on over 100 cities using the standards developed by ISO TC 268.

With Standards, we can make our cities smarter, step by step. It is comforting to know that International Standards will support smooth and integrated Smart City development. Bottom line the World runs on Standards.

(The author is the Managing Director, Kenya Bureau of Standards

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