Urbanization is on the up. The prospect is that by 2050, 70 percent of the world’s population will live in cities – for Africa, the prediction is 50 percent. The challenge is for cities to offer improved living conditions to their citizens. To this end, the concept of “smart cities” is being developed.
In essence, a smart city is one that relies heavily on IT to enhance quality of life. A report by Deloitte characterizes a city as smart “when investments in human and social capital and traditional (transport) and modern (ICT) communication infrastructure fuel sustainable economic development and a high quality of life, with a wise management of natural resources.” The emphasis in a smart city is on the process of continuous improvement. As such, Deloitte’s report positions South African cities as transitioning cities, undergoing rapid urbanization and population expansion.
My colleagues at IESE Business School Joan-Enric Ricart and Pascual Berrone have developed the Cities in Motion Index. The index is based on the status of cities along a number of key dimensions: governance, public management, urban planning, technology, the environment, international outreach, social cohesion, mobility and transportation, human capital and the economy. The only African cities included in the index are in South Africa. Johannesburg and Cape Town are classified as high potential cities: while their current position falls in the medium to low zone of the index, they present a very fast-paced rate of positive change.
Unfortunately, there was no information about cities in other southern or Sub-Saharan Africa countries. According to Deloitte, with the right choices and the successful adoption of technology, African cities have the opportunity to leapfrog into the mid-21st century. However, technology is but one element of smart cities: as my colleague Prof. Ricart likes to say, “in order to have smarter cities, we need smarter citizens.”
How do you see the prospects of the African cities you know?