In South Africa, Smart City protagonists say that the country should have smart citizens for the technology-driven new urban centres to succeed.
By 2050, it’s expected that nearly 80% of South Africans will be living in urban areas. This massive acceleration in rural-to-urban migration also throws up opportunities besides new challenges.
To serve increasing numbers of inhabitants, cities will need to become more efficient with their service delivery and more citizen engagement.
Smart Cities – where new technology is used to connect and enhance many of the basic services like electricity, water, transportation, road networks, waste management, crime prevention, and billing services, among others – hold the answers to emerging challenges.
The end-user is the most important component of successful use of new technology. As more and more users start expecting technology solutions in local government, cities will have no option but to prioritise the development of Smart initiatives.
In fact, today’s digital citizen expects an omni-channel experience – where they can report service delivery issues from the convenience of a mobile app. They expect queries about their property rates to be resolved via a direct message on Facebook or Twitter.
It’s this awakening demand from the millions of residents in South Africa’s metros that will stimulate transformation at a local government level.
In the economic heartland of Johannesburg, the first signs of this are already taking hold. There are now mobile apps for motorists to report faults on the city’s 7,000 kilometres of roads, instantly report crimes and suspicious activity, check for scheduled power cuts, find bus routes and schedules, and see upcoming public events.
These apps empower citizens with the digital tools to engage with their City, and generate a culture of shared accountability and transparency.
The ultimate dreams of Smart Cities, crowdsourcing, and collective responsibility can only come true if these smaller, focused projects gain traction; and if users continue to play the role of catalyst in getting local government to adopt new technology and new ways of delivering services.