Montreal - While hardly a modern phenomenon, urbanization is now unprecedented in scale. Already, cities occupy a mere 2% of the planet’s surface yet house 50% of its population, a percentage that should increase to 70% by 2050.
Montreal – While hardly a modern phenomenon, urbanization is now unprecedented in scale. Already, cities occupy a mere 2% of the planet’s surface yet house 50% of its population, a percentage that should increase to 70% by 2050.
This growth is even more pronounced in North Africa and Western Asia – a region that includes Middle East, Turkey and the Caucasus – where the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs estimates that city dwellers will account for 66% of the population by 2025 alone.
The implications of all this are equally staggering. Cities presently consume 75% of energy production and are responsible for 80% of carbon emissions worldwide. Beyond the environmental impact, the massive concentration of people in urban pockets places a huge strain on access to healthcare, education, sanitation, transport, water, and electricity. In Paris alone, people spend an estimated 4 years of their lives just looking for parking! The situation is even more urgent in developing nations, with over 3 billion people living without basic services. Clearly, the need for a new and sustainable model of urban development is pressing.
Enter the smart city. By investing in creative and social capital and incorporating digital data and technology, the smart city fosters economic competitiveness, effectively manages its resources and physical infrastructure, and actively engages citizens in issues of governance. In doing so, it promotes sustainable economic and urban development and guarantees a better quality of life for its citizens. In response to their citizens’ parking woes for example, San Francisco and Chicago have introduced navigation systems that identify vacant spots, thereby reducing both traffic jams and carbon emissions. Over the past decade, “smart” initiatives have helped reduce crime rates by 20%, improved water usage by 80% and halved energy consumption. Small wonder then that numerous conferences on the subject are being held every year from Shanghai in 2010, to Barcelona in 2011 to Quebec City in May 2013.
Still, a smart city is not a one size fits all model. Developing nations after all do not face the same challenges as developed ones. As the World Bank explains, “Many of the needs of developing countries center on providing and maintaining modern infrastructure (roads, power plants, water treatment plants, sewage systems, transit systems). Since this built environment lasts a long time, getting the right infrastructure in place shapes a city for decades to come. Planning a city with the right infrastructure, and not merely replicating past practices that often have been haphazard, means relying more on evidence and analysis about how sustainable cities can and should grow.”
Yet, this can seem like something of a catch-22: data and evidence-driven sustainable growth is vital to reducing economic inequality, improving literacy rates and creating integrated, inclusive services and infrastructures, but economic inequality, low literacy rates, and the lack of inclusive services and connected infrastructure are in themselves obstacles to sustainable growth.
This is where Morocco serves as an example. Over the past 50 years, the country has introduced numerous political and social reforms that have laid the foundations for economic growth. King Mohamed VI has actively pursued a policy of decentralization, empowering provinces and municipalities to better respond to the economic, social, cultural and environmental needs of their communities and encouraging citizens to actively participate in local governance. The government has also liberalized media outlets and made universal access to digital technology an objective, partnering with banking institutions to implement its ambitious digital plan Maroc Numérique 2013 (Digital Morocco 2013). These political and institutional changes have already begun transforming the Moroccan economy, which in turn is increasingly attracting foreign investors and stimulating growth.
Morocco is now working towards numerous major reforms in urban planning, clean energy, water security, agricultural development, and transportation.5 The time is thus ripe for policymakers to plan for smart initiatives that will help modernise the nation and serve as an example to the rest of North Africa.
Cue the first International Summit for Smart Cities in North Africa in June 2014. A follow up to the 2013 smart city conference at the Institute for Information Technologies and Societies (IITS) in Quebec City, the purpose of this two-day event is to find innovative and actionable solutions for urban living within the North African geopolitical context. To accomplish this, the Summit focuses on connecting illustrious minds from the international community, notably North America, with influential policy makers in North Africa, allowing them to work together on key issues like information and communications technologies (ICT), innovation, and sustainability.
“We want to bring the inspiration, experience and support needed to allow Morocco and the rest of North Africa to develop their own Smart City model.”
“We believe that it is important to consider the geopolitical context of each region, to engage citizens, and to place them at the heart of the decision-making process in order to avoid implementing a “smart” initiative that, while relevant in another context, would not strictly speaking apply in a Moroccan framework.”
For this first edition, the Summit will address themes of innovation and economic growth, urban planning and mobility, resource management and infrastructure, education, digital inclusion, and governance. The opening remarks will be given by the Honourable Moulay Hafid El Alamy, Morocco’s Minister of Industry, Commerce, Investment and Digital Economy. Speakers from around the world will also share their experience and insights. They include the renowned Louis A. Zacharilla, co-founder of the Intelligent Community Forum (ICF) in New York, Carlo Ratti, director of the MIT SENSEable City Lab, Nicole Lacasse, Associate Vice-Rector, Academic and International Activities, Université Laval, and Messaddeq Younes, Chairholder of the Canada Excellence Research Chair in Photonic Innovations.
The brainchild of the Montreal-based Smart Initiatives Group, the Summit will be held at the prestigious Al-Akhawayn University in Ifrane on June 9 and 10. The event is made possible thanks to the support of several Canadian, American and Moroccan partners, notably the Institute for Information Technologies and Societies whose director, Marie-Andrée Doran, also serves as President of the Summit advisory board.
Edited by: Ayesha LOBO. Visit: www.iscsummit.com
1. “Introduction: Pourquoi la ville intelligente.” Les Smart cities. Smart Grids – CRE. Page 1. 2012. http://www.smartgrids-cre.fr
2. Leinmiller, Mark and O’Mara, Melissa “Smart Water: A Key Building Block of the Smart City of the Future” Water World. Online article. <http://www.waterworld.com>
3. Elfrink, Wim. “The smart-city solution.” McKinsey & Company. Online article based on an interview with Rik Kirkland. October 2012. <http://mckinsey.com>
4. “Who Needs Smart Cities for Sustainable Development?” The World Bank Group. Online article. March 20, 2012. <http://www.worldbank.org>
5. Messari, Nizar and Marzouk, Abdelkrim. “Morocco: Past Glory, Future Wonder.” Al-Akhawayn University Press. September 2013. Pages 31-50. PDF file.