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Lal Bhatia: Are smart cities in Kenya over-marketed fairytale?

By , K24 Digital
On Wed, 28 Jul, 2021 13:01 | 3 mins read
Lal Bhatia is the Chairman of the Hilshaw Group. PHOTO/COURTESY

Vision without action is merely a dream; Wise words from best-selling author and futurist Joel Barker.  

What follows is the crux of my thoughts shared here on a much-discussed, widely dissected, often disillusioned topic – smart cities in developing countries. 

Are smart cities a real opportunity for countries with developing economies or just another over-marketed fairytale? In my opinion, and I am sure many business minds and visionaries around the world will agree, it most certainly is an opportunity for the economy, citizens, and local government if done right.  

Khuong Vu, Kris Hartley, in Promoting smart cities in developing countries, share, ‘pursuing smart city development is not a mere alternative but a crucial strategic imperative.’  

Many will argue that smart cities work for countries with an unlimited supply of funds to pump in the money until it works. Funds are imperative for any socio-economic infrastructure to be developed, deployed, and managed. However, the significant other side of the coin for a smart city to become a reality and success is a reliable and secure system working diligently to make the smart city plan work.  

Technology-enabled smart cities in developing countries can only be realized when concurrent socio-economic, human, legal, and regulatory reforms are instituted note Tan SY and Taeihagh A. in Smart City Governance in Developing Countries: A Systematic Literature Review.  

Abha Joshi-Ghani at the World Bank emphatically points out, “Smart cities make urbanization more inclusive, bringing together formal and informal sectors, connecting urban cores with peripheries, delivering services for the rich and the poor alike, and integrating the migrants and the poor into the city.” 

But to be fair, it is indeed a mammoth vision. Unfortunately, it does end up as a pipe dream in the absence of appropriate considerations. The loopholes that can get a smart city plan (or any plan for that matter) sidetracked are plenty when it lacks a team that can drive it from document to development. But does that mean that a smart city is just a dream peddled to the gullible? Absolutely not.  

Question: Is one failed car design enough to denounce the entire automobile industry?…or automobiles as a concept?… 

… just to put things into perspective. 

Time is of the essence, and a practical rollout plan that can be executed within realistic timelines is one way of identifying a smart city project that intends to get completed. The ideal way for a smart city to be rolled out is phase by phase, one that does not take 20 – 30 years to see the first light of day. 

A well-thought-out smart city roadmap is a responsible plan by ensuring that there is no depletion of natural resources or mindless displacement of ethnic & agrarian populations and the land is ethically acquired.  

Successful smart city plans will have a citizen-oriented approach and practical method for the public-private partnerships program. Sourcing capital is a complex task. Many smart cities often get derailed or delayed due to funding issues forcing it to be an empty promise. A smart city plan, serious about being successful, will encourage and facilitate collaboration between the public and private sectors for this reason.  

The environmental sustainability of a smart city will have a direct impact on improving the quality of life of its residents. Sustainability looks great on paper, but plans that provide details of how it will be incorporated into the daily life of residents of the city are another indication of the soundness of the plan.  

What makes a smart city development actionable, one that works seamlessly for the city’s occupants is the room to grow and improve. If something does not go as planned, it is not a dead end.  

Not all great plans benefit from seamless execution. The success of a smart city is not in its claims but in its well-timed phasing of the project, judiciously managed funds, post-launch management, to name a few. Many things have to work together as a single unit to make a smart city successful.  

Yes, smart cities have been more successful in the developed economies than developing ones, but that does mean these countries can’t enjoy the same positive impact. Investing in or trusting another smart city project when other plans in a country have not taken off is not easy. Having said that, just because something did not work in the past does not mean it never will work.  

To make the right decision, ask all the right questions. If the answers don’t appeal to your sensibility – if the presented vision is not backed by a plausible action plan, then you know it is not for you.   

About the Author 

A global thought leader, disruptor, and innovator with an entrepreneurial flair, Dr. Lal Bhatia has conceptualized and developed new business models in the most challenging environments.  

Dr. Bhatia has invested 33 years kick-starting New-Ventures, Building Teams, Managing Change, Developing Brands and Businesses, and Strategizing Digital Transformation. Lal has a vast network of clients and professionals in every corner of the globe, which he believes in cross leveraging for the task at hand. 

Dr. Lal Bhatia is the Chairman of the Hilshaw Group.

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