Smart and Sustainable Cities – Next Priorities

Chew Men Leong

President, Urban Solutions, ST Engineering

The after-effects of a global pandemic, geopolitical churn and macroeconomic headwinds are conspiring to create a volatile environment that we live in. A silver lining has been the deeper and wider adoption of digital technologies in cities, albeit spurred by urgent adaptations to COVID-19 and sustainability imperatives.

Around the world, city governments are experimenting with digital technologies embedded into smart city-type initiatives to carry out trials and proof-of-concepts to seek new insights on how digital technologies can enhance citizens` lives and boost a city’s sustainability quotient. While the pandemic has galvanised city governments to move more quickly from prototype to deployment, testing and experimentation continue to be the lynchpin of many cities’ smart and sustainability strategies.

In my opinion, the next set of priorities for cities is clear. At the heart of the key next steps for smart and sustainable city development is the scale application of enterprise-type digital platforms to drive a city towards net-zero outcomes and enable widespread tangible benefits to be felt. Another will be to build a pervasive, integrated smart street lighting network that not only brings a quantum jump in energy efficiency but creates a parallel security network and becomes a ubiquitous Vehicle-to-Infrastructure (V2I) platform in the future.  A final priority is to fashion a digitally-enabled, multi-modal transport system that can be constantly effective in providing affordable and seamless transportation, while reducing transport carbon footprint.

Scaling up digital platforms

Every city that’s serious about becoming smart and sustainable will need to scale its application of digital platforms to achieve new standards of user experience, while levelling up sustainability outcomes and reducing overall operating costs. This is about pushing the appropriate combination of software and hardware technologies, and new operating concepts to solve a city’s problems at scale – be it related to managing the impact of climate change, traffic congestion or to improve city-wide service delivery.

An effective city-wide enterprise platform should serve as a central ‘brain’ that is linked to various smart city verticals to provide a compilation of how the city can operate more efficiently in various domains – lighting, microgrid, waste management, security, logistics movement and facility management. A key function of such a platform is to drive the optimisation of energy and resource management across the city.  This is achieved through real-time energy and water usage monitoring via connected smart metering, direct measurement of activity-generated carbon footprint, smart microgrid operations as well as adaptive lighting, cooling and auxiliary machinery that operate in tandem with prevailing occupancy and traffic.  In yielding new efficiencies in facilities, office and logistics workflow management, the platform will help to pull the city along towards net zero outcomes.

Redefining smart street lighting

Another opportunity for cities today is in transforming their collection of ubiquitous LED-based streetlights into a smart and integrated network. A key goal is to make the network fully adaptive to achieve quantum jumps in energy savings, through lighting that adapts to ambient conditions and traffic while providing real-time health status updates that lead to predictive maintenance intervention. In the not-so-distant future, smart street lighting may also become the new interfaces with vehicles, largely through direct short-range communications.  It is not too difficult to visualise new stacks of V2I data on road traffic being collected, analysed and returned to the driver to facilitate a seamless and smoother journey.

Greening the transport ecosystem

Any city aspiring to drive up its Public Transport (PT) modal-share to lower the carbon footprint per passenger kilometre travelled, needs its entire public transport ecosystem to be integrated into a single system that works like clockwork. In the future smart city, an integrated transport operations hub – one that has a view of all transport modes and can derive commuter, traffic and system views of each mode – will be critical.  Such a system can monitor and project demand in real-time, and better manage transport supply to reduce or eliminate resource gaps. It can also facilitate faster mitigating actions in the event of disruptions, through the quick provision of diversion and re-channelling options – all of which can be communicated to the public expeditiously.

To complete the picture in a city’s aspiration for a smart and green transport ecosystem, a few more critical supporting modules are needed.  One is to embed modelling and simulation capabilities to achieve a sharper awareness of land transportation carbon footprint across the network.  Only then can a city determine its mitigating steps to reduce its transport carbon footprint. Another is to scale up the application of connected digital junctions that have a complete view of vehicular and pedestrian traffic around junctions, and using artificial intelligence, drive traffic flow optimisation to whole new levels. Finally, a city must have a city-wide Mobility-as-a-Service (MaaS) platform where commuters are empowered to plan, book, pay and execute their multi-modal, end-to-end journey according to selected priorities (time, cost or carbon footprint) via their mobile phone.  More than ever, a city-wide MaaS platform will become a catalytic enabler of higher PT modal-share.


Taking these next steps require collaborations across city government agencies, and between the agencies and strategic industry partners. With our expertise and experience that span the smart mobility, smart utilities and infrastructure, and smart security domains, Urban Solutions can help cities scale the application of software and hardware technologies with new operational concepts to make a positive impact on citizens’ lives. We believe that we are also well-placed to serve as a strategic partner to help cities advance towards long-term sustainability.

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