Smart city – Get the basics right

WHAT makes a city smart?" someone asked me after reading Selangor's plan to make the state a "smart city". Reading their 34-page PDF executive summary document, you have to admire the work they put into it.

Personally, it's hard to talk about a city being "smart", when basic infrastructure is lacking. Perhaps Selangor needs to understand what the basics are.

It involves having bus lanes to ensure buses beat traffic gridlocks.

It involves having public transport that runs on time and making driving expensive by raising parking rates and tolls, while having full enforcement of traffic laws.

It involves having proper sidewalks and crossings for people to walk, cutting down carbon emissions and lowering the risk of danger to pedestrians.

It involves placing rubbish bins along sidewalks, gazetting proper non-smoking zones and enforcing it.

It involves having rules for all buildings (old and new) with proper infrastructure to allow high speed broadband access.

For this last one, you don't have to look far to see just how disjointed broadband access is. Just go to Setia Alam and ask why it is taking so long to get broadband in new housing areas. In some instances, residents in one block of apartments have broadband access while residents living in a nearby block don't have access.

Thus, how is it that the state government that leases out telco towers for its free Selangorku WiFi cannot even lay fibre optic cables statewide, citywide, or even all the way to rural areas. They could set up a backbone and lease it out to high speed broadband players.

Supposedly, we had 2,500 free WiFi hotspots in Selangor by the end of 2015. This initiative isn't new, yet somehow made the Smart City Blueprint. The free WiFi initiative was launched in 2011 – seven years ago – by Tan Sri Khalid Ibrahim.

Free WiFi is no longer a plus point in smart cities because telcos keep cutting the price for data.

Since the state has this network, what would such a facility be used for? Well, they could repurpose it, including setting up wireless CCTV networks to monitor crime.

It can also be leased out to the Road Transport Department for its Kejara system. Heck, with such a network, I'm surprised why we can't have a "panic button" app linking each citizen to the nearest police station through GPS and geotagging.

This will allow us to map crime, and the data can be used as evidence – provided the images are clear. GPS tracking can also be made easier with 2,500 hotspots to ensure accuracy of tracking buses and garbage trucks.

And then, there's this fetish in developing new apps to report issues to the local council.

Honestly, just having enforcement agencies monitor social media accounts or setting up hashtags and geolocation services on Twitter and Facebook is enough to file complaints on issues. Why the need for a separate app when you already have something built and personnel on the job?

After all, the Smart City Blueprint lists using Waze as a solution to report roadworks and potholes, so why the need to reinvent the wheel for other complaints via paying someone to develop an app?

Selangor needs to understand that smart city solutions aren't exactly smart or even need high levels of technology and traceability. It involves basic physical solutions that have nothing to do with apps or even the internet – and that's where they need to focus on before trying to be "smart".

The writer is a public relations practitioner. Comments: letters@thesundaily.com