Walking on the streets of Shenzhen, few remnants of its past as a fishing village remains. Instead, the city is a concrete jungle of modern high rise buildings, 40 years after it was named as China’s first special economic zone.
The city’s development has been accompanied by an equally staggering rise as a leading smart city in China. Shenzhen is now ahead of other cities surpassing the likes of Beijing and Shanghai in innovation, technical capabilities, and strategic execution, according to Deloitte’s Super Smart City report.
Shenzhen’s reputation as a tech hub, while spectacular, is not without method. Every smart city goes through four steps of transformation, according to Huawei‘s rotating chairman, Guo Ping. He calls this the Maslow’s model for smart city development, and believes this can function as a framework for cities to implement smart solutions globally.
Maslow Model for Smart Cities
Speaking at the Shenzhen Smart City Forum, Guo elaborated on the four layers in Maslow’s hierarchy of needs for Smart Cities. The original model stated that people are motivated to achieve certain needs and some take precedence over others. In the same way, building a smart city requires certain foundations.
The first is having a modern ICT infrastructure for ubiquitous connectivity, he explained. “The development of 5G and Artificial Intelligence are as significant as the discovery and use of electricity more than a few hundred years ago,” said Guo. And having a strong digital infrastructure is what everything else is built upon.
The second step is in building up both physical and digital safety through the use of technology. With a high-speed network and advancements in Artificial intelligence, there are huge opportunities to ramp up security with the likes of smart surveillance. Guo elaborated that safety and stability are paramount for business confidence.
The use of IoT in Shenzhen has seen tangible results in the fast-growing city. Since the implementation of smart CCTVs and IoT in policing, the overall crime rate in the Longgang District – which has the largest population in Shenzhen – has fallen by close to 30 percent. It is also on track to be the first city in China to roll out a city-wide 5G network and is already using the latest tech in areas like public security, telemedicine, and transport.
The third layer, Guo said, is public-private cooperation in the digitalisation process. He said government support is needed for sectors to develop, and for private companies to contribute to public service delivery. These can be in the form of having a digital transformation roadmap, open data for companies to work with, or creating an ecosystem for different players to come together.
Huawei is an example of how Shenzhen worked with private companies for public needs. The Chinese tech giant worked with local authorities for a smart traffic brain project to reduce accidents and manage traffic flows. The city government is also using WeChat, the leading messaging platform in China, for public transactions.
The end goal of this transformation is to equip cities with a digital brain, said Guo. This means a city-wide system that integrates data across all government agencies and businesses to create social value. These data can be used for industry management to identify which sectors to focus on, and can also be used to allocate resources according to society needs.
As the leading smart city in China, Shenzhen has managed to achieve this with a central command centre, which helps to integrate and coordinate more than 2,000 data sources from across agencies in real time. This includes some four billion items of data, and an exchange volume that can go up to 80 million a day.
Partnership to build up smart cities
Today, more than half of the world lives in urban areas. By 2050, the number is expected to increase to some two-thirds of the world population, according to the United Nations. While this may lead to overcrowding in cities, and excessive use of resources, there is also an opportunity for cities around the world to grow and learn together.
Shenzhen wants to be a key node in this new world. Alluding to China’s Belt and Road initiative, Xie Yuan Deputy Chair of the Chinese People’s Association for Friendship with foreign countries said Shenzhen can use its experience to help countries just starting out on this journey. By 2020, it wants to become a benchmark for Smart Cities around the world.
Huawei is also playing a role in this with its open labs which aim to foster innovation across the world. “Cities will be like organic life. New applications will emerge and grow through iteration, and eventually achieve overall prosperity,” said Yan Li Da, President of Huawei Enterprise.
The early days of the Shenzhen’s development were dominated by Maslow’s basic needs for food and security. Fast forward 40 years, and it has successfully adapted this hierarchy of human needs to an entire city.
“Shenzhen reflects the historical achievements China has made, serving as a window to display China to the world,” said Wang Weizhong, Secretary of the CPC Shenzhen Municipal Committee. And it is now keen to be put on a show as the world’s Smart City.