Governments today are engaging in ambitious projects to create innovative cities of the future.

Jinan in China is building a ‘super highway’ that can recharge electric cars that travel on it. In South Africa, IoT sensors predict air pollution even before it occurs. Singapore has created a virtual 3D model of its city that allows urban planners and policymakers to explore potential scenarios that can arise from their projects.

But at the heart of these cities, governments still face issues around efficiency, complexity and inclusivity. We share how some cities across Asia are tackling these problems.

Tackling complexity

Cities across Asia are using tech to navigate their burgeoning complexities as they continue to grow and develop.

As cities add more buildings and facilities, it is often difficult to predict with certainty all the potential effects of disasters like floods and outbreaks of fire, says Wang Datong, Deputy Director-General of the Administrative Committee of Guangzhou’s Nansha Development Zone in China, in an exclusive interview with GovInsider. “In the areas of firefighting and floods, there are a lot of decisions we have to make, and factors that we often cannot anticipate,” he notes on the sidelines of last week’s World Cities Summit in Singapore.

To combat this, Nansha is working with city planning experts, Dassault Systèmes, to build a 3D model of the city for disaster prediction. “By using 3D digitisation, Nansha can simulate, predict and understand every facet of these potential disasters to come up with solutions,” he adds.

Guangzhou is also developing underground hubs. Underground building projects are much more complicated and have higher stakes than overground projects, given that they often occur right below existing ground-level infrastructure.

By simulating how an underground project will unfold over time, Guangzhou’s Nansha district hopes to increase the speed and efficiency of constructions. “If we have 3D or even 4D visualisation, complete with time, this allows us to increase the speed and efficiency of construction,” says Wang. “You can do a lot of tests in the digital world before you commit on spending money and energy on resources to actually realise what is projected,” adds Bernard Charlès, Chief Executive Officer of Dassault Systèmes.

More inclusive services

Meanwhile, cities are also looking into enhancing inclusivity as urban populations continue to diversify. Asia is rapidly aging; countries like South Korea, Japan and Singapore are set to become super-aging societies by 2026, says Dr Seo Wang Jin, President of the Seoul Institute.

The New Taipei government has centralised its government services for the convenience of the elderly. Senior citizens no longer need to go to various departments to access different services. Instead, every government office is able to provide them with a full range of services, according to Eric Chu, Mayor of New Taipei City.

The city’s “e-government does not mean that as a user, you use the internet, or smartphones, to get the service, [but rather] it means that senior citizens can go to any office to get all the services. It’s not necessarily like before, where you get one kind of service at one office or district,” he says.

Meanwhile, Tokyo is ramping up its public transport infrastructure to be more inclusive for people with disabilities. Trains account for 40% of all modes of transport in the city, while over 80% of commuters use public transport, reports Inokuma Junko, Vice Governor of Tokyo.

“Tokyo is making railways even more user-friendly,” Inokuma shares. “Barrier-free platforms are being introduced, including installation of tactile paving for the visually-impaired, platform gates and movable fences.” By adding these user-friendly measures, Tokyo is providing a much faster and safer public transport experience for people with disabilities, she adds.

Boosting efficiency

Half of Mandalay’s water is lost to leaking pipes. To increase its water efficiency, the city has installed IoT sensors in pipes throughout its water supply system. The sensors record and report real-time data on the conditions of pipes and water meters, which allows the city to swiftly identify the location of water leaks and fix damaged pipes.

Mandalay is also using drones to capture survey data on 30,000 acres of undeveloped land, according to its smart city officer, Ye Myat Thu. “Now, we are trying to take survey data with the drones in the whole city, [to] leverage on the drainage system master plans,” he says. Data collected from the drones will be used for the master planning of drainage systems and other public infrastructure.

In China, Guangzhou is looking to enhance efficiency in road planning and public works. The city’s Nansha district government is partnering with Dassault Systèmes to build a 3D digital twin city that visualises the city’s plans for expanding its public infrastructure.

“We can apply the results of the digital programme to our administrative work,” says Nansha’s Wang. Through 3D modelling, the local government can visualise, simulate and track the potential impacts of massive building projects.

For instance, the government can simulate different ways of building a road, and experiment with different potential routes to maximise the efficiency a potential road would provide. “We can decide how to dig for roads, how much to dig, and when to dig,” says Wang.

As cities continue to develop and age, finding that sweet spot that marries efficiency, complexity and inclusivity can often be hard. But when done wisely, they can rapidly evolve to meet the needs of the future.