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Story | Community
28 January 2021

Five approaches to building smarter cities using innovation and sustainability


Msheireb Downtown Doha, the world’s first sustainable downtown regeneration project.

Image source: Heba Kanso, via REUTERS

At the Doha Smart Cities Summit 2020, organized by QF subsidiary Msheireb Properties, urban development experts discussed different ways of creating sustainable cities. Here are some of them.

Cities are expanding at an accelerated rate. The United Nations projects that 68% of the world’s population is expected to live in urban areas by 2050, making sustainable development of cities all the more important for a healthy and resource-efficient future.

To discuss the development of smart cities with innovation and green living at their core, experts from around the world shared their thoughts during the recent Doha Smart Cities Summit, organized virtually by Msheireb Properties, a subsidiary of Qatar Foundation.

The Msheireb Downtown Doha development combines architectural modernity with Qatari heritage. Image source: Heba Kanso, via REUTERS

A panel titled ‘Innovation and Sustainability: From Lifestyle Shift to Climate Change’ featured five experts and professionals from the smart city industry and focused on ways innovation and sustainability can be combined to make huge leaps towards sustainable development.

Here are five approaches presented during the panel:

1. Building smart cities require both a new mindset and new technologies
Various panelists stressed the importance of having a mindset to lead a sustainable lifestyle, both from the government and corporations as well as the citizens. However, they said a positive mindset cannot yield results without adequate technologies and solutions.

“We have no choice but to move forward with smarter solutions or an ecosystem of solutions, and the only way you could do that is by combining good concepts with technology. You need both but they must be hand-in-hand. Once you work out the concept you want and the technology you need, you can bring them together and there’s your solution,” said Adrian Wood, CEO of Siemens Qatar and Kuwait.

We have no choice but to move forward with smarter solutions or an ecosystem of solutions, and the only way you could do that is by combining good concepts with technology

Adrian Wood

“We sometimes see a good mindset initially but then is not driven rightly through a project. So, it really is about driving the mindset the right way with different stakeholders but keeping that mindset that ‘I want to be smarter and I will do better’ and not letting politics or finance get in the way.”

2. Advanced, globalized cities don’t need to lose local culture
Modern and highly tech-savvy cities are often developed as a city shaped and draped in glass without an identity but that shouldn’t be the case, according to Jason Twill, a regenerative development expert who is the Director of the World Cup Master Program at Qatar Foundation.

“I think we're still stuck in this kind of technocratic, mechanized way of thinking about cities, and so we have this issue of architecture sameness and place sameness happening,” said Twill, mentioning how Msheireb Downtown Doha, a sustainable regeneration project of Msheireb Properties, is challenging that assumption.

Msheireb is a great example that really committed to a different approach to regeneration

Jason Twill

“Msheireb is a great example that really committed to a different approach to regeneration. Drawing on the heritage and cultural values and anthropology and archaeology of this country, it came up with a regime of thinking about architecture differently but at the same time layering in a tremendous amount of technology to make extremely smart.”

“To attract talent and capital to cities, you really need to draw on the culture of the city and be hyperlocal to your place; to be a unique destination that would attract the kind of talent that wants to head to an authentic place.”

The Doha Smart Cities summit discussed the role of smart cities in a post-pandemic world.

3. Sustainable development thrives in a multi-sectoral ecosystem

For inclusive and sustainable development, societies need a balance between fulfilling the shortage of life’s essentials—such as food, housing, and healthcare—and overusing the planet’s finite resources like freshwater and air.

According to Leonie van den Beuken, Program Director of Amsterdam Smart City, this balance between shortfalls and overshoots—known as doughnut economics—is what’s helping Amsterdam become a smart city.

“Any success of this doughnut coalition lies in a long-term vision,” she said. “We need everyone in place: the government for regulation and subsidies, a market to design the technologies, societal foundations to make connections with citizens, and, of course, knowledge institutions to do deep-rooted research.

“As long as we are combining all these people and all these faults with a shared mindset of wanting to have this sustainable, thriving, inclusive, and fair city, we are a success.”

4. More fintech solutions can aid sustainability

According to Jan Reinmueller, Head of Digital Village at KPMG in Singapore, cities need to strengthen their financial institution and services using integration of technology to enhance and automate their services.

There's a correlation between economic efficiencies and sustainability

Jan Reinmueller

“There's a correlation between economic efficiencies and sustainability,” said Reinmueller. “What we have seen in the last couple of years really playing out well in Singapore is incredible new infrastructures to come up with these economic efficiencies, building fintech ecosystems, and looking into how we can help SMEs become more efficient.”

“Ultimately, you will also learn more about the data you capture because once you have digitized all of the different areas, you get a better understanding of where citizens spend their time and money.”

5. Connectivity is key to progressive urban development

Mahday Al Hebabi, Business Services Director at Vodafone Qatar, stressed on the importance of connectivity in building a smart city, not only via digital connections but also how these networks enhance the physical world, like tracking waste management or electricity usage.

“Our role is very important as a connectivity provider and a digital services provider to enable the foundation of the connectivity,” said Al Hebabi. “We believe any smart city needs a strong connectivity provider, and not a traditional provider but an innovative one with new technologies, new ideas, and optimal commercialization services.”

We believe any smart city needs a strong connectivity provider, and not a traditional provider but an innovative one

Mahday Al Hebabi

To find out more about what was explored at the Doha Smart Cities Summit, click here.

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