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Experts put heads together on urban smartness

Incheon is host to groups searching for clever sustainability
May 29,2019
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Speakers and panelists of The 2nd Smart City International Symposium, including Microsoft CityNext director Rahul Savdekar, third from left; Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport Vice Minister Park Sun-ho, tenth from left; and Incheon Mayor Park Nam-chun, 11th from left; pose for a photo marking the opening of the forum on Tuesday at Songdo Convensia. [SMART CITY INTERNATIONAL SYMPOSIUM]
SONGDO, Incheon - Smart city experts from around the world gathered Tuesday to discuss how to make both urban and rural areas more sustainable using such digital technologies as artificial intelligence (AI), big data and the Internet of Things (IoT).

While the idea of a smart city may not be new anymore, “the world is still looking for sustainable city models that can resolve the problems that arise in crowded urban areas,” said Son Bong-soo, president of the Korea Agency for Infrastructure Technology Advancement (KAIA), in opening remarks at the 2nd Smart City International Symposium at the Songdo Convensia.

Different ideas on smart cities were introduced at the forum, which had the theme “Smart Sustainable Cities & Societies.”

“Innovation and sharing are two key tasks in establishing a sustainable city,” Park Nam-choon, Incheon mayor, said in his welcome speech, adding that he personally hopes to make Incheon a smart city and share its know-how with other cities to allow Incheon to play a central role in sustainable urban development in Korea.

“If the relationship between South and North Korea further improves, we intend to share Incheon’s know-how with North Korean cities as well,” Park said.

Rahul Savdekar, director of Microsoft CityNext, presented a special session during the forum and explained the role of big data and cloud-based “digital twins” in improving cities.

“We all know IoT as a technology,” Savdekar said. “It has been a buzzword in smart city development.” What we often don’t think about, he continued, is the data generated by IoT sensors.

“Millions and trillions of sensors send out data every couple of seconds, minutes, couple of hours and days,” Savdekar added. “[We need to] figure out how to store and use the data and how much intelligence we can derive from that data.”

A digital twin is a replica of real architecture or a real system in the virtual world so technology developers can test various scenarios in the virtual space rather than in real space.

Some presenters stressed the need for people’s behavioral changes as crucial factors in realizing a truly smart city.

“When people talk about smart cities, they usually talk about it as if it’s some kind of technology, but it’s not,” said Lee Sang-hoon, managing director of KAIA. “Technology is a facilitator ... There is so much more to smart cities and our approach must differ based on a fuller definition of smart cities.”

According to Lee, a smart city is a complicated ecosystem made up of physical urban space, people, administrative authorities, business, civic organizations and other players. To satisfy people living in a smart city, there need to be discussions involving all stakeholders rather than the government building infrastructure through top-down orders.

Lee said many pilot smart city projects by the Korean government haven’t worked out due to rash decisions by governments, changes in government policies and - most essentially - the top-down decision-making process.

Jorge Saraiva, a leader of the European Innovation Partnership on Smart Cities & Communities, said smart solutions involve resource optimization and behavioral changes.

Talking about Kamikatsu, a small village in Japan where the residents started recycling in 45 categories under a zero-waste plan after the village was overloaded with garbage, Saraiva said there was “no technology there” but people’s needs brought significant change to the city.

“You cannot have resource optimization if you don’t have behavior change, you cannot talk about car-sharing without talking about behavior changes,” he said. “The future of smart cities should be cooperative ... with all stakeholders.”

Rhu Seok-sang, vice president of the department of ICT convergence at the National Information Society Agency, raised the need to develop rural areas into smart villages while developing smart cities for balance.

“Why do we have to care about rural areas? Because [urban and rural areas] are connected,” Rhu said.

According to Rhu, people in rural areas are isolated from the technological development in smart cities and their earnings also fall short.

“Our agency has started smart village projects from this year, and our goal is to help people in rural areas actually make use of technology, not just establish infrastructure,” Rhu said. “Another goal is to help each farmer increase productivity using technology.”

Technologies being considered include using drones to look for mountain fires and other security measures and using IoT to raise livestock.

Other speakers and panelists included Ulrich Ahle, CEO of Fiware Foundation, which offers an open source platform; Emilie Potvin, a director of Uber; and Shin Yong-sik, a vice president of SK Telecom.

Over 600 people attended Tuesday’s forum, according to the event organizer. The symposium was hosted by the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport, Ministry of Science and ICT as well as Incheon city and was organized by KAIA and the Incheon Free Economic Zone.

BY KIM JEE-HEE [kim.jeehee@joongang.co.kr]