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In this article, Daan Elffers, Founder and CEO of EMG, sheds light on the meaning of ‘smart cities’ and on the importance of these with regards to driving socially responsible behaviour. With offices based in Amsterdam, Cambridge, London and Dubai, EMG is an advisory firm that is on the cutting edge of corporate social responsibility (CSR) thinking, strategising, and implementation. In 2014, Elffers initiated the “Islamic Reporting Initiative” (IRI).

August 2015

Over half of the global population resides in urban areas and by 2050, growth is anticipated to reach two thirds. Already, urban areas and cities are responsible for much of the world’s resource consumption and emissions, and, with the expected increase in urban population, challenge pertaining to the sustainable development of global society are set to amplify. As such, it comes as no surprise perhaps that governments and industry are looking at cities for solution to many of these challenges. And, with the continually evolving nature of technology, the economy and society, the need for a real-time solution has spawned the concept of a ‘smart city.’

From a technical perspective, a smart city refers to the integration and coordination of ICT with more traditional infrastructures, products and services; a concept increasingly referred to as the ‘internet of things’ (IoT). The IoT is a network of connecting ‘things,’ including people. On a broad scale, and when applied to cities, the IoT can be used to help with transportation, reduce waste, manage health and improve efficiency and effectiveness of how we use ‘things’ every day. From a more conceptual perspective, a smart city is one that is intelligent; it is responsive, adaptable, resilient and high-value. It does not only serve as a means to address global and local challenges, but also as a means to improve the quality of life at the scale of the individual.

The reality of a smart city in its fullest capacity, where the IoT allows for almost infinite connections to take place, is exciting but difficult to comprehend – in part because much of the technology is still at pre-commercial stage. Similarly, while new challenges that will likely arise from a smart city are also relatively unknown, it isn’t stopping forward-thinking governments and organisations from initiating and developing long-term, smart visions.

Dubai is a leader in this concept, with His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, launching a strategy in 2014 to transform Dubai into a smart city by leveraging the potential of the IoT. It has been estimated that USD 7-8 billion will be invested in the development of the smart city, focusing on the pillars of life, society, mobility, economy, governance and environment. Through this vision, a handful of smart city projects have been created, such as; the Desert Rose Housing Project, the Silicon Park Project, the Sustainable City, and the World Expo 2020 Masterplan.

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