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A scientist’s opinion : Interview with Dr Rini Rachmawati about smart cities

Dr Rini Rachmawati Interview skyline of modern city with skyscrapers and blue sky

Is smart city planning the same around the globe? Interview with Rini Rachmawati.

Dr Rini Rachmawati, researcher of urban and regional planning : “As far as urban infratructure is concerned, smart city planning has been heavily employed in Asia, where not only large cities, but also rural areas are expected to become smart. Socio-economic aspects, however, are only beginning to become a priority. At the same time, in some areas of Europe, counter-urbanization has been on its way.”

Does Asian city planning face a challenge similar to that of the European one where a major change occured in the concept of “smart city” planning, focusing more on the environment and social well-being of citizens? 

Rini Rachmawati: In Asia today, city planning is focused on an attempt to implement the concept of smart city. Indonesia and India are just trying to put into effect the program of 100 smart cities. At the beginning of the process of implementing smart city planning, Indonesia initially focused on smart governance and later on smart economy. Today it focuses on the aspects of smart environment and smart society. According to the Ministry of Communication and Informatics of the Republic of Indonesia, smart environment comprises the aspects of environmental preservation, garbage and waste management and sustainable energy development. 

In relation to the environmental and economic issues, sharing economy, ride sharing for instance has not gained great popularity in Asia or in Indonesia. A specific policy in Jakarta aimed at reducing transportation density and traffic congestion. But in reality, the three in one policy failed to reduce these problems. Online transportation services, especially on Indonesian and Vietnamese streets are more common. Their presence is a great help for the public, due to the limited number of public transportation means. From an environmental perspective, however, online transport services are not recommended. It would be better if smart transportation and smart mobility were developed in the form of adequate public transport.

In Europe, many cities have long been developed in a smart way, and the same is true of smart people, smart environment and smart living. It is mainly because smart city planning in Europe is more focused on smart environment and smart society. The ability of the people using ICT is more widespread as well as the people’s awareness of a well-managed environment, better urban infrastructure and a smart transportation system. Among Asian countries, Singapore’s smart city planning is the most similar to the European way of pursuing smart city programs. 

While at the beginning of the new millennium smart city programs focused on technology, today they tend to prioritise human-centered urban planning and green city programs. Does this apply to Asia, are these changes inevitable?

Rini Rachmawati: Smart city programs today are not focused exclusively on technology, but also on the balance of living with the environment in a more harmonious way. Public participation in the management of environmental issues has long been running well. Many efforts have been made by many cities to become greener. 

On the other hand, especially in Europe, a process of counter-urbanization is taking place. While in Asia large-scale urbanization is shifting towards the suburbs, creating what is commonly called sub-urbanization, big European cities may experience a threat because of the decreasing number of people who want to live there, as they prefer to live in places where they feel more comfortable. Big cities may become deserted and not cared for well due to the decreasing number of their citizens. According to some of my research results, the use of ICT can lead to decentralization, whether it is a place for living, office, or business.  Meanwhile, urbanization is a phenomenon that takes place on a large scale in Asian countries. Therefore big cities equipped with the applications of smart city concepts including that of the smart environment are in focus.

Smaller cities tend to be left behind in development while trying to become smart cities. What are the best methods for smaller settlements to keep up with smartification?

Rini Rachmawati: Not only big cities, but also small and medium ones are now prepared to become smart nowadays. In Asia, regions and villages are headed towards the state of becoming smart regions and smart villages. Being smart does not always mean that ICT has to be extensively used. The management of environmental issues initiated by the people who live in a housing complex, for example, can also be called smart, and this can be supported by a smart community on a small and traditional scale, too.  

With the environmental and migration crises of the 21st century, social and environmental sustainability is thought to be increasingly important in development planning. What could make urban planning utilize a more multidisciplinary approach?

Rini Rachmawati: City planning must indeed be made by applying a multidisciplinary approach. It should be comprehensive and executed by experts from different fields of science. This is because city planning does not only include physical and infrastructural, but also socio-economic and other aspects. Therefore, it is necessary to involve professionals from different backgrounds in science to work together. When planning the development of a certain area, it is thus necessary to focus on programs that prioritize the involvement of various sectors. The emphasis of a sector should also be seen in relation with others, so that integrated city planning can be accomplished.

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