Written by: Mona Soukarieh
Translated by: Lina Yahya Raydan
Smart cities have started to take its urban shape in a number of countries, including Arab states, and the term "smart cities" started to be defined, marketed and debated in lectures, forums and conferences.
However; this term have not found so far a wide space in our Arab media -- written, audio or audio-visual-- despite that a number of experiments were carried out where buildings and small cities were accomplished and were named after smart buildings and cities.
What are smart or sustainable cities to be labeled "smart"?
In a simple definition, smart cities or buildings are the ones in which environment systems as of power use, temperature, lighting or sound control and workplace and communications are integrated.
It also could be defined as cities which attempt to develop and update their existence to meet modern standards, limit overpopulation and pollution and increase and sustain green spaces as well as to provide services via an interconnected electronic network and reduce power use through remote sensors; for example an escalator does not move except if a person stepped on it.
Of these cities which have become a fact is Masdar city in the middle of Abu Dhabi desert in the UAE. The city has been designed as one of the sustainable cities that depends on solar energy and wind farms to generate electricity free from carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions and is car- free region and is built on a digital platform that allows access to the advanced techniques which run it.
Moreover; CISCO --the well-known American Company-- has finished the design of "U" city in South Korea as an example on a smart city." U "city is scheduled to be completed by next year. In addition to that, many experiments of the kind were accomplished in various cities in European countries.
The report of the Japanese construction industry has identified three characteristics which should be in a building to be labeled "smart": the building must enjoy the most efficient ways to achieve appropriate and productive environment for its users, it must meet its users' demands and it must counter external factors as of climate, fire to security protection.
International market estimates related to investments in smart cities expect investments in smart cities to amount up to $ two trillion by the year 2020. These numbers reveal the size of the high demand on technology, informatics and renewable energy in the coming years.
Conferences in Amman, Beirut
About two years ago, Fredich Aabert- Foundation, Lebanon organized a workshop over two days in Amman, Jordan during which the attendees discussed green economy and smart cities issues as well as other modern terms new to our vocabulary.
And on 4, 5 November 2014, the said company organized a symposium during which concerned specialists put down a road map for sustainable cities in the Middle East, proposed many suggestions which pinpointed the negatives and positives of the Arab cities' status as well as their ability either to shift towards sustainable cities or the possibility to create pure smart cities as is happening in the Gulf countries-where finances allow that.
In the outcome of the two-day conference in Beirut, Doctor Mohsen Abou Naja, senior architects from Cairo and the supervisor on the implementation of the green economy projects in Dubai linked the need for governmental and civil community planning and construction of secured buildings that meet the green environmental standards to the change in the already established cities or the ones to established.
Abou Naja stressed that the information acquired is basic in carrying out a successful plan and in strengthening and spreading awareness, underscoring that information changes after a certain period to knowledge which in its turn leads to planning, developing initiatives and programs and updating monitoring and surveillance tools.
Abou Naja highlighted need to identify gaps in order to build sustainable cities, to promote analysis processes and to confront obstacles, before embarking on carrying out any strategy.
He also noted that sustainable development concept is the best way to reach sustainable cities as it focuses on integrating economic, political and social aspects to the environmental element so as to ensure a viable environment, not to mention the importance of the role of awareness, education, building capacities and establishing balance.
Dr. Rami Daher from Jordan underscored need to found public spaces, wondering to what extent it is possible to face the Neo-liberalism which threatens our cities.
Daher pointed to the neoliberal threats which result from oil surpluses and its capitals which encourage investment in private sector instead of public spaces, criticizing such projects.
“Some seek to found private spaces not public ones, just as Solidere," Dr. Daher said criticizing said projects.
Byblos (Jbeil) City
Jbeil city has been present as a model on which work is ongoing to transform it to a sustainable city.
Accordingly, Engineer Antony Sfeir described Jbeil as "the most powerful and resilient," adding "we are facing climate change, population and urban growth and absence of maintenance on infrastructure not to mention political and security conflicts in the neighboring region."
Talking about the city development and preserving its heritage, Sfeir said that the municipality has established a 13,000m2 car-free park to lessen emissions and provided small-scale means of transportation into the town.
He noted that they are currently working on a project on the use of energy and water which will be completed in the year 2015 and is considered the first sustainable project.
Sfeir said that they are working on accomplishing the said project after Jbeil was chosen among 33 cities to maintain steadfastness, be ready to face any disaster and be able to recover.
He noted that engineers, municipality and citizens were involved in this project which enables them to formulate the city's steadfastness strategy.
In conclusion, smart cities might be new cities constructed in a smart way from the very beginning or cities built for a special purpose-- so as to be industrial ones or scientific compounds – and then transformed into a smart city depending on the targets of those responsible for its planning.
Thus, it foresees --in the said field-- the future on both economic and social levels and allows monitoring basic infrastructure including roads, bridges, subways, rail ways, airports, ports, communications, water and energy in order to acquire the utmost from resources and security, and to provide services to citizens as well as a sustainable environment.
But, the human being as a moral conscience responsible value is and will always be the cornerstone of any target of development and its backbone regardless the grave development of technology means.