Smart city efforts could land Africa its first mega region

Wed, 2014-11-05 06:00 -- Kevin Ebi

Within the next decade, there will be 30 mega cites around the world, half concentrated in a handful of developing economies, according to research by Frost & Sullivan.

Africa is poised to get one, and its smart cities drive is one of the main reasons why.

Frost & Sullivan says the world is becoming more urban. Close to two-thirds of the world’s population could be in urban environments by this time next decade.

Cities are becoming bigger. Some are getting so big they’re turning into mega cities. Some mega cities are swallowing their suburbs and becoming mega regions. And some mega regions are fusing together to become mega corridors.

Johannesburg: not mega yet
Johannesburg isn’t quite mega. A mega city has at least 5 million residents; a mega region has at least 10 million. By 2020, Frost & Sullivan predicts Johannesburg and five neighboring cities will together have a population just short of 7 million.

But even short of that mark, the smart cities revolution in the so-called Jo-Toria region will contribute about $15 billion each year to the area’s economy by 2020. That’s not the total value of the economy. That figure represents new value created through efficiency gains and spurring new business and innovation.

Transforming the economy
Johannesburg is in the midst of transforming its economy from one dependent on natural resources and mining, to one that’s involved in a wide range of other growth areas.  Although mining and natural resources will remain important in the years to come, Johannesburg Mayor Mpho Parks Tau said earlier this year, "we will give particular attention to those economic activities and sectors that will position Joburg as a global city of the future."

And the mayor believes becoming a smart city will help them achieve that goal.

The city has already installed a number of Wi-Fi hotspots to improve Internet access, and plans to install 1,000 more within the next few years. Many residents are already separating their waste, part of a plan to cut the amount sent to landfills by 20% by next year.

Another key smart cities initiative also involves overhauling its public transportation. So far, the city has converted two buses to run on compressed natural gas and diesel, and will convert 30 more shortly. The converted buses have 90% lower carbon emissions, but also cost less to operate, since the fuel comes from local waste and crops.

Johannesburg isn't alone
Dare Ogunlade, General Manager for Nigeria, Ghana, Liberia and Sierra Leone for Council Lead Partner Cisco, recently told BizTech Africa that West African governments are showing increased interest in smart cities and the advantages technology can bring to their citizens.

“It is new, but we are seeing growing interest from regional and local authorities. They are showing they are not afraid to embrace change,” said Ogunlade, who also noted there has been good progress on connectivity and cloud adoption.

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