The rise of smart cities in China

The rise of smart cities in China

China is leading the global race to create smart cities -- digitising urban areas by using big data processing and analysis powered by artificial inrelligence (AI) to help manage resources and public spaces for urban living.

Smart cities aim to enhance the efficiency and quality of our everyday life in areas such as mobility, communication, shopping and housing, mainly with the use of technology such as connected devices, big data and cloud computing. With greater urbanisation, incorporating intelligence into infrastructure could also help expanding cities meet the needs of more people with fewer resources.

The development of smart cities in China is primarily top-down and predominantly driven by government investment, but there is significant opportunity for partnership with private tech companies looking to transform urban living. At the same time, the development of smart cities aligns with China's regional development plans as most projects are located along the more economically developed eastern seaboard.

Currently, China has about 800 smart city pilot programmes under way, which is more than half of the world total. In doing so, the government strives to promote deep integration of next-generation IT with housing and urban-rural development, as well as foster high-quality development.

The smart cities initiative was established in the 12th Five-Year Plan issued in 2011. Over the years, Shanghai, Beijing, Guangzhou, Xi'an, Yinchuan and Hangzhou have become examples of older urban areas that have been transformed.

For instance, in Hangzhou, the "City Brain" system designed by Alibaba has been in use since 2016. An AI system that uses big data and computing power to monitor, improve and fix traffic problems, it has successfully helped reduce traffic congestion by 15%.

Closer to home, Thailand is also catching up. It has set an ambitious goal to turn 100 urban areas nationwide into smart cities by 2022 with an aim to improve the economy and quality of life in line with the government's 20-year national strategy. The characteristics of smart cities under the plan cover seven aspects -- economy, mobility, energy, living, people, governance and the environment.

Cities in six provinces -- Bangkok, Phuket, Chiang Mai, Khon Kaen, Chon Buri, Rayong and Chachoengsao -- have begun the process of transforming themselves. In order to get approval for smart city development, they must meet five criteria: have clear geographical boundaries and smart city goals; have an infrastructure investment and development plan; have a design for an open and secure city data platform; provide smart city solutions; and use a sustainable management model.

Approved cities are entitled to use the Smart City Thailand logo, and can apply for investment privileges from the Board of Investment.

It will be interesting to see how smart cities evolve over the coming years and how their "digital brains" and big data-driven initiatives can help improve quality of life and protect the environment, as well as create new possibilities in how we live and work in the post-Covid-19 world.

Suwatchai Songwanich is an executive vice-president with Bangkok Bank. For more columns in this series please visit

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