While there are numerous definitions of what constitutes a smart city, the crux of the concept lies in using digital technologies to better the lives of its citizens – through improved public service delivery and increased efficiency in governance systems via interconnecting of data portals and bringing uniformity across government data management platforms.
As Indonesians in large numbers move to the cities, there has been an increase in adoption of smart-city technologies and approaches across many local cities. At the national level, the 100 Smart Cities Plan has been announced, which aims to deal with the scores of issues this rapid urbanization will bring about such as waste management, transportation and law enforcement.
Cities like Jakarta, Bandung and Makassar have established command rooms to obtain solutions to real-time urban problem such as traffic congestion through a more synchronized traffic monitoring system.
Another example is the Jakarta Smart City Program that was launched in 2014. The program aims to promote the use of digital solutions, such as public transportation app Trafi and citizen grievance portal Qlue, among residents as well as city bureaucracy.
With the advent of the COVID-19 pandemic, the government’s plans to enable smart cities has had to shift gears. The pandemic has put unforeseen pressure on the state machinery and caused important resources to be diverted toward increased health expenditure and economic stimuli to counter a decrease in economic growth.
Furthermore, in an attempt to slow the spread of the pandemic across the country, local authorities have showcased agility by repurposing smart city infrastructure in both disease-monitoring as well as recovery efforts. New research by the Future Cities Lab show that, command centers across the country have been swiftly mobilized into “COVID-19 War Rooms” to analyze and monitor COVID-19 hotspots.
The impact of the pandemic is unprecedented. Previous attempts to digitalize cities in developing countries focused on reorganizing state machinery with the help of technology. However, citizen adoption has often been lacking, thus reducing the effect of smart city initiatives.
The pandemic, however, is not only changing the manner of working at the state level, but also is bringing a more fundamental shift in the attitude and mindset of citizens toward adopting technological solutions.
COVID-19 has forced people from all walks of life to become comfortable with technology playing an integral role in their daily lives as they are compelled to work, study and collaborate from home. Cashless transactions are becoming du jour, virtual meetings are the new normal and food deliveries are on the rise. Even in the most social of cultures, the manner in which festivals and special occasions are celebrated has radically changed to allow for social distancing rules.
On a global level, the international scale of the pandemic has also called for an increase in cross-border flows of information and increased collaboration – an important aspect of establishing smart cities. As countries look toward their regional neighbors to learn from their experiences, the ASEAN Smart Cities Network is a platform that could accelerate the building of smart cities within the country by increased cooperation in the form of sharing best practices.
However, while there is urgency in adopting technical solutions to the problems at hand, countries should avoid rushing into half-baked digital governance tools. Due to the accelerated response rate required by the pandemic, most governments have been forced to employ quick-fix solutions. While these responses have been effective in the short-term as temporary remedies for the problem at hand, it is dangerous for them to become long-term fixtures without proper planning and research. For example, to have a better idea regarding the geographic spread of the virus, many countries have employed contact tracing apps. While these apps are beneficial in the current situation, without data privacy laws to control the usage of these apps, the results could be unfavourable in the long run.
While the pandemic has helped governments understand the importance of digital technology in governance and its benefits for citizen-centric public service delivery, countries should be aware of their digital maturity and avoid implementing rushed solutions without proper infrastructure and full analysis of their consequences.
The writer is a master’s candidate in public policy at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy at the National University of Singapore.
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not reflect the official stance of The Jakarta Post.