Hon Akwasi Konadu, Member of Parliament for Manhyia North
The World Cities Day is celebrated annually on the 31st of October. This day provides an opportunity to stimulate the interest of the international and local community in the burgeoning urbanization processes and its related challenges. This year focuses on the theme ‘‘Financingsustainable urban future for all’’ to explore ways to unleash game-changing investments in urban planning.
Generating the required investments for our urban future requires that we tick the right boxes by creating innovative and transformative policies backed by action to provide a fertile ground to unleash the investments we so desire.
The world today is changing faster than anticipated, and thus, cities should also transform to meet the ever-changing world. Artificial Intelligence, smart housing and smart cities remain the fulcrum, driving big investmentsworldwide; Africa and Ghana should not be left behind. As I will show, digitalization (i.e. agenda to promote Smart Growth) is the key to unlocking investments in our cities.
The City: A chequered experience
‘’We live in the age of the city. The city is everything to us- it consumes us, and for that reason we glorify it’’ — Onookome Okome Cities are the physical manifestation of the big forces at play—economic forces, culture, social forces and until recently, technological forces. Okome was right, after all, everyone dreams of living the city life.
Cities today represent wealth, good life, high social standing, improved medical care, quality education and the like. It is therefore justifiable for many to seek greener pastures in big towns serving as a haven for escaping chronic poverty.
Indeed, statistics on the world urbanization trend aren’t far from the truth. Empirically, it is estimated that over 54 per cent of the global urban population resides in urban areas representing a whopping 3.9 billion people, a figure which is projected to reach somewhat 66 per cent in 2050. Thus, the relevance of the city today cannot be over-emphasized.
Nevertheless, for some, cities depict desperation, hopelessness, cruelty, and violence; yet an awesome sight to behold. This is summed up by Chris Abani as he let his mind drift as he stared at the city, ‘’half slum, half paradise. How could a place be so ugly and violent, yet beautiful at the same time?’’ As Chris rightly observed, contemporary cities have a chequered experience: half slum, half paradise. Perhaps Vanessa Watson was right; the planned city sweeps the poor away.
Planning serves to promote social and spatial exclusion between the haves and have-nots; the bourgeoisie and proletariat. Yet the mass exodus of people to the city isn’t showing any sign of slowing down, at least not in the foreseeable future.
One could argue that many cities, particularly in the global south are increasingly being burdened with the influx of people. Owing to limited opportunities, supporting infrastructure and services, Africa’s urbanization could spare more doom and chaos if the status quo remains unchanged.
Cities, therefore, need to be more efficient and effective with access to real-time information and the supporting infrastructure if we are to realise the full potential of the city. Take Accra and Kumasi for example, traffic volumes and congestion have become unprecedented. Travel time has increased greatly affecting businesses and crippling the economy. Of course, successive governments continue to construct new roads, expand existing ones, and in some cases overhead bridges have been constructed, yet no significant improvement.
Smart cities hold the key to optimizing the potential of the urban areas. A smart city by definition is a technologically modern area employing different electronic systems to collect real time data. It uses information and communication technology to improve operational efficiency, share information with the public and provide a better quality of government service and citizen welfare.
The central idea of a smart city is to optimise city functions and economic growth while simultaneously improving the quality of life of the people through smart electronic devices. Smart cities (i.e. the internet of things) could provide real data on city functions and virtual platforms for engaging and getting things done. For this to happen, one of the major pillars is an improved infrastructure base around technology and a general shift from the status quo to a digital world.
Digitalization is therefore critical in achieving a smart Accra and a smart Kumasi.
Digitalization Agenda: Unlocking investments for our urban futureOver the past 6years or more, His Excellency, the Vice President Alhaji Dr. Mahamudu Bawumia, begun a campaign for the digitalization of the Ghanaian economy.
He believes and rightly so that through the famous ECOWAS Identity Card (i.e. Ghana Card) and a central database linking anindividual’s Social security number, Sim card, and Bank account provides a huge opportunity to accelerate the smart city concept.
This initiative is expected to improve access to mobile internet and broadband services for over 6 million Ghanaians particularly those in the rural area where internet connectivity remains a challenge.
This opens the floodgate for public and private sector investments and fosters private and public sector partnership as a chunk of the work to create and maintain a data-driven environment falls squarely on both sectors. Undoubtedly, this will promote digital inclusion.
Already, evidence from Ghana’s digital sector points to a promising start, with the sector recording an average annual growth of 19 per cent between 2014 to 2020. Smart city in Ghana is gradually becoming a reality although one could argue that more needs to be done.
Remarkably, smart surveillance cameras, a tenet of the smart city concept are being felt in Ghana’s major cities. Major happenings in our cities especially on our roads are gradually being captured on a daily basis; fast-tracking Police investigations of crime and accident scenes. Ride-hailing apps have today made it convenient for spatial interaction (i.e. movement of people) to happen. Ghana Post GPS and the street naming system all provide a solid foundation to usher us into smart Accra and smart Kumasi.
Ghana’s digitalization project towards creating smart cities will make for more effective, data-driven decision-making for individuals and informs public policy. With access to data and information, citizens will be more inclined to engage government officials through stakeholders’ forums and other engagements to shape public policies and interventions.
Leveraging on information and technology, crime and other violent acts will be minimized through technologies such as license plate recognition, gunshot detectors and street cameras. This will put law enforcers a step ahead and improve response time to crime scenes. More so, through improved technology and the emergence of a digital economy, enough revenue will be mobilized as many will be drawn into the tax net to finance public expenditure.
A call to stakeholders:
In all these, MMDCE’s and urban Planners to incorporate technological infrastructure in their District Development Plans with adequate resource assignment. This will be geared toward sexpanding mobile internet and broadband service connectivity in the districts. Moving forward, Planning Authorities should engage telecommunication service providers through private and public partnership to invest in the sector. Members of Parliament should therefore advocate strongly for the adoption of improved technology in the administrative processes by the various MMDAs; in the revenue mobilization for the payment of fees and fines, permit application, property rates etc. this does not only make payment convenient and reliable, but also ensures transparency and accountability while generating the needed investment to finance the sustainable urban future for all.
Source: Ghana/otecfmghana.com/ Michael Ofosu-Afriyie, Kumasi.