Clare Nuttall in Astana -
Astana is the first city in Central Asia to embark upon a wide-reaching programme to introduce new technologies in public services from medicine to transport. The "Smart Astana" project emulates those launched in Scandinavia and Japan, with the aim of making it easier and more efficient to provide services to the population.
The first stages of Smart Astana, which includes more than 10 separate projects, have already been launched. According to Astana Innovations, which was set up by the Astana akimat (city government) to carry out high-tech projects in the city, the e-Ambulance, School of the Future and Open WiFi components have already produced results. E-Ambulance, for example, saw the introduction of tablet computers and video conferencing for the city's ambulance service, reducing diagnostic disparities between ambulances and hospitals.
The next two pilot projects are in the areas of street lighting and water management. Under Smart LED, existing streetlights will be replaced with LED lamps, resulting in power savings of up to 25%. Meanwhile, the water management project will increase the efficiency of Astana's water distribution system, and cut losses from 21% to 8%. These will be followed by the launch of the Intelligent Transport and Secure City projects. "In the 21st century we can no longer use the old techniques and approaches. We want to change the situation in Astana and the mentality of its citizens through the Smart Astana project, creating an environment that will give every citizen the opportunity to solve their problems and ensure their needs are met," Astana's mayor, Imangeldi Tasmagambetov, told the Smart Astana conference on September 26.
A roadmap for Smart Astana, covering the period until 2020, will be drawn up based on recommendations made at the conference, though much of the work will be carried out by 2017 when Astana is due to host the EXPO-2017 world fair. "We should understand that the implementation of such a large project requires significant financial and physical resources, and public and private sector investments. But believe me, it is worth it," Tasmagambetov told delegates.
New city advantage
As a relatively new city, Astana has an advantage when introducing modern technologies since it does not have to deal with legacy systems, in the way that cities in, for example, western Europe do. Much of the city's infrastructure is entirely new. The left bank of the city, where government offices and increasingly business and residential property are located, was built in the last 15 years, since Astana became Kazakhstan's new capital.
Migration into Astana is continuing, and part of the project's aim is to prepare for future increases in population, with Kazakhstan, like other countries, seeing a steady trend of urbanisation. "By 2050, 70% of the world's population will live in cities. Astana's population is expected to grow to more than 1m," says Sayat Nyusupov, chairman of the board of Astana Innovations. "The Smart City development concept, which was approved in 2011, will help us to prepare for the challenges of the growing city. We want to enable businesses to get the information they need and for citizens to feel confident and safe. We are working to make Astana the best city, at least in our region, so the smartest people will come to live and work here."
City officials working on Smart Astana have drawn on the experience of Japan's Future Cities project, and developments in Chicago and Oulu, Finland, both of which have extreme climates similar to Astana's. More than 3bn people worldwide use technologies developed in Oulu, which has a population of just 250,000 people.
However, top-down measures are not the only factor critical to the success of the project. "Broadband connectivity is the most important factor. Every smart initiative begins with the ability to move large amounts of information from one place to another," Chicago-based PwC partner Christopher O'Brien told the conference. Internet penetration is growing rapidly in Astana, with the number of internet users now over 60%.
After its introduction in Astana, the smart city project might be replicated in other fast-growing Kazakhstani cities, such as Almaty and Shymkent.
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