The Association for Welfare, Community and Dialogue is concerned that issues related to the urban poor seem to have taken a back seat while plans for turning cities into ‘smart green cities’ have gained prominence.
According to press reports, the government aims to turn the federal territories into ‘smart cities’ by 2030.
Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim said this is in line with the concept of “Malaysia Madani”, which also emphasises sustainability with the concept of a green city and smart city.
“The Federal Territories Department has also drawn up a development agenda for the future in a sustainable, liveable and smart manner.”
It is obvious that the PM has not addressed how the urban poor will be integrated into this smart green city or how he plans to ensure information and communications technology, which is key to unlocking the potential of cities, is not merely a gadget for rich, and their investments, but a tool that will also emancipate the urban poor.
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According to research, although ICT has recently revolutionised human settlements, its allocation and availability have not been evenly distributed globally. Consequently, the urban poor have often been excluded from government-driven smart city projects due to their inability to access and use ICT.
Of greater concern is the massive smart city development pursued by many developing nations which exclude the poor altogether.
Prof Robert Hollands of Newcastle University wrote that since smart cities are sponsored primarily by the richest segments of society, large-scale smart infrastructure initiatives fail to consider “serious problems like poverty, inequality and discrimination”.
The example of India’s smart cities project is a concerning precedent. The private corporations responsible for developing much of the land have benefited from government efforts to loosen eminent domain laws, allowing them to force local farmers off their land. In turn, commercial development of this land will create few housing units, spend a full 70% of its budget on land occupied by just 4% of the population, and force tens of thousands of the urban poor into slums.
In Rwanda, where the city of Kigali is the site of a new smart city initiative, its builders project that homes will cost nearly $200,000 (RM851,600), in a region where the average income is just $200 per month.
It is little surprise then that critics have labelled these projects “social apartheid” – smart public transit, waste disposal and policing seem largely projects made by and for the rich.
So the government must address issues concerning the urban poor – in terms of their human capital development related to digital and green technological skills and social infrastructure – to ensure their upward mobility and protect their identity and autonomy, which would balance the uneven nature of smart city development.
This includes the importance of local government elections, which could help to bring about the aspirations of society into the governance of smart cities. – The Malaysian Insight