Smart Digital and Technologies to enhance Social Equity

Smart Digital and Technologies to enhance Social Equity

The Triple Bottom Line of Smart Sustainable Cities

Smart and sustainable cities; there are many articles on how smart and sustainable cities are designed and the amount of technologies and digital workflows that go into the making and operating of these cities. Having said, there are not much written about the social aspects of smart cities which are requirements in the ISO 37105 and 37106 i.e., sustainable cities and communities. This is even more so for smart technologies that goes into ensure social equity in these cities.

Social equity; it is one of the circles in John Elkinton’s Venn diagram on people, profit and planet or social, economics, and environment. Social equity would equate to the “people and social” considerations in sustainability.

Smart and sustainable cities not only have good design, good infrastructure, and technologies but also have good feedback, a people interaction system that has a digital workflow to feedback and comments as well as quick and actionable traits to complaints. My take is that smart and sustainable cities have to improve the quality of life of the people living in these cities which are underpinned by using smart technologies and digital processes. 

Why the Importance of People

The people aspect of the triple bottom line sometimes does not get an equal weightage to that of, say, energy or waste. That is because literally, there is little correlation to the carbon output juxtapose to the delight factor of people. It may be inverse. For instance, if you want to be comfortable in an airconditioned room, you will need to have a comfortable 24 degrees setting. However, if you have it at 26 degrees or higher for a naturally ventilated office space, it may be uncomfortable for someone in a tie or jacket (or both). Therefore, the consideration of the “delight factor” of people is always important when it comes to designing buildings and cities. This will also include safety, comfort, and a barrier-free environment. 

Integrated Safety Management 

Safety in smart and sustainable cities is a given. Not only will technologies help in virtual patrolling, but they must also help pre-empt possible crime and disturbances so that emergency vehicles can be placed at strategic locations to respond swiftly to these emergencies. Digital assets, sensors with cleverly crafted algorithms, can be put into platforms (such as SJ’s 24K) so that there is an element of intelligent monitoring. With sufficient data, platforms will be able to carry out predictive maintenance, informing technicians when digital assets will fail and thus can be repaired and maintained during silent hours and when it is most convenient to citizens. Imagine having the lift breaking during peak hours where most residents are requiring the lifts to go to work or come home.

With Singapore’s digital assets aging progressively, such digital monitoring becomes more and more important. In addition, with proper monitoring, there would be an additional layer of safety. We have, in our 30 years of data gathering, gathered data that would empirically show that with one set of results obtained, in two weeks, there would be some repairs needed. 

For instance, we have noticed when the lift does not align to the landing even by half a centimeter, we would know definitively that in a few weeks, there would be a very high probability that there would be a situation of man-trap. When we detect such data, we would be able to inform the relevant parties to repair the lift, eliminating the chance of man-trap. 

When smart and sustainable cities fall short on the human aspect, cities may see only a certain type of demography staying in the city or, at night you will not find many people venturing out because it is unsafe. Pickpocketing and even battery can happen frequently. But when a city is designed around its people, then there would be well-lit covered walkways, close circuit cameras cover most aspects and there will not be any dead-zone or dark areas that are not frequented. Having a safe and conducive environment is not only needed for living, but for economic prosperity at the same time.

Where there is a strong feedback culture by the citizen who can give feedback without fear or favor, designs, maintenance and management can then respond effectively to their feedback. 

But when a city is designed around its people, then there would be well-lit covered walkways, close circuit cameras cover most aspects and there will not be any dead-zone or dark areas that are not frequented

This means that the area managers and facilities management is listening and delight factor and liveability goes up. This then sparks more people to give feedback, improving the quality of life of the people in the cities. It can also be used as a political tool whereby Politicians will be able to know the pulse and sentiments of these people staying in the ward, the response of facilities managers and vendors as well as how to improve the liveability of the space.Another good example would be having CCTV cameras linked up in an Integrated Command and Control Centre (iC3). iC3 concepts are not new and have been around for several decades. But the news iC3 are more digitally inclined and connected with IoT sensors. Response time, tracking of perpetrators, and monitoring spaces in cities become easier with video analytic layers and a strong infrastructure outlay such as 5G. 

City Feedback Management

In all Smart and Sustainable Cities, there is a need for a strong feedback culture that will form the sentimental analysis of citizens living in these cities. This can be in the form of a 24 x7 call center or an application that can take into account remote feedback with photographs by the citizens. It would be a simple “snap and send” and the application will do the rest to monitor when the feedback was sent, when the maintenance crew received the notification, and how long it took to repair and address the feedback.

Such a feedback system is important because it takes the direct feedback from citizens wholesale into the Common Data Environment (CDE) platform to be processed. It is the best source of data once can have to analyze and monitor response time by vendors. This shall also form the premise of good performing contractors and maintenance vendors who have a good maintenance and response strategy by having a shorter response and delivery time.

However, at times, feedback doesn’t come into the CDE as we want them to be. For instance, they may not be categorized properly by the call iC3 personnel or, they may be entered incorrectly. This will cause our data engineers much time and effort to “clean” the data so that it can be more usable. What can be done is to have a Natural Language Processing layer to assist in categorizing the feedback properly so that the data can be used better. This would bring in the discipline of data scientists and data engineers into smart and sustainable cities management, providing more job opportunities for people to retool and re-skill and perhaps upgrade themselves.

Sentimental analysis and subsequent data visualisation are fast becoming an important tool for smart and sustainable cities. With that, city managers and political parties will know the pulse of the people staying in these cities, knowing how to manage critical issues before they go out of hand as well as the address where the “hotspots” are. 

Good Environment Quality 

Good environment quality is also an important element in smart and sustainable cities. As the term suggests, environment quality is the quality of the environment in a smart and sustainable city. It would suggest both indoor and outdoor environments. Say the planning and design of these smart and sustainable cities are good (as a given), then there must be a way to monitor these environments during the post-occupancy, which is a sort of post-occupancy evaluation of the city spaces and environment. Having a good environment would mean the citizens in that space would be comfortable and are comforted that the environment is monitored for their comfort.

This can be swiftly and cost-effectively carried out by deploying sensors in these spaces to monitor environmental data that can range from temperature, humidity, people counting and even pest such as rodents and mosquitoes. These sensors are then linked to a CDE platform and will ingest this information. Through analytics and with a visualization tool, we can easily see the hotspots (literally) at spaces or a build-up of poisonous gas at bus parks and depots. The CDE platform can be programmed with business rules and code of practice benchmarks and requirements and when the sensors pick up the environment is going to exceed the limits set, the CDE platform will be able to automatically inform the maintenance crew or the operations working in the iC3.


Having a strong Social Equity consideration in the planning, design, and technology rollout plan for Smart and Sustainable Cities is one of the critical factors to consider and one of the Conditions for Success. Even as we design cities to be technologically advanced, if they are too advanced for the citizens to use or are perhaps too rudimentary that they will not improve the quality of lives of these people staying in these cities, then we will not get happy citizens. And once we don’t have happy citizens, no matter how we try to explain our design, the whole ethos of Smart and Sustainable Cities will fail. 

It is indeed a combination of successful planning and design, physical infrastructure, digital infrastructure, communication infrastructure, and environmental infrastructure that makes up a smart and resiliency city. When all these are in place, and the citizens are “happy” in these cities, the economic planning i.e., the “profit and economy” of the triple bottom line will come in. Not only will the citizens be happy, but the people who are running these Smart and Sustainable Cities will see savings in their operation and maintenance costs, having more jobs for its citizens, and being more resiliency and sustainable for the current and future operations. 

These cities will see a lower carbon footprint, a better economic outlook, a healthier health index, better environmental performance, lower crime and accident rates, and a well-balanced mix of the triple bottom line considerations. In addition, these cities can form the framework for other cities to follow on adopting technologies, especially social equity technologies bridge the gaps to good smart and sustainable cities. It is not just the software, but also, the HEARTWARE.

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