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Cities by citizens: Evolution of smart cities to Society 5.0

Over the last decade governments of various countries have been focusing on transforming select towns and cities into smart cities, thus trying to make the governance and facilities of a higher order.

Each smart city project has covered domains such as water supply, traffic systems, crime detection, hospitals, power supply and so on, resulting in the local governments being able to manage and deliver services more efficiently on account of the ability to monitor regularly and ensure course corrections by harnessing the data from interconnected systems in a timely manner. During Covid times, for instance, several smart cities in India rose to the occasion by offering to citizens real-time medical care options by integrating data and systems of hospitals, morgues, models designed by academic institutions, testing laboratories, medical stores and private hospitals . Thus smart cities that are well-designed have been able to respond to challenges faced by citizens on select areas on a real-time basis with reduced costs.

Currently, most smart cities in India are powered by governments and businesses to solve societal problems and deliver a common set of services. Society 5.0 is a tool to make the smart cities people-centric and led by citizens. What this would mean is that data from multiple sources would be made available in the public domain so that based on individual needs, citizens can be serviced. Society 5.0 aims to create a human-centered society that balances economic advancement with the resolution of social problems by a system that highly integrates cyberspace and physical space. The approach first proposed by Japan is based on the advance technologies developed from “monozukuri” (Japan’s excellence in the manufacturing of things) being deployed for public good on the one hand and on the other hand, the need to address the unique challenges of the society; namely, aging communities, decrease in the productive-age population and concerns around environmental and energy issues.

Unlike the scope of smart cities which has limited coverage and are currently designed to provide better governance, Society 5.0 expands the coverage to include every citizen and aims to make people’s lives more comfortable and sustainable. The interplay of physical and cyberspace is made possible by digital architecture that facilitates in bringing together information on horizontal dimension covering various sectors such as agriculture, energy, transportation, health infrastructure and so on and the vertical dimension covering individual attributes of medical history, education background , consumption patterns, etc.

The example of the city of Barcelona as a model of a European smart city is worth looking at. The city has managed to improve its notorious noise pollution and traffic fumes by installing sensors around traffic intersections, monitoring air and noise pollution and feeding the data directly to citizens through apps. This has not only made a noticeable change in the city but it has also resulted in subsequent economic growth.

To move towards Society 5.0, its important to put in place standards like ISO that are universally agreed upon. There is also the need to balance the needs of the society with those of the individuals and hence periodically revisiting priorities is necessary. There is a need for policy planners and technology providers to work together much more than what is currently happening. Eventually the top-down approach or the initiative of the government has to give way to a bottom-up approach with citizen-oriented technology and approach to problem solving, essential for the success of Society 5.0.

The writer is chairperson, Global Talent Track, a corporate training solutions company

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