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On the Road to SMART Cities: What Can we Learn from Asian City Leaders?

April 2, 2012 - 2 Comments

I recently returned from Toronto Canada, where the global Association for Asian Studies (AAS) held its 2012 Annual Conference. This four day gathering brought together thousands of Asia-watchers devoted to the sustainable and prosperous future of Asia. Alongside a rich menu of AAS’s scholarly programs, were roundtable discussions, workshops, and panel sessions, all focused on the full range of issues facing Asian citizens, governments and enterprises.

My presentation, “City-to-City Strategies: How U.S. and Japanese Cities Are Working to Improve Their Sustainability” was part of the panel, ““Climate Change, Toxic Spills, and Eco-Cities: Japanese and American Responses to Environmental Crisis.” Prof. Peter Friederici, of Northern Arizona University chaired our session, which was sponsored by The Japan Foundation Center for Global Partnership.

What did I say? Well, there’s a flourishing market of knowledge that has been overlooked by academia, national governments, and international agencies, but nonetheless widely practiced, between and among cities of all kinds—rich and poor, large and small, all around the globe. U.S. and Japanese cites are amongst the leading users of these knowledge-sharing techniques. My presentation reviewed the impact of these practices on environmental policy at the urban level, focusing, in particular, on those innovative cities that have been systematically pursuing (from other cities) the new knowledge they need to become more sustainable.

Some serious research studies – including some which were organized by IBSG at Cisco –point to a significant role for the network as an economic enabler: fostering innovation and connectedness within and between cities; encouraging new linkages between enterprises, amongst citizens, and with governments. A quick comparison shows that the most successful cities are the ones who’ve focused on the care and management of “social capital” – the sometimes invisible stuff that underpins successful innovations. Leaders in these cities are busy creating new approaches which harness technology in ways that effect profound changes in the social, political and economic spheres.

Japan has been compelled to lead the charge.  Sustainability-related pressures on Japan’s city leaders have been intensifying since the March 2011 Tohoku earthquake devastated Japan’s east coast, setting off the Fukushima nuclear disaster and numerous other crises. In the midst of these challenges, Japanese city leaders have developed new kinds of partnerships linking the public and private sectors. Working together, these alliances are pushing very hard to reduce their energy consumption, particularly in data centers, renowned as data hogs. I shared some of the key lessons learned since Cisco launched “Energy Wise” as a new energy management architecture. In developing EnergyWise, Cisco focused on reducing the power consumption in data centers, through the creation of a virtualized community of computing and storage resources, linked with an intelligent network. A few of the more advanced cities, Japanese included, have embraced EnergyWise, and one key case study in particular, illustrates how London Borough uses creative solutions to control energy costs and cut carbon emissions.

To appreciate what kind of city-to-city learning is possible, and needed, take a look at the “Global Ranking of Top 10 Resilient Cities,” which included Tokyo amongst the top 10. In another ranking, Yokohama emerged as one of the world’s “10 Greenest Cities.”  Yokohama brought both the first daily newspaper and gas-powered street lamps to Japan, and has a history of groundbreaking achievements. With a location on Tokyo Bay, this modern city manages to use its aquatic location to its advantage with a number of innovative programs centering on its water supply system. The city is aiming to cut greenhouse gas emissions per citizen by at least 30 per cent by 2025 and 60 per cent by 2050.

What insights and lessons-learned do these two cities have to offer each other? Stay tuned for ongoing discussion and debate in this space, and at Cisco’s 2012 Meeting of the Minds.

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  1. Bill,

    many thanks for the comments/observations.

    yes: we’re certainly seeing the trend that you describe. companies of various kinds and sizes, in many countries, are responding to the fact that municipal governments and urban communities are seeking out the best ways to harness the transformational power of advanced ICT, and especially the network technologies which enable new kinds of collaboration, learning, community-building, and development.

    a company like Hitachi (just to take that example) is clearly looking for ways to leverage their existing menu of technologies. they are a great company with great technologies that could be very useful to cities.

    the difference-that-makes-a-difference with Cisco’s approach, as your comment indicated, is that we’re just as focused on the humans as we are on the technologies.

    faced with the dazzling value that technology creates we do sometimes forget that the X-factor is the people.


  2. over the past year some of Japan’s major companies — like Panasonic and Hitachi — have announced sustainable city focused initiatives, with big money and prestige being aimed at those efforts. Take a look at the Hitachi case:
    What’s different about the Cisco IBSG approach, and what really impresses me, is that the focus on advanced network technology is designed to enable a new kind of community-integration and economic-development. Hitachi’s focus is stricktly on the technology — and not on the profound economic and social transformation that it enables.

    PS: I notice that Hitachi is trying to make waves in Tianjin, which is a city where i’ve heard Cisco has had some real impacts.