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Market innovation key to building smart cities, say experts

By Zhuang Qiange and Ren Xiaojin | China Daily | Updated: 2019-06-25 09:27
A multifunctional AI-based autonomous bus featuring the shape of a giant panda is parked on a road in Tianjin, on May 22, 2019. [Photo/IC]

The building of smart cities will increase the demand for infrastructure including the commercial application of 5G and bring value to cities, with experts saying the progress should be led by market innovation rather than by the government.

Li Tie, president of the China Center for Urban Development under the National Development and Reform Commission, said no matter how important and how advanced smart cities will be, the final goal is to achieve profit return in the market.

"Without taking economic cost into consideration, such projects will not be realized in society," he said, while giving an example of Beijing's online payment portal for parking fees.

"The online parking fee payment is a great innovation, because in other countries, you need to put coins into a meter, but in China, we don't need to pay physical money and there will be no need for human management," he said. "Such a development has saved a lot in labor costs, and avoided the trouble for breaking bills for changes, and for the government it was very profitable."

"Such technology was applied because China has a huge market through the urbanization of most of its 1.4 billion people. Our technology can be applied when there is a need, "he said.

With that in mind, progress in smart cities should not be a government-led endeavor, but through numerous market innovations that could be applied by those cities.

"Only the smart city that can serve the government, its citizens and market demand is a real smart city," he said.

Li Deren, a fellow of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, said that the goal was not just to govern the cities solely in the interest of the companies, but to meet the citizens' demand and gain better profit.

Xu Lin, chairman of the US-China Green Fund which promotes US-China cross-border innovative collaboration in finance, green technology and business models, agreed that intelligent technology will become a vital engine for high-quality development in China.

"China has achieved over 60 percent urbanization. The figure will reach 70 percent to 80 percent in the future, and the cities' size will only grow bigger and bigger, presenting challenges in their management and operation," he said.

"China is a country which is home to mega-sized cities, and the government will adopt various means to restrict these big cities from expanding too much," he said, adding that such restrictions will make a city function at a lower efficiency, especially in resource distribution.

"But a smart city could help our government better manage the issues such as public safety during the expansion."

He said there will be more businesses emerging within the scope of smart city construction, including low-carbon emission technology, adding that as the fund focuses heavily on green industry, it is very willing to play a part in progress.

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