Building smart cities, making smart moves

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Ma. Lourdes N. Tiquia

Ma. Lourdes N. Tiquia

IN my previous column, we talked about spectrum reform and the need to manage well the allocation of the spectrum because that is patrimony of every Filipino. Since it is owned by all, Filipinos will need to derive efficient and economical service from it.

And that means whether one is post- or pre-paid, one should getdecent service at the minimum. Drop calls should be managed and not be charged at the same rate as through calls. Since the cellular is a universal platform with a penetration rate of 110 percent, which means that there are Filipinos owning two or more devices (a reflection of how poor the state of things are in the telco world), users from Globe should be able to connect to Smart users with ease, and vice versa. Moreso with texts. These days, texts are arriving much delayed. In one instance, a text was sent in the morning and the receiver did not get it until almost 5 p.m. that day. And they blame congestion.

During the cell phone’searly heyday, there was a mad rush to build cellular towers in the cities while the last mile was forgotten because it was not profitable, when it should have been from the rural to the urban so coverage is even and smooth. Then of course there are the unintended consequences in the rush to build towers, foremost of which is the flexing of the muscles of the local government units. The LGUs impose a local tax on the construction of cell towers, and worse, they ask for bribes,to ensure that the towers areconstructed and, once erected, are protected. From a few hundred thousand pesos,the cost of constructing a cell site towerthese days has reached millions of pesos.

Apart from these issues, tower construction also has to contend with the so-called NIMBY (Not In My Backyard) mentality, and consumer concerns about the risk of electromagnetic radiation and cancer from cell towers in their vicinity.


Cell towers (or cell sites) that hold antennas and other communications equipment “flood the area for miles around with powerful high frequency radio waves (known as microwaves) to support the use of cellphones as well as Wi-Fi, WiMax, Wireless LANs, 802.11 networks, Bluetooth supported devices and more.” One is exposed to 100 million times more electromagnetic radiation than our grandparents were, and part of the reason is radiation from cell phone towers and microwave antennas.

Human population centers therefore are flooded with massive amounts of powerful wireless microwave radiation. Cell phone towers emit high-frequency radio waves, or microwaves, that can travel as far as 45 miles over level terrain. The closer you are, the greater the danger. And that is a reality that every city trying to build a smart interface with governance has to face.

A smart city is an “urban development vision to integrate multiple information and communication technology (ICT) and Internet of Things (IoT) solutions in a secure fashion to manage a city’s assets: local departments’ information systems, schools, libraries, transportation systems, hospitals, power plants, water supply networks, waste management, law enforcement, and other community services.”

The goal of building a smart city is “to improve quality of life by using urban informatics and technology to improve the efficiency of services and meet residents’ needs. ICT allows city officials to interact directly with the community and the city infrastructure and to monitor what is happening in the city, how the city is evolving, and how to enable a better quality of life. Through the use of sensors integrated with real-time monitoring systems, data are collected from citizens and devices–then processed and analyzed. The information and knowledge gathered are keys to tackling inefficiency.”

But one cannot build a smart city without first knowing what are the limitations in service delivery, what constituents have in mind in terms of problems and solutions and learning from feedback loops in implementation. That is why citizens monitoring and feedback mechanisms (CMFM) are urgent and vital in getting constituents to have a shared vision with the local chief executive and shared experience in governance protocols instituted by the local government.

The CMFM Report enables the local bureaucracy to obtain baseline data on how their constituents feel about local issues, policies, programs, etc. and stay in touch with the people they serve and represent. It will give local government units a clearer sense of direction as they are kept informed of where the problems are and what concerns need to be addressed from the perspective of the end users, while they also get an indication of which programs are appreciated and valued most so there is wise use of limited resources.

A smart city uses information technologies to: “make more efficient use of physical infrastructure through artificial intelligence and data analytics; engage effectively with local people in local governance and decision by use of open innovation processes and e-participation, improving the collective intelligence of the city’s institutions through e-governance, with emphasis placed on citizen participation and co-design and learn, adapt and innovate.”

The Asian Institute of Management has been undertaking Doing Business surveys periodically. In 2009, Davao City ranked second to General Santos City in terms of how fast the city can process business permit applications. Davao, Cebu and Cagayan de Oro are the three highly urbanized cities outside of Metro Manila that are in the Top 10 on the Cities Competitiveness Index of the National Competitive Council based on three pillars: economic dynamism, government efficiency, and infrastructure. These metrics do not take into consideration frontline services, from the perspective of end users or residents or constituents. Somehow, a city that takes constituents’ feedback seriously gets its politics in order. Frontline services are vital in determining whether a city has ably responded to the needs of its constituents.

When we talk of housing and moving the informal settlers to better locations, we should be thinking of basics: roads, communication, water and work. We just don’t dump then in some relocation. We capacitate the beneficiaries. So, when we build smart cities, we don’t just build them for the sake of being labeled a smart city. City management will have to think strategic and spatial in building a future that serves their constituents. We can’t even have a vision of it because our spectrum has been mangled by a congressional franchise process gone awry.

While we wonder whether Housing Secretary Leni Robredo was fired or resigned, Singapore is passing us by again. While we debate the proximate reasons for such an action by the Vice President (housing being an afterthought), Singapore has already approved its blueprint known as the Smart Nation Initiative. Launched on November 24, 2014, the initiative is coordinated by the Smart Nation Programme Office in the Prime Minister’s Office, and supported by other government agencies. The initiative is led by a cabinet minister.

Singapore seeks to “harness technology to improve urban living. Some areas of focus include enhancing public transport networks, enabling successful ageing and ensuring a secure but open data marketplace. To encourage innovation and collaboration between citizens and companies, open data is made available at government portals such as Daga.gove.sg and Datamall.”

The Robredo gambit was not a smart move. Making the announcement before the actual resignation and coming out with different releases with the first paragraph referring to “receiving a warning on stealing the vice presidency” was too much of a novice move. The battleground is the Presidential Electoral Tribunal composed of the justices of the Supreme Court. Insinuating that there will be a stealing of the vice presidency may not sit well with the 11 justices mandated to discharge this function. Referring to a budgetary cut when the budget process is not yet complete smacks of lack of brinkmanship. Thinking more of the differences than focusing on the laylayan is truly sad. The signs were definitely there from Day 1 when the Vice President would rather make policy suggestions public than have a dialogue with the President and find a common ground.

Ultimately, “leadership is not about glorious crowning acts. It’s about keeping your team focused on a goal and motivated to do their best to achieve it, especially when the stakes are high and the consequences really matter. It is about laying the groundwork for others’ success, and then standing back and letting them shine.”

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2 Comments

  1. It was very low of Robredo to mix the issue of VP recount and the Housing sectary post. Then blaming a future budget for lack of performance in the present is just absurd.

  2. Marc Villarosa on

    Love this article. Ms Malou was again on point re ICT. But my attention was caught by the “may not sit well with the 11 justices” phrase. Perhaps they are human too and act according to how they feel?