Toward Future Smart Cities – Lessons from around the world

By Sachen Gudka

Historically, the growth of cities and their development has always been haphazard. For instance, the growth of Nairobi was based on the needs of the then new railway line that ran through to the port of Mombasa. Later developments on water, sewerage and such like, were therefore retrospective and reactive. This was a global tendency, with very few exceptions.

However, in recent years we have witnessed more proactive approaches to building, redeveloping, re-styling and reforming cities worldwide. The term ‘smart cities’ emerged as a result of this new thinking. It is often applied to cities that employ smart and practical use of technology, to mainly, improve their infrastructural efficiencies and increase accessibility to basic amenities.

Inadvertently, in a highly dynamic world, with an ever-surging populace and fast-depleting natural resources, ‘Smart Cities’ now incorporate the very crucial aspect of sustainability.  The cities of the future will center environmental conservation, sustainable consumption and restoration of natural resources. This means, unlike the historical haphazard growth of cities, every building, dam, site or road, will be well-thought out and installed with a view of accomplishing the above.

Of course, there are many ways to achieve this, but I will zero in on two integral and interlinked components of a sustainable future  that underline all efforts – Energy Efficiency and Waste Management. Why these two? Because there is no activity towards building cities that does not involve a significant amount of energy use, and inevitably, the same activity produces different types of waste. Presently, cities in the world expend 80% of the total energy found on earth. Similarly, total waste in the world is colossal.  According to the World Bank, present Municipal Solid Waste generation is at 1.3billion tonnes annually, numbers which are expected to double by the year 2025. In our country, both Energy and Waste are critical drivers of our development and yet somehow, we are still yet to reconfigure them into economic solutions for our advancement.

There are countries, around the world, that are already applying the aforementioned futuristic approach to building sustainable future cities.

Denmark, for instance, incinerates its waste to generate district heating and electricity. They continue to perfect this technology year on year, towards the production of clean electricity for their citizens. Whilst doing so, Denmark continues to ensure that the operation of these plants has the lowest environmental impact possible. Similarly, Singapore incinerates 8200 tonnes of garbage per day, according to Smart Cities Dive. The energy produced from this activity, powers about 900 households daily.

As a country, we are leading in the region in terms of renewable energy solutions. As the first country in Africa, to produce geothermal power at 200MW and a notable solar energy producer, we have the aptitude to lead in energy efficiency through sustainable approaches such as recycling and reusing of our waste. Our awareness as to our capability to solve our environmental challenges and move towards a green future were demonstrated by the fact that we were, again, the first country in Africa to open a carbon exchange.

So where is the disconnect? We need to strengthen our will towards waste management through various efforts including inculcating it in our education system from the primary level. As individuals, we need to cultivate strong ethos on respecting and protecting our environment and natural resources, for better living. This will, should then be reinforced by strong institutions and progressive regulations that ensure that both environmental conservation and economic development are complementary.

In 2005, the world knew very little of Slovenia’s capital city – Ljubljana; however within 10 years it instituted a waste management system that saw it become the first Zero Waste capital in Europe in 2015. Kenya can do this too. We have already set a strong foundation, that is awaiting urgent and sustainable actualization.

The writer is the Vice Chairperson of Kenya Association of Manufacturers. He can be reached at

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