Is a Smart City the Optimal Urban Development Solution for Windhoek, Namibia?

ARE SMART CITIES the best urban development models for cities in developing countries? Can Namibia afford to create a smart city, particularly when the national broadband policy has not been implemented, nor is there equitable internet access and quality in Windhoek?

Smart cities have been key drivers of inequality and environmental degradation. More and more urban designs are catering for the rich, while ignoring the poor and marginalised.

Federico Cugurullo, an assistant professor in smart and sustainable urbanism, outlines the real reason for smart cities.

“Smart cities are philosophical ideas, whose real objective is to replicate traditional capitalist strategies of urbanisation.”

The question we should ask is, could Cugurullo’s statement be true?

There are examples of smart cities that have created wider inequality gaps and destroyed the ecological environment of a city.

These cities include Abu Dhabi, Rio de Janeiro, Manchester, Detroit and Ordos. What all these cities have in common is the fact that their urban development agenda was placed in the hands of greedy multinational companies and developers whose short-term, pro-economic and capitalist interests had a disastrous impact on residents and the environment.

The multinational companies, who are usually the biggest funders of smart city initiatives, make money and ship it out of the country. Projects that aim to improve the lives of the residents and reduce energy waste pollution, for example, are sidelined, because they do not produce the short-term profits required.

Furthermore, the smart solutions, which the multinationals invest in, are mostly applied to the office buildings where they operate from or have an interest in, while ignoring residential areas.

Governments of these cities lower tax to attract foreign investment and lower environmental requirements to make it easier for the multinationals and developers to promote their economic agenda.

As we speak, cities like Ordos, are now termed ghost towns because the so-called smart city initiatives led to de-urbanisation.

Given the effects that smart city models have on cities, would the City of Windhoek still want to initiate such a model? Who will benefit from this model, if there are already huge disparities between the rich and poor in Windhoek?

With climate change issues gaining prominence, for example, perhaps the City of Windhoek should consider building a resilience city, not a smart city?

Perhaps the city could garner insights on how countries like Denmark and The Netherlands use network governance and citizen participation to improve their urban development agenda.

Countries that involve their residents in the planning and design of their suburbs receive more buy-in and collaboration from their residents. A good example of this is in Copenhagen, where urban developers actively involve residents in the design of their suburbs. They even consider facilities that accommodate foreign nationals, like Muslim women, who have immigrated there for a better life.

The City of Windhoek, through several network governance structures, is trying to be a caring city, however, it is faced with some challenges. The recent challenge was the theft of the 400 trees and 100 boxes of flowers donated by First National Bank (FNB) to the City of Windhoek on Arbour Day.

Although FNB had noble intentions in making the donation, as greenways and parks are needed on that side of the city, was it the right time to plant the trees? Did FNB and the City of Windhoek engage the people from the area on whether donating those trees was what that community needed at the time?

Yes, at first glance, the theft of the trees was insidious and portrayed ungratefulness. I am sure comments like, “you see, black people do not know how to handle beautiful things” were made. However, the theft is just a symptom. Through citizen participation and network governance structures, perhaps the root of the problem can be addressed. Otherwise, the City of Windhoek and its partners’ good work will continue to be overshadowed. Today is stealing trees, tomorrow?

Morna Ikosa is a seasoned communications and stakeholder engagement consultant, with an affinity for sustainable development. She is certified in preventing and responding to sexual harassment,workplace bullying and violence.

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