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Globally, many cities are integrating several elements such as infrastructure, technology, socioeconomic aspects, and environment to achieve smartness. As such, the “smart city” concept has become a focus of many scholars and researchers, especially on advantages, disadvantages, challenges, and the future of the cities (Hollands, 2015; Petrolo, Loseri, & Mitton, 2014).
There are several definitions and descriptions about the term “smart city”. Nevertheless, a core aspect shared by the various definitions is the adoption of ICTs and technology as the drivers of city transformation (Salem, 2016; Hollands, 2015; Novotný & Kadlec, 2014).
This research paper is centered on Dubai, which is one of the pioneer cities in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region and the entire Arabian territory to achieve city smartness (Virtudes, Abbara, & Sá, 2017; Novotný & Kadlec, 2014). Regarding large-scale digital transformation, Dubai has been a pacesetter in the Arab world through the adoption of advanced digital governance techniques, the use of IT for development, and using technological approaches to transform socioeconomic environments (Salem, 2016).
The paper put a key focus on technological advancement, steps followed to achieve smartness, advantages, disadvantages, challenges, and future recommendations.
The city of Dubai is the capital of the Emirate of Dubai and the largest city in the UAE (Efthymiopoulos, 2016). The city has demonstrated a drastic transformation from a backwater, oil-poor Arab city-state into an international megalopolis. The transformation is linked to technological improvement, branding, investment, and an open approach to globalization (Efthymiopoulos, 2016; Salem, 2016).
Apart from competing with itself, as suggested by Efthymiopoulos (2016), Dubai competes with other cities globally, especially on innovation and technology. About New York (a city that never sleeps), for instance, Dubai is considered “a production machine city” (Efthymiopoulos, 2016) characterized by outstanding technological engineering plans, architecture, and postmodern infrastructure (Salem, 2016).
Most importantly, Dubai sets a perfect example of cities that embrace technological innovations, which provide practical solutions and approaches to development and, therefore, enhance increases in GDP (Salem, 2016). As such, Dubai has set an example in the MENA region in largescale digital transformation through the implementation of impressive strategies on transformative technological approaches. Moreover, key attention is paid to ensuring the utmost public wellbeing and making the city to be one of the happiest cities globally (Salem, 2016).
The Pathway to Dubai “Smart City” Transformation
Dubai has undergone through elaborate steps to achieve smart city status. It did not start as a city. In the early 1970s, Dubai was a seaside town with a population of less than one hundred thousand people. In 1971, the UAE was formed with the emirate of Dubai becoming an integral emirate with Dubai as the capital (Salem, 2016; Efthymiopoulos, 2016).
The journey of transformation of Dubai to a smart city could be dated back to 2007. Notably, this was the period when the world was about to experience a remarkable economic crisis. The crisis had significantly affected the Dubai economy and, therefore, the government commenced research on city transformation. However, it was not until recently when there was a societal readiness and technological advancement that real transformation started (Efthymiopoulos, 2016; Salem, 2016).
According to Salem (2016), the readiness of society and the government to embrace technology is a vital element in the transformation to “smart city”. Seemingly, Dubai society has embraced technology at remarkable levels. For several years, the society has developed trust with technology and, therefore, telecom services providers developed. On the other hand, the government has made significant contributions to the transformation of the city of Dubai. The government contributions started by Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum when as the crown prince he launched the “Dubai Electronic Government Initiative” to transform government services from the approach to internet-enabled methods of service delivery. As a result, most of the government services (95%) are delivered online (Salem, 2016).
More initiatives were made by 2013, especially with the high smartphone penetration, to enhance the transformation agenda. In May the same year, the government announced the “Smart City Initiative”. The vice president Sheikh Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum announced the drastic adoption of technology in government services delivery (Efthymiopoulos, 2016). Later, the “Smart Dubai Higher Committee” was enacted to execute the commencing of the initial conceptualization and transformation of Dubai to a smart city. Multiphase strategies were geared towards transformation and they received considerable political backing. The private sector and other stakeholders were sufficiently involved in every step (Salem, 2016).
During the last two decades, the government though Dubai eGovernment/Smart government initiatives put up strategies that facilitated transformation. The government set up the transformative environment by enhancing the development of technological structure, and the necessary regulatory frameworks. Moreover, the government has adopted digital governance and, therefore, influenced the countrywide digitalization agenda (Salem, 2016).
Indicators of Dubai city smartness
The smart city of Dubai has integrated technology and digital infrastructural frameworks to connect citizens and provide services in several ways.
An outstanding example of Dubai smart city service provision is the healthcare system. The government and private healthcare organizations have adopted technology in various ways, including medical innovations, research, patient data management, communication, and patient education (Virtudes et al., 2017). As a result, the Dubai healthcare system is a global pacesetter and, therefore, enhanced efficacy and positive patient outcomes (Virtudes et al., 2017).
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Another indicator of the smart city of Dubai is the technological strategies integrated into the transport system. The Dubai road transport authority (RTA) has incorporated ICT and intelligent transport to come up with practical solutions to transport problems (Virtudes et al., 2017). Various services, including smart parking, smart drives, and automation have been provided. As a result, issues such as traffic jams, speed, and gas emission have been addressed in considerable levels (Virtudes et al., 2017).
In water and energy provision, the smart city of Dubai has integrated technology to ensure sustainability and proper use. Through the Dubai Electricity and Water Authority (DEWA), Dubai is committed to the generation of renewable clean energy and putting up smart frameworks to monitor the consumption of energy and water (Virtudes et al., 2017).
In the building and construction industry, smart Dubai has adopted technological development and relevant policies to enhance energy and water efficiency. Moreover, technology is used to monitor and reduce carbon emissions and, therefore, reduce pollution. Also, technology has enabled constructors to facilitate security and comfort in buildings (Virtudes et al., 2017).
Advantages of Smart City
The technological transformation of Dubai to a smart city has several advantages. First, the eGovernment initiative to deliver services online has significantly reduced cost and, therefore, enhanced efficiency.
Second, the smart city of Dubai seeks to achieve citizen collaboration and engagements. As such, the quality of life of the citizens is positively influenced, especially through the efforts to make the city the happiest city in the world with the smart Dubai’s mission that is based on integrating residents’ happiness and technological development (Salem, 2016).
Third, the smart city status of Dubai will enhance economic growth. Notably, the UAE needs to diversify economic activities from dependence on oil. The smart city makes it easy for trade and tourism to flourish in Dubai. Therefore, many international and local investors are attracted (Salem, 2016; Virtudes et al., 2017).
Fourth, the technological transformation will drastically improve service provision and productivity. For example, the adoption of technology and innovation in the health sector would significantly enhance knowledge acquisition and medical practice.
Fifth, the technological transformation of the city of Dubai enhances infrastructural development. With technology, it is possible to upgrade/refit the existing infrastructure.
Sixth, social developments resulting from technological transformation are imminent. For instance, technology may facilitate social care for the elderly and, therefore, improve living standards (Virtudes et al., 2017).
Seven, the smart city of Dubai’s use of clean energy would greatly influence environmental sustainability. Further, the use of technology in monitoring reducing carbon emission has greatly helped in environmental sustainability (Virtudes et al., 2017).
Disadvantages of Smart City
Although achieving the status of a smart city makes Dubai a trendsetter and global destination, several disadvantages are apparent.
First, there is a high likelihood of overdependence on digital technologies. According to (Salem, 2016), Dubai society’s dependence on technology in daily activities could overtake global security preparedness.
Second, there are security concerns regarding data and technological frameworks. Notably, Dubai society and government have integrated technology and big data to numerous services provision. Therefore, key aspects of running the government and society are exposed to huge risks of hacking and data-command related issues. Although vital steps have been taken to address the issues of data and command security, Dubai should critically involve the public lest technological trust is lost (Salem, 2016; Efthymiopoulos, 2016).
Third, there are concerns regarding public privacy. When public data is stored using technology, there are chances of exposing personal information to inappropriate persons, especially through unethical manners. Although Dubai has set data laws to protect public privacy, it is vital to constantly review, amend, and supplement the frameworks to ensure compliance with evolving trends and associated risks (Salem, 2016; Efthymiopoulos, 2016).
Fourth, there are concerns about the seclusion of some sections of the society, especially the elderly, those without or with limited access to broadband and technologies.
Suggestions and Recommendations
The Dubai smart city transformation journey is ongoing. Set trajectories need to be achieved for it to be the smartest city in the world. As such, several suggestions and recommendations are provided.
Dubai should acknowledge current and potential challenges, especially on data security risks. Therefore, the city should constantly upgrade/update defense policies and antimalware frameworks. It is further suggested that the Dubai expands e-security framework to incorporate future cloud technology in all service delivery dockets of the eGovernment.
Moreover, there is a need for continuous re-invention and innovations with the view to move along with ever-changing fast-moving technologies and imminent changes in demand and expectations from the public.
In the efforts to make Dubai the happiest smart city in the world, the government should put in place mechanisms that ensure that population growth is checked. The Dubai population has drastically grown. If not properly checked, Dubai may be overpopulated shortly hindering the objectives of the transformation.
Dubai is a pioneer smart city in the MENA region and the Arab world. It has adopted technology and drastically transformed from an oil-poor Arab city-state to a mega smart city and a global pacesetter.
The government and the Dubai society have played vital roles in the transformation of Dubai. As early as 2007, the government put up strategies to address problems faced by the city resulting from the global economic crisis. In 2013, the government initiated the transformation of Dubai to a smart city and provided political backing and financial assistance. On the other hand, Dubai society has positively embraced technology and put considerable trust in technological transformation. As a result, society has greatly influenced Dubai’s readiness to become a smart city.
The technological transformation has enabled the government of Dubai to provide services online through eGovernment. As such, smartness is evident in the provision of services such as transport, water, energy, and healthcare.
With the transformation to a smart city, Dubai experience several advantages, including efficiency, infrastructural development, economic growth, environmental sustainability, and collaboration in society. However, some shortcomings of the technological transformation, including data security concerns, risk of technology overdependence, and the risk of public privacy are apparent.
Therefore, it is recommended that smart Dubai embrace time-to-time re-invention and innovations to be up-to-date with the fast-changing technology and associated challenges.
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Novotný, R., & Kadlec, R. K. (2014). Smart city concept, applications, and services. Journal of Telecommunications System & Management, 3(2), 1-8. Web.
Petrolo, R., Loseri, V., & Mitton, N. (2014). Towards a smart city based on cloud of things. Proceedings of the 2014 ACM International Workshop on Wireless and Mobile Technologies for Smart Cities, 61-66.
Virtudes, A., Abbara, A., & Sá, J. (2017). Dubai: A pioneer smart city in the Arabian territory. IOP Conference Series: Materials Science and Engineering 245(052071), 1-11. Web.