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Global South Eco-cities Show How the Future Can Be

By David South, Development Challenges, South-South Solutions

SOUTH-SOUTH CASE STUDY

The world is currently undergoing a high-stress transition on a scale not seen since the great industrial revolution that swept Europe in the 19th and 20th centuries. Today’s urban and industrial transition involves many more people and is taking place on a greater proportion of the planet. With rapid urbanization comes a demand for middle class lifestyles, with their high-energy usage and high consumption of raw materials.

This is stretching the planet’s resources to breaking point. And as many have pointed out, if the world’s population is to continue past today’s 7 billion to reach 9 billion and beyond, new ways of living are urgently required. Radical thinking will be necessary to match the contradictory goals of raising global living standards for the world’s poor with pressured resources and environmental conditions.

But there are innovative projects already under development to build a new generation of 21st-century cities that use less energy while offering their inhabitants a modern, high quality of life. Two examples are in China and the Middle East.

Both projects are seen as a way to earn income and establish viable business models to build the eco-cities of the future. Each project is seeking to develop the expertise and intellectual capacity to build functioning eco-cities elsewhere. In the case of the Masdar City project in the United Arab Emirates, international businesses are being encouraged to set up in Masdar City and to develop technologies that can be sold to other countries and cities – in short, to create a green technology hub akin to California’s hi-technology hub ‘Silicon Valley’. Masdar City is also being built in stages as investors are found to help with funding. Both projects hope to prove there is money to be made in being green and sustainable.

The Tianjin Eco-city (tianjinecocity.gov.sg) project is a joint venture between China and Singapore to build a 30 square kilometre city to house 350,000 residents.

Tianjin (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tianjin) is a large industrial city southeast of China’s capital, Beijing. It is a place that wears the effects of its industrial expansion on the outside. Air pollution is significant and the city has a grimy layer of soot on most outdoor infrastructure.

China has received a fair bit of criticism for its polluted cities as the country has rapidly modernized in the past two decades. This sprint to be one of the world’s top economic powers has come at a cost to the environment. In this respect, China is not unusual or alone. Industrialization can be brutal and polluting, as Europe found out during its earlier industrial revolution.

But China is recognizing this can’t go on forever and is already piloting many initiatives to forge a more sustainable future and bring development and high living standards back in line with what the environment can handle.

Sino-Singapore Tianjin Eco-city is the second large-scale collaboration between the Chinese government and Singapore. The first was the Suzhou Industrial Park (http://www.sipac.gov.cn/english/).The Tianjin project came up in 2007 as both countries contemplated the challenges of rapid urbanization and sustainable development.

The project’s vision, according to its website, is to be “a thriving city which is socially harmonious, environmentally-friendly and resource-efficient – a model for sustainable development.”

The philosophy behind the project is to find a way of living that is in harmony, with the environment, society and the economy. It is also about creating something that could be replicated elsewhere and be scaled up to a larger size.

The city is being built 40 kilometres from Tianjin centre and 150 kilometres from Beijing. It is located in the Tianjin Binhai New Area, considered one of the fastest growing places in China.

Construction is well underway and can be followed on the project’s website (http://www.tianjinecocity.gov.sg/gal.htm). It will be completed in 2020.

This year, the commercial street was completed and is ready for residents to move in.

Residents will be encouraged to avoid motorized transport and to either use public transport or people-powered transport such as bicycles and walking.

An eco-valley runs down the centre of the city and is meant to be a place for pedestrians and cyclists to enjoy.

The basic building block of the Eco-city – its version of a city block – is called the Eco Cell. Each Eco Cell measures 400 metres by 400 metres, a comfortable walking distance. Four Eco Cells make a neighbourhood. Several Eco Neighbourhoods make an Eco District and there are four Eco Districts in the Eco-city. It is a structure with two ideas in mind: to keep development always on a walkable, human scale and also to provide a formula for scaling up the size of the Eco-city as the number of residents increases.

It is a logical approach and seeks to address one of the most common problems with conventional cities: sprawling and unmanageable growth that quickly loses sight of human need.

Agreement was also reached on the standards that should be achieved for a wide variety of criteria, from air and water quality to vegetation, green building standards, and how much public space there should be per person.

An ambitious project in the United Arab Emirates is trying to become both the world’s top centre for eco cities and a living research centre for renewable energy. Masdar City (http://www.masdarcity.ae/en/)is planned to be a city for 40,000 people. It is billed as a high-density, pedestrian-friendly development where current and future renewable energy and clean technologies will be “marketed, researched, developed, tested and implemented.”

The city hopes to become home to hundreds of businesses, a research university and technology clusters.

This version of an eco-city is being built in three layers in the desert, 17 kilometres from the Emirati capital Abu Dhabi. The goal is to make a city with zero carbon emissions, powered entirely by renewable energy. It is an ambitious goal but there are examples in the world of cities that use significant renewable energy for their power, such as Reykjavik, Iceland in Northern Europe, which draws much of its energy from renewables and geothermal sources.

Masdar City is designed by world-famous British architect Norman Foster (fosterandpartners.com) and will be 6.5 square kilometres in size.

The design is highly innovative. The city will be erected on 6 metre high stilts to increase air circulation and reduce the heat coming from the desert floor. The city will be built on three levels or decks, to make a complete separation between transport and residential and public spaces.

The lowest deck will have a transportation system based on Personal Rapid Transport Pods. These look like insect eyes and are automated, controlled by touch screens, using magnetic sensors for propulsion. On top of this transport network will be the pedestrian streets, with businesses, shops and homes. No vehicles will be allowed there, and people will only be able to use bicycles or Segway (segway.com) people movers to get around. An overhead light railway system will run through the city centre, all the way to Abu Dhabi City.

“By layering the city, we can make the transport system super-efficient and the street level a much better experience,” Gerard Evenden, senior partner at Foster + Partners, told The Sunday Times. “There will be no car pollution, it will be safer and have more open spaces. Nobody has attempted anything like this.”

Masdar City is being built in stages as funding comes, with the goal of completion by 2016. It hopes to achieve its aspiration to be the most technologically advanced and environmentally friendly city in the world. As for water supplies in the desert, there is a plan: dew collected in the night and morning and a solar-powered desalination plant turning salt water into drinking water.

Electricity will come from a variety of sources. Solar panels will be on every roof and double as shade on alleyways. Non-organic waste will be recycled, while organic waste will be turned into fuel for power plants. Dirty water will be cleaned and then used to irrigate green spaces. Because of the design, the planners hope the city will just use a quarter of the energy of a conventional city.

To keep the city smart and the project on top of developments in renewable energy, the Masdar Institute of Science and Technology (http://www.masdar.ac.ae/) will specialize in renewable energy technology.

The cost for the city was pegged at US $22 billion in 2009.

The chief executive of Masdar – Abu Dhabi’s renewable-energy company – is Sultan Al Jaber. He sees the city as a beacon to show the way for the rest of the Emirate to convert from a highly inefficient consumer of energy to a pioneer in green technology.

“The problem with the renewable-energy industry is that it is too fragmented,” he told The Sunday Times. “This is where the idea for Masdar City came from. We said, ‘Let’s bring it all together within the same boundaries, like the Silicon Valley model (in California, USA).’”

The project needs to gather much of its funding as it progresses. The United Nations’ Clean Development Mechanism (http://cdm.unfccc.int/) is helping with financing. Companies can earn carbon credits if they help fund a low-carbon scheme in the global South. The sultan is ambitious and sees this as a “blueprint for the cities of the future.” It has been able to bring on board General Electric (GE) and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) to sponsor the university.

It is possible to visit Masdar City and take a tour (http://www.masdarcity.ae/en/105/visit-masdar-city/) and it is also possible to view online what has been built so far (http://www.masdarcity.ae/en/32/built-environment/).

Resources

1) Center for Innovation, Testing and Evaluation (CITE): Located in Texas, USA, CITE is a fully functioning city with no residents to test new technologies before they are rolled out in real cities. Website: http://www.pegasusglobalholdings.com/test-center.html

2) Digital Cities of the Future: In Digital Cities, people will arrive just in time for their public transportation as exact information is provided to their device. The Citizen-Centric Cities (CCC) is a new paradigm, allowing governments and municipalities to introduce new policies. Website: http://eit.ictlabs.eu/action-lines/digital-cities-of-the-future/

3) Eco-city Administrative Committee: Website: http://www.eco-city.gov.cn/

4) Sino-Singapore Tianjin Eco-city, Investment and Development Co., Ltd. Website: tianjineco-city.com

5) ‘The Future Build’ initiative, a new green building materials portal from Masdar City. Website: thefuturebuild.com

6) UNHABITAT: The United Nations Human Settlements Programme is the UN agency mandated to promote socially and environmentally sustainable towns and cities with the goal of providing adequate shelter for all. Website: http://www.unhabitat.org

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ORCID iD: https://orcid.org/0000-0001-5311-1052.

© David South Consulting 2022

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China Sets Sights on Dominating Global Smartphone Market

By David South, Development Challenges, South-South Solutions

New UNOSSC banner Dev Cha 2013

SOUTH-SOUTH CASE STUDY 

The rise of smartphones – mobile phones capable of Internet access and able to run ‘apps’ or applications – is the latest wave of the global connectivity revolution. Mobile phones rapidly made their way around the world to become almost ubiquitous – the most successful take-up of a piece of communications technology in history – and now smartphones are set to do the same. The number of mobile phone subscriptions in the world surpassed 6 billion in 2012 (out of a population of 7 billion) and, according to the International Telecommunications Union (ITU), the number of mobile phones will exceed the world’s population by 2014.

Over the last five years, with the increasing popularity of smartphones, the focus of the mobile industry has shifted from voice and messaging to apps and data services.

Smartphones are complex pieces of technology and any country that can develop the capability to make them and innovate is set to make a lot of money.

The high export value potential of designing and making “computer equipment, office equipment, telecommunication equipment, electric circuit equipment, and valves and transistors” was flagged up as a priority for developing nations back in 2005 at a UN meeting looking for “New and Dynamic Sectors of World Trade” (UNCTAD).

At present, smartphones have a long way to go to surpass old-style mobile phones: by the end of 2016, according to Portio Research (portioresearch.com), the number of non-smartphones in the Asia-Pacific region alone will still be bigger than the entire worldwide number of all smartphones. Even so, it’s predicted that by 2016, there will be 555 million active smartphones in China alone, as well as half a billion smartphones in Europe by the end of 2014. By 2013, North America’s smartphones will make up 50 per cent of all mobile phones. All in all, a lucrative market.

The main factor holding back the rise of smartphones is price. Smartphones tend to cost more than a basic mobile phone. But as China gets more heavily involved in the smartphone marketplace with its own smartphone and mobile phone brands, low income consumers will find themselves with a wider choice of affordable and powerful smartphones, each one a mini-computer.

Out of the 10 largest global manufacturers of smartphones, four are Chinese: Lenovo, Yulong, Huawei and ZTE (Gartner).

Huawei (http://www.huawei.com/en/), the world’s biggest smartphone seller (according to research firm Canalys) (canalys.com), has started to move some of its design team to London in the United Kingdom, to better tailor its products for foreign markets. It has revenues each year of US $35 billion.

China’s mobile phone market is vast, accounting for a third of all smartphones sold in the world. Getting a foothold in this marketplace places a company in a very strong position to build the expertise and capital to push into the wider global marketplace. And that is what Chinese brands are starting to do. So far, Chinese exports of branded smartphones make up a fifth of those sold around the world (Canalys).

The big global competitors to date have been South Korea’s Samsung (samsung.com) and the American Apple brand (apple.com). Other large competitors are Canada’s troubled Blackberry and Finland’s Nokia.

To compete with them, popular and successful Chinese brands include Xiaomi (xiaomi.cn), which sells more mobile phones in China than does the American Apple brand, and ZTE (http://wwwen.zte.com.cn/en/).

For years, many of the top global brands have had their phones and the components manufactured in China. This meant Chinese manufacturers were assembling the phones but not benefiting from the high value that can be extracted from being the owner of the brand name and the originator of the innovation and holder of the copyrights and trademarks.

But now China’s Lenovo brand (http://www.lenovo.com/uk/en/), for example, has successfully pulled past U.S. electronics maker Hewlett-Packard (www.hp.com) to become the largest seller of personal computers in the world. It is also selling more mobile phones and tablet computers than personal computers.

Lenovo Chief Executive Yang Yuanqing espouses a two-part strategy to defend market share at home in China while going hard at overseas markets. Lenovo started with so-called emerging markets in Russia, India and Indonesia.

“We have very aggressive plans to explore overseas markets,” Lenovo’s mobile phone division head Liu Jun told China Daily. “We hope the overseas market will contribute more than half of Lenovo’s total smartphone revenue in the long run.”

Xiaomi founder Lei Jun is considered part of a new generation of dynamic Chinese technology leaders. His casual clothing and charismatic public presentations have had some equate him to the late Apple founder Steve Jobs. But Jun is not happy with selling smartphones and instead sees the company’s future in software and that the phones are just a tool to access the software. Xiaomi hopes to make even more money from selling games, running online marketplaces and offering social media.

The Chinese-made smartphone brand Coolpad (http://coolpadamericas.com/) – made by Yulong Computer Telecommunication Scientific Co. – is the third best-selling in the Chinese marketplace, surpassing Huawei and Apple and has global annual revenue of US $1.8 billion, according to Forbes magazine. Sino Market Research found 10.2 per cent of China’s smartphone users own a Coolpad, behind Korean brand Samsung and China’s Lenovo.

Coolpad has succeeded by investing heavily in research and development (R&D) and innovation to make the phones cheap but also powerful.

Innovations include technology that lets users have more than one phone number for the same phone by being able to connect to two different network technologies. The phones also include security and privacy protections that make them popular with businesspeople and government officials.

The Coolpad brand has also been frenetic in launching different models of the phones to appeal to its customers. In 2012, it launched 48 different models, selling for between US $50 and US $500.

Coolpad was launched in 2012 in the US as part of the company’s global expansion plans.

China has placed innovation at the core of its economic development policies. China increased its R&D spending in 2009 to US $25.7 billion, a 25.6 per cent rise over 2008, according to Du Zhanyuan, vice minister of the Ministry of Science and Technology. In 2011, China surpassed South Korea and Europe in total patents filed and was in a neck-and-neck race with Japan and the United States.

China now boasts twice as many Internet users as the United States, and is the main global maker of computers and consumer electronics, from toys to games consoles to digital everything.

China is also on course to become the world’s largest market for Internet commerce and computing.

The drive to change and transform China’s global economic role was promoted in 2011’s Beijing International Design Week (http://www.bjdw.org/en/), with its theme of transforming “Made in China to Designed in China.”

Resources

1) iHub Nairobi: iHub – Nairobi’s Innovation Hub for the technology community is an open space for the technologists, investors, tech companies and hackers in the area. This space is a tech community facility with a focus on young entrepreneurs, web and mobile phone programmers, designers and researchers. Website: http://www.ihub.co.ke/

2) Venture Capital for Africa: Venture Capital for Africa (www.vc4africa.biz) is the continent’s leading founder’s network, the largest and fastest growing community of  entrepreneurs and investors building promising companies in Africa. Website: https://vc4africa.biz/

Red Dot: The red dot logo stands for belonging to the best in design and business. The red dot is an internationally recognized quality label for excellent design that is aimed at all those who would like to improve their business activities with the help of design. Website: http://www.red-dot.de

C3: C3 offers product design and product engineering services in Shanghai, China. Their strong point is managing innovative design processes from scratch (market research) until production: a one shop service: Website: chinacreativecompany.com

North Korea Tech: North Korea Tech is dedicated to covering and collecting information regarding the state of information technology and related industry in North Korea. You can expect to find articles related to Internet connectivity in the country (yes, it does exist), North Korea’s use of technology, and the country’s centrally-controlled and heavily-censored mass media. Website: http://www.northkoreatech.org/

Published: September 2013

ISSN 2227-3905

Google Snippit December 2020.

Note on story: Very few outside of China in 2013 were talking about this topic, let alone the increasing market share of smartphone manufacturer Huawei. This was one of many stories to result from a research trip to China. For the keen-eyed, try and spot the Huawei logo in the accompanying photo taken in Tianjin.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

ORCID iD: https://orcid.org/0000-0001-5311-1052.

© David South Consulting 2021

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Eco-Cities Up Close | 2013

DS Consulting logo copy

Story: David South

Design and Layout: Solveig Rolfsdottir

Publication: Southern Innovator Issue 4: Cities and Urbanization

Publisher: United Nations Office for South-South Cooperation (UNOSSC)

Date: 2013

Eco-cities feature Issue 4
Eco-cities Up Close in Southern Innovator Issue 4.
Infographic Issue 4
An infographic showing planned and unplanned cities.
Meet Southern Innovator Issue 4_mini
Meet Southern Innovator.
Issue 4
Southern Innovator Issue 4: Cities and Urbanization is published by the United Nations Office for South-South Cooperation (UNOSSC).
Big screens watch over the eco city. By harnessing big data, the eco city can keep a close watch on the city and the needs of its residents. If resources are to be used efficiently, then big data is required to make this happen.
The eco city has broad streets and the air is clean and free of pollution. Dedicated routes for walking and cycling ensure people can safely move around the city.
Southern Innovator, United Nations Development Program (UNDP)’s quarterly magazine focusing on creativity and innovation emerging from the global South, published an article on the Eco-City entitled “Eco-Cities Up Close”. The article featured the Eco-City’s masterplan, green transport, efforts on waste water treatment and waste management, calling it “a replicable model for other cities in China and the global South”.”

© David South Consulting 2017