context: The smart city appeals to the Party’s belief in social engineering, and President Xi visited Xiong’an New Area again on 16-18 Jan 2019. 5G, internet of things and the social credit system seem to finally bring the ideal within reach. But messy urban development, rather than technology, may be the real bottleneck.

Many localities have been pushing forward ‘smart city’ projects, but incompatibility of government systems, poor data sharing and hard-wired requests to submit personal data hamper user experience, says Ding Ting 丁汀 in a People’s Daily op-ed. Building smart cities is more about people than technology.

Smart cities are the future of urban governance, says Gao Guoli 高国力 Chinese Academy of Macroeconomic Research Territorial Development and Regional Economy Institute director. The state should reduce restrictions on private investment and accelerate development of differentiated standards, evaluations and programs to attract (overseas) talent.

After twenty years, smart cities are still in the early stages, says Shan Zhiguang 单志广 National Information Centre Informatisation and Industrial Development Department director. Shan advocates

  • top-level design
    • State Council plans for Xiong’an New Area include targets for 2035
      • digital economy to generate 80 percent of urban economic output value
      • 90 percent of infrastructure to be smart
      • 38 indices for broadband connectivity, green areas, water quality and sewage water reuse
  • focusing on innovation and development rather than digitalisation and automation
  • recognising Chinese characteristics
    • China is simultaneously undergoing industrialisation, digitalisation, urbanisation and ag modernisation, said President Xi Jinping at the 19th Party Congress
    • prioritise humans; objects and technology are central abroad
  • solving real problems
    • Stockholm set goals for reducing traffic jams and emissions
  • linking up diverse information systems
  • adopting scientific methods and strategies
    • start small, exploring tech solutions and business models
    • expand quickly, responding to social needs
    • make sure projects are self-sustaining and viable in the long term