Jakarta. Negative public perception about air pollution and traffic congestion coupled with spiraling coronavirus infections have caused Jakarta, Makassar and Medan to drop places in the Global Smart City Index released on Thursday.
According to a survey conducted by the Institute for Management Development (IMD) and Singapore University for Technology and Design (SUTD), Jakarta has lost 13 places from last year to end up at 94th. Makassar dropped by 16 places to 96th, just one place above Medan who lost 15 places.
Those cities “have not been able to cope with the pandemic well, therefore the quality of life in its urban areas have suffered significantly”, according to the report.
Two Vietnamese cities Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi are ranked higher -- at 83rd and 84th, respectively. The gap is even wider when compared to Bangkok (71st) and Kuala Lumpur (54th).
But the landmark transport system Mass Rapid Transit (MRT) and Light Rail Transit (LRT) launched by President Joko Widodo last year could help Jakarta improve its rank in the future.
“Road congestion and air pollution were the major areas of concern for the citizens of Jakarta. The first phase of the MRT opened in March 2019, while the first phase of the LRT opened in December 2019. As subsequent phases are opened, these will have an increasing positive impact,” Christos Cabolis, Chief Economist and Professor at IMD Business School in Switzerland and Singapore, told the Jakarta Globe.
“The new transport systems will make a large difference in the coming years,” he added.
According to him, a smart city is defined by “the balance economic and technological aspects with humane dimensions and the impact on citizens”.
The use of technology to improve the lives of citizens is also a key element in a smart city. Jakarta is currently conducting road trial for electric buses in municipally-owned transport operator TransJakarta.
“Jakarta’s citizens perceive that pollution and road congestion as two of the biggest problems. Electric vehicles are a potential solution, as is the ongoing improvement public transport networks and technologies that make existing provision more efficient,” Cabolis said.
He said the Indonesian political system, in which mayors and governors are elected, could help accelerate urban infrastructure development if properly implemented.
“Having mayors with the mandate to direct city development is an important component -- when done well. Cities can then learn from each other and replicate successes while still receiving guidance from the national level,” he said.
The survey involved hundreds of citizens in 109 cities in April and May 2020 and asked questions on the technological provisions of their city across five key areas: health and safety, mobility, activities, opportunities, and governance.
Singapore, Helsinki and Zurich have come top in the index while many European cities fell in the rankings.
See the full list below:
Citizens from developing economies consistently identified air pollution and road congestion as a major problem, while also highlighting security and corruption, the report says.
Cities in developed countries tended to have other concerns such as unemployment, education, and social mobility. Affordable housing is also emerging as a major concern for most citizens around the world.
The Covid-19 crisis added a new perspective in this year’s survey, as citizens also took into account the use of technology in managing the pandemic in their perception.
“We cannot ignore the impact of Covid,” Professor Arturo Bris, who led the work of the ranking as the IMD Director of the World Competitiveness Center, said in the report.
“Those with better technology manage the pandemic better. Smart cities are not the solution, but technology helps,” he said.
The report points out that the diverse performance of cities in Southeast Asia is rooted in the different levels of both economic development and technological infrastructure among these cities.
‘For instance, Bangkok and Kuala Lumpur enjoy basic and technological infrastructures superior to those available in Makassar, Ho Chi Min City, or Manila,” it says.
Singapore is not Role Model
The rankings also measure the quality of life of the citizens through the Human Development Index (HDI).
“City-states such as Hong Kong and Singapore have a clear advantage because of the complete coincidence of national and city politics. These two do not suffer from political inefficiencies and conflicts among regions that are typical from other countries,” it says.
“They are also economically specialized and successful, and can therefore channel resources into city technologies. Finally, they are geographically small, but very well connected to economic powers such as China and India.”
However, Singapore is not a role model for any other city.
“It is easier to be ‘smart’ in Singapore, therefore it is rather the exception than the norm among other Southeast Asian cities. The mix of its economic, geographic and political characteristics makes it a difficult model to replicate in other cities in the region,” it says.
The report also highlights the ability of countries to develop cities beyond their capital. In the 2020 rankings, Bilbao fares better than Madrid, and Birmingham this year improved by 12 positions whereas London jumped just five.
“Look at France. The Paris region accounts for a sizeable part of the economic activity of the entire country,” Bris said.
“But then look at the US, China, Australia or Taiwan, and second cities have become more important, sometimes more so than the capital. As a signal of a country’s development, it’s important to develop those cities,” he added.