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The Recent Push for Smart Cities in Malaysia

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Malaysia Smart City Framework outlines strategies and pilot projects to transform cities into smart, sustainable and technologically advanced urban centers that improve quality of life.

The recent mid-term review of the 12th Malaysia Plan (12MP) has highlighted the government's continued commitment to developing smart cities in Malaysia. The target is for at least five cities to be recognized as smart city early adopters by 2025, with local authorities being pushed to adopt the MS ISO 37122 sustainable cities standard. This aligns with the goals outlined in the in-depth Malaysia Smart City Framework report, which provides guidance and recommendations for transforming Malaysian cities into "smart cities" over the next decade.

What is a Smart City?

The Malaysia Smart City Framework report defines a smart city as one that "uses ICT and technological advancement to address urban issues including to improve quality of life, promote economic growth, develop sustainable and safe environment and encourage efficient urban management practices." The core components of a smart city highlighted in the report are smart economy, smart living, smart people, smart environment, smart mobility, smart digital infrastructure, and smart government.

Some of the key criteria for a smart city are comprehensive infrastructure, initiatives aligned to city needs, community engagement, open data sharing, connected digital infrastructure, strong governance, and policies for sustainability. Leading smart cities globally like Singapore, Olso, London, San Francisco and Barcelona have managed to efficiently address urban challenges in mobility, environment, economy, living standards and governance through smart city solutions.

Why the Push for Smart Cities in Malaysia?

Malaysia's rapid urbanization has led to a variety of urban challenges that require new approaches and solutions. The Smart City Framework report outlines key issues faced by Malaysian cities:

- Smart Economy: Low productivity, lack of high value-added jobs, weak innovation ecosystem
- Smart Living: High crime rates, increasing demand for healthcare
- Smart Mobility: Traffic congestion, low public transport ridership 
- Smart Environment: Loss of green spaces, air and water pollution, flash floods
- Smart People: Lack of skilled talent, low community participation
- Smart Government: Lack of data sharing, low quality digital services
- Smart Digital Infrastructure: Slow internet speeds, poor connectivity

Smart city solutions enabled by technology, data analytics, internet-of-things (IoT) and artificial intelligence (AI) have the potential to address these urban challenges in a more integrated, efficient and sustainable manner. The government's push aligns with global trends of using technology and digitalization to enhance livability, sustainability and economic growth of cities.

Key Strategies of Malaysia's Smart City Framework

The Malaysia Smart City Framework outlines 112 smart city initiatives across the 7 components of smart economy, smart living, smart people, smart environment, smart mobility, smart digital infrastructure and smart government. Some of the key strategies are:

Smart Economy
- Promote digitalization of business operations 
- Support high value-added industries through incentives and workforce development
- Establish incubators, technology labs and innovation platforms

Smart Living
- Leverage technology for safety, security and emergency response
- Promote smart housing and urban farming initiatives
- Enhance healthcare through digital services and monitoring

Smart People
- Reform education system to develop skilled digital workforce
- Increase public participation and community empowerment 
- Improve inclusiveness through gender-friendly policies

Smart Environment
- Adopt smart technologies for waste, water, air quality and disaster management
- Shift towards renewable energy and low carbon cities
- Preserve green spaces and enhance sustainability

Smart Mobility
- Establish intelligent transport management using sensors and AI
- Integrate public transport systems through digital platforms 
- Transition to electric vehicles and green transportation modes

Smart Digital Infrastructure
- Upgrade connectivity and internet speed nationwide
- Strengthen cybersecurity and data protection policies
- Enhance network coverage quality through infrastructure sharing

Smart Government
- Promote open data, e-government services and digital procurement
- Assess readiness and improve technological capabilities of agencies
- Establish data sharing platforms across government agencies

Pilot Smart City Projects

The Framework has also identified pilot projects to kickstart smart city initiatives in 5 cities - Kuala Lumpur, Johor Bahru, Kota Kinabalu, Kuching and Kulim. These cities will function as testbeds for innovative solutions before scaling up nationwide. For instance, Kuala Lumpur will implement an Urban Observatory, Smart Bins, e-payment for retailers and smart lamp poles; while Kuching will deploy intelligent traffic lights and water sensors.

Based on the Malaysia Smart City Framework report, the 5 cities of Kuala Lumpur, Johor Bahru, Kota Kinabalu, Kuching and Kulim were selected as pilot projects for the following reasons:

  1. ASEAN Smart City Network Membership

Kuala Lumpur, Johor Bahru, Kota Kinabalu and Kuching have been selected as member cities under the ASEAN Smart City Network (ASCN). 

  1. Identified as Competitive Cities in 11th Malaysia Plan

The 11th Malaysia Plan had identified Kuala Lumpur, Johor Bahru and Kota Kinabalu as competitive cities with strong economic growth potential. 

  1. Representation of Different City Hierarchies

The 5 cities were selected to cover a range of hierarchies from global city (Kuala Lumpur) to regional city (Johor Bahru, Kota Kinabalu), state city (Kuching) and main city (Kulim). 

Challenges in Executing the Smart City Vision

Transforming Malaysian cities into technologically advanced smart cities require substantial investment, infrastructure development, policy reforms, public-private partnerships and capacity building across many stakeholders. Effective change management will be crucial in executing the 112 initiatives outlined in the framework.

The top level governance proposed is a National Smart City Council along with a coordinating authority. But active participation will be needed from local authorities, technology vendors, infrastructure companies, startups, academic institutions and communities.

Cybersecurity and data privacy concerns will also need to be addressed proactively as cities get smarter and more connected through digital networks. Funding and attracting private investment at scale could be a challenge as smart city solutions often have higher upfront costs before demonstrating return-on-investment.

Sustainability should be emphasized as a core principle to avoid negative externalities from rapid development. Change management of public, businesses and government agencies will be crucial in getting buy-in and aligning mindsets to the smart city vision. Otherwise there are risks of poor adoption of new policies, technologies and initiatives.

Overall, the Malaysia Smart City Framework provides a comprehensive roadmap for systemically transforming cities through technological solutions. But it needs to be backed by political will, stakeholder alignment, public awareness and sustainable financing models to move from vision to implementation. The pilot phase over the next few years will demonstrate the appetite for smart city adoption and surface challenges that need resolution before larger scale expansion.