Smart cities in Africa: How Mazen al-Sawwaf and Victoria City are leading the way

Here, we look at how Africa is a prime example of how a wave of smart cities is springing up in modern times.

In 1800, only 3 per cent of the world’s population lived in urban areas. 250 years later, by 2050, two thirds of the world are expected to be urbanites. As more people have migrated to cities as old as London, Delhi, or New York, centuries-old infrastructure is already showing signs of buckling under the pressure of urbanisation.

While these cities have expanded – Greater London, Greater Delhi, the burrows beyond Manhattan, for example – meeting the challenges of a population boom and dwindling resources calls for immediate infrastructural boosts. The go-to solution has been to build smart cities, using technology to connect every pillar of city life, including sustainably-built infrastructure, water purification and reuse, waste management and clean energy.

Even healthcare and education are bundled together in an integrated way within the smart city model. But critics question how much of the smart city model is theoretical, and how much actually feasible.

Africa is an example of how a wave of smart cities is springing up. On this continent, the economy is growing, foreign investment is increasing, the real estate sector is on an upward trajectory, and the ever-expanding urban middle-class is rapidly creating a progressive global market. With this evolution, a great deal of targeted construction has been happening and progressive real estate investors like Mazen al-Sawwaf are the driving force behind the activity.

Smart cities: the lowdown

Smart cities can be defined as smartly designed urban spaces that use knowledge, creativity, research and collaboration as tools for economic development across four themes: urbanisation, digital inclusion, mobility and governance. Smart cities employ progressive technologies as vital tools to productivity, for example, internet connectivity as a functional tool, and advanced transportation for people and goods.

These cities engage in green policies such as making solar panel installations and recycle stations readily available to residents and work towards accessing water and other resources efficiently without placing undue strain on the environment.

With the ultimate goal of decreasing slum-dwelling, smart cities are leveraging growth factors like pioneering ICT and innovation in infrastructure systems to create a critical mass of commercial activity and job creation – which will ultimately push cities into achieving sustained economic development. One such city in North Africa sprung up in the suburbs of Casablanca in Morocco – Victoria City.

The emerging city of Victoria

The emerging city of Victoria is a new development spearheaded by Saudi businessman Mazen-al Sawwaf. With a vision of integration, Al Sawwaf was as an essential contributor to the project design. He worked with a team of urban professionals to fuse architecture, landscaping and infrastructure into a sustainable space geared for unparalleled liveability and future financial growth. Victoria City is brand new, ultra-modern and is due to be completed in June 2018. It is hoped that this project and others like it will help bring commerce back to Morocco.

Like Tunisia, Morocco represents an urban/rural divide typical of North Africa. This means that Moroccans residing in the larger cities enjoy a significantly better standard of living than those living in smaller cities. By working towards major reforms in clean energy, urban planning, water security, transportation and agricultural development, it is expected that the current difficulty Morocco is experiencing with tourism will come to an end.

The influence of Mazen al-Sawwaf

Built in one of the continent’s most prominent commercial hubs, Victoria City is expected to draw entrepreneurs and investors alike. As with most newly built cities, it is anticipated that the majority of the revenue will be generated through the commercial sector. Because of this, entrepreneurs and investors are more likely to band together to make the city succeed. With an aim of being as effective for its residents as it is a flourishing commercial sector, Victoria City is making a profound statement as a valuable evolutionary step in driving Morocco towards success. Victoria City is quickly shaping up to becoming one of the most important projects ever undertaken in Casablanca.

Governments (and their third-party partners) that have worked to actively engage residents in smart city initiatives have been particularly effective, most notably those where the benefits are highly visible such as smart lighting and smart parking.

Smart city infrastructure needs to be scalable so it can grow and evolve to meet future needs, and secure to provide certainty that both government and private data are protected.

Cities that select technology partners that can provide the innovation capacity, ability to invest and real-world experience, along with technology platforms that are open to avoid vendor lock-in, will be at an advantage.

Ben Lobel

Ben Lobel

Ben Lobel was the editor of and from 2010 to 2018. He specialises in writing for start-up and scale-up companies in the areas of finance, marketing and HR.

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