Smart Cities – Swedish solutions to Cape Town’s challenges?

By Stian Karlsen (Guest Writer)

As a Norwegian living in Cape Town, I’m quite often the Scandinavian token in whichever context I find myself.

As you will find with most Scandis, we are also quite the cynical bunch, not very excitable or easily impressed. Under our false modesty, there is a hell lot of pride of our origin. Some think overly so, I obviously disagree.

The Swedish Trade Council invited Future Cape Town to a Smart City Development Workshop on Thursday 14 June. The goal of this half-day workshop was to develop an understanding of how, through Swedish-South African Partnership, service delivery could be made more efficient.

What did we get? Some decent, but uninspiring business presentations sprinkled with some nice anecdotes by the Swedish Ambassador and our honorable Mayor, Patricia De Lille.

This brings me to the actual point of this article.

There are many limitations of adapting high-cost models from developed countries, to a country which at least half the people live below the “poverty line”. It is all well and good to build model Eco cities when you can charge R50 000 to R70 000 per square meter in suburban Oslo, but  how on earth do you transfer that to South Africa where the main challenge is the lack of formal housing at all?

Scandinavian countries spend huge amount of money on subsidies of environmental policies that are not cost-effective.  It is possible to defend because no-one (materially speaking) is poor.

This brings me to my conclusion. What do I believe South Africa should focus on in the collaboration with the Swedes?

First, money.  There is a lot of potential development funds available for tested measures to reduce global CO2 emissions.

Second, I believe tested and affordable technology. Sweden have world leading, cutting edge industry, it would be foolish not to use it.

Third, hopefully a technology swap where South African solutions and technology for a developmental problem can be created and exported to other parts of the developing world.

Some of this was luckily addressed by the last speaker, Mr. Helmi Dreijjer, Senior Director for Information Technology at Stellenbosch University. A proof I guess, that we need South African solutions to South African problems.