In 2016 Yinchuan became China’s first urban center to regulate as a Smart City. Mostly unknown by many, the capital of Ningxia province managed to become an example of new technologies at the service of efficiency and high-quality city life standards
The doors open through residents’ face recognition. Garbage bins are intelligent and independent. Every citizen is connected to a medical system that calls anytime people’s health results show an abnormal state.
It seems the start of a movie set in the future but it is all happening right now in China, in Yinchuan precisely.
Although we often compare Chinese hi-tech advance to sci-fi books’ imaginary especially for what concerns the Dragon’s advance in the robotics sector, we now need to come to terms with the idea that the future has come and it is rising right from the heart of the Celestial Empire.
Relatively unknown compared to other emerging lower-tier cities, Yinchuan – the capital of Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region – had the unique honor of becoming China’s first urban center to regulate as a Smart City in 2016 becoming not only a pilot zone but also a leader in the field of smart cities in the country.
Facing the Yellow River in the east, Yinchuan lies in the middle of Ningxia Plain, between the mountains and deserts of Gansu and the rolling grasslands of Inner Mongolia. Historically known as the capital of the Western Xia Empire, it always represented a bridge between China an the Arab world due to a strong presence of Muslim Hui people, who constitute a third of the population.
© Yinchuan.gov. Yinchuan, Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region. The ultimate goal of the government’s modernization plan is to fully integrate 70% of the country’s population into city living by 2025.
In the country’s race to become a hi-tech leader and an extensive state urbanization program that plans to transfer 250 million people from rural areas to cities by 2025, Ningxia’s capital rose from being a 750,000-people “Home to Fishes and Rice” in the early 2000s to be the first experiment of how technologies can ease the lives of a population that reached the figure of over two million people in less than 20 years.
Although some successful attempts to build smart cities are spreading all over China, Yinchuan is considered a blank canvas as it can more flexibly adopt new technologies and then attract people that would otherwise have gone to other bigger metropolis.
In November, the city was home to the 2018 Global Smart City Summit hosted by the Yinchuan municipal government and the China Electronics Corporation. The event showcased the achievements of Yinchuan’s transformation from a traditional city to a smart one while discussing the development of strategies and solutions for building smart cities all around the world.
“The smart city’s management, people-oriented service, and big data industry will be the three major directions of future development,” said Yang Yujing – the Mayor of Yinchuan – at the summit.
A smart city is defined as an urban settlement which marries big data, technology, and urban planning.
Combining industrialization with both urbanization and information technology, the smart city idea is committed to providing high convenience and efficiency for residents, which is becoming a new and trendy concept for city planning.
And building a better living environment for its residents enhancing city management efficiency was right the aim behind Yinchuan’s choice to become the leading smart city in China and part of the national piloting program.
Since 2013, when the city received the central government’s approval to become one of the country’s smart construction pilot cities, Yinchuan has concentrated in particular on improving city services, education, and health care signing strategic agreements with 38 online medical companies.
Therefore, in 2016, the local government developed a smart service platform to deal with everyday city tasks with the aim to improve its own services using the residents’ suggestions and complaints, and the 94.8% of these have already been resolved.
The approach used here is that of public-private partnerships. The whole digital infrastructure that collects and elaborate data from video cameras and sensors is, in fact, provided by the Shenzhen-based giant Zte – China’s largest listed telecommunications equipment supplier, with whom the administration is thus able, among all the other things, to monitor traffic flows in real time, adjusting the duration of the traffic lights when necessary.
© tmforum. Yinchuan Special Report: Smart Cities. The five technology trends for smart cities are VR, Open source, big data (ubiquitous Intelligence), Cloud, and the connection of Everything (V.O.I.C.E.).
In return, the Yinchuan government has committed to spending $44.6 million annually on information technology services for a 50-year period.
The capital has already built its own smart industrial zone, which is considered one of the first of its kind in China, however, many technological marvels are spreading all over the town.
Facial recognition is now common in China but in the city’s public transports, the facial recognition payment has now replaced traditional payment. It means that passengers’ faces are directly linked to their bank accounts enabling boarding on buses not to be slowed down by people checking the wallet or looking for their mobile phones.
All around the city, there are also special cold-storage rooms to facilitate everyday grocery shopping. Residents can order their groceries by smartphone and then pick them up whenever they want anywhere in the city.
Moreover, the Yinchuan City Hall hosts holograms to welcome residents and tourists while many processes have been moved online and various QR codes around the wall answer people’s frequently asked questions thus avoiding the formation of queues in the building.
“We consider every sector in Yinchuan in smart city construction to create barrier-free access to information,” said Wang Chuan, director-general of the Yinchuan municipal bureau of big data management and service.
But the major project in town is the “Smart Community Project“, small neighborhoods within the city, which serve as a living lab for the implementation of new technologies in people’s lives.
Future City is one of the town’s first 20 smart communities. Here, facial recognition software determines if the electronic gates should open for residents, or if security should be alerted.
In addition, trash bins run on solar power and work as compactors increasing their own capacity, but their job does not end here. When they are full, the bins send out a signal so that garbage collectors know when to empty them.
But the groundbreaking service is the city’s “Smart Health” program. Although Yinchuan’s administration already provides patients with online prescriptions or diagnoses by video chat, in the Future city, residents can rent a smartphone-sized device that can take 22 different health measurements, ranging from body temperature and heartbeat to blood sugar level and bone density. When the measurements show abnormal states, this device alerts professionals who call the resident to suggest a further check-up at a nearby hospital.
© Sohu.com. Yinchuan City Hall holograms. Juniper Research says smart cities have the potential to save each resident 125 hours every year reducing also overcrowding in hospitals and offices.
All these innovations were recognized by the central government in 2017 when Yinchuan was named the best managed of provincial-level smart cities in China and now smart communities like Future City are planned to expand to cover all of its 1,919 communities.
Moreover, as a smart city leader, Yinchuan has hosted the Smart City In Focus conference attracting 1,000 delegates from 66 different countries for two years.
The smart city industry is expected to grow to $1.6 trillion by 2020, according to Frost & Sullivan.
China is thus ready to become the world’s largest economy thanks to the hundreds of so-called smart cities that have been already established and others that are planned to be implemented across the country.
The timing is perfect, as the emerging Chinese middle-class that demands a high standard of city living is expected to represent the 56% of the urban population within a decade, according to the consultancy firm McKinsey.
Although Yinchuan is not alone in the smart city industry together with Wuxi and Hangzhou, the Ningxia capital represents a particular case. Situated in the north-center of the country, far from the megalopolis of Shanghai and Beijing, Yinchuan is proposed as an example to be imitated, praised by the central government and studied globally. A blueprint where smart solutions are tested with the aim to be replicated elsewhere.
Yinchuan is just one of almost 300 smart city projects in China, but it managed to implement urban planning, automation, internet of things and new technologies in every process of the city building not only a more efficient environment but also a better quality city life.
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