Taking Smart Cities to the World

TORU HASHIMOTO – Director of Development Cooperation for the City of Yokohama spoke to Preeti Singh about the power of mass mobilisation for smarter cities and city-to-city cooperation

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Japan’s second-largest city, Yokohama – host to the 2002 soccer World Cup final and the upcoming 50th-anniver­sary ADB Annual Meeting in 2017 – is also its most popu­lated. TORU HASHIMOTO – Director of Development Cooperation for the City of Yokohama – is a busy man, taking Brand Yokohama to countries across Asia and the globe. From Cebu in Philippines, Bangkok in Thailand to Danang in Vietnam, and now in talks with cities in India, the bustling megalopolis is blazing a trail in city-to-city cooperation.  What potential or future do you see for city-to-city partnership? In India, we are at the beginning of robust relations at a very top level between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe – a very important bilateral relationship. Mr. Modi, in particular, has requested Japan to help in building smart cities in India. Yokohama city is already in collaboration with three cities, Cebu in Philippines, Danang in Viet­nam and Bangkok in Thailand. We believe that city-to-city collabora­tion is very important, as national-level cooperation usually ends up focusing on one sector. A little value addition can go a long way in mak­ing a city livable and more competi­tive. We believe in providing holistic support, which combines different sectors. That is the potential of city-to-city cooperation.   In India we are starting to talk ‘smart cit­ies’. What are the key elements that make a city smarter? That’s a really fundamental and tough question with no simple an­swer. Every city has its own advantage or ‘endowment’. In Yokohama’s case, I think we have very good leadership in the form of our mayor, as well as robust citizen participation. Let me highlight the case of solid waste man­agement. We were able to reduce solid waste by 43 percent over a period of 3-4 years. Considering that our popu­lation is 3.7 million, that’s a really big achievement. It’s phenomenal. It was made possible by active citi­zen participation. Every city has its endowment. In our case, it’s human resources. A smart city should be able to utilise its endowment – be it cul­ture, good education or geographical location – in a smart manner. That’s my definition. Every city can be a smart city based on its very own endowment or resources, as well as smart solu­tions and management – our very definition of smartness. It’s becom­ing easier to achieve a lot of things, thanks to information and commu­nications technologies. We set this interview up over email within 2-3 days, something that was not possible a decade ago! It’s becoming easier to become smart.   India treats very little of its waste. What helped you succeed in doing that on a large scale? I think it’s the mobilisation of people. In my limited observation, solid waste tends to be an issue for a certain group in Indian society. In Yokohama, ev­eryone participated and contributed to the segregation of waste. I wouldn’t say that putting garbage at the right collection point is about discipline – something that is imposed – but the right mobilisation of people. They like to contribute. It started from the school, with children telling to parents what to do and then parents doing the same. You have to make this an issue for everyone, everyday. Mr. Modi’s Swachh Bharat (Clean India) campaign has made a good begin­ning.   What are the areas – and nature – of partnerships that you are seeking with India? Our partnerships will have three tiers: nation to nation, which we already do with India; financial and knowledge-based at the level of institutions like Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) and Japan Bank for International Cooperation (JBIC); and city-to-city collaboration. In our city of Yokohama, we have something called the Yokohama Partnership of Resources and Technology (Y-PORT), with several participating private sector companies. These include four big ones like the Japan Gas Corporation, JFE Engineering Corporation, Chiyoda Corporation and Hitachi, as well as several small-scale companies. All are collectively good at water and solid waste management, building water structures, recycling, recyclable energy and water treatment. We are working closely with 10-20 companies. We can help a city in areas as diverse as the kind of regulations needed and human resource planning, as also delivery of services. Without promoting any specific company, we like to have private sector-to-private sector, or private sector-to-city creation of urban solutions. For example, in Cebu we are doing very well in sludge treatment and plastic recycling. This is really a private sector-to-city initiative funded by JICA. Our role is in introducing it and handholding but actual service delivery is being done by the private sector. We would like to introduce this to Indian cities. Big area development – like creating a new capital city or waterfront development – is also what we are good at. We have created areas like Minato Mirai, an area that used to be a shipyard 20 years ago, which is now host to top-level conferences like the APEC meeting and visits like those of US President Barack Obama. We can help with urban development in areas like city centres, urban living, indus­trial development, water delivery, sludge, wastewater treatment and management, renewable energy and savings, as well as transport manage­ment – in a holistic manner to make a city function seamlessly.   Are you also tying up with any industry body in India or is it a direct city-to-city relationship? We are not tying up with any industry body yet, but it may happen later, as we are not sure – for now – if this is the best modality to go forward, looking as we are to find the best way to introduce the private sector relationship. I am aware that India is – importantly – very strict when it comes to procurement transparency. We don’t want to be seen as imposing a specific company or solution. What is the best way of introducing private sector technology? We don’t have the answer yet.   You mentioned the role of your mayor in the City of Yokohama’s success. In India we are grappling with a lack of empowered and financially-strong local governments. What are your thoughts on this? I have a slightly different view of ‘local government’. I would like to cite the case of Gujarat here becoming well known in Japan under the chief ministership of Mr. Modi. I will not say that there isn’t any strong local government in India. I look at it the other way around at a state government that is not a national government, which is often very strong. A chief minister’s leadership can turn things around. I think there’s a very strong potential for change in India at the state government level, which, for a city municipality may be a little difficult to achieve. We like to work with states and if the state can exercise some influence towards city building, then I see good potential.   Based on your experience, what’s a good example of strong local governance? I ‘d like to pick Cebu in Philip­pines – the first city we chose. They have established a Metro Cebu Development and Coordinating Board (MCDCB), headed by the Cebu Governor as Chairman. With participation from national regional offices for transport and public works, among others, the entire city participates along with the private sector for area development, with technical inputs from us to make it more robust and dynamic. Bangkok is another example, where we have focused on low carbon initiatives under the Bangkok Metro­politan Administration, along with the private sector, with the support of senior functionaries. In Danang, Vietnam, we have proposed JICA as a part of a planned new set up. Such coordination helps in collecting and disseminating some information, al­lowing all parties to move in a similar direction. That’s the kind of success stories that we are creating in several parts of the world.   Where do you also see the future of global city partnerships? Is Yokohama part of any? We are a member of the C40 and International Council for Local Environmental Initiatives (ICLEI), for example, and we also organise an annual Asia Smart City Confer­ence every October. In Asia we have a 21-cities partnership, including Bengaluru and others from India. It’s good to have these fora, and not a single united forum, because there are so many cities in the world. We like to coordinate with cities that have dynamic leadership, open and trans­parent governance and also those who welcome foreign technologies. We like to create alliances like, for example, CityNet, which is a network for regional technical cooperation with 89 cities. Every city has a choice. I’d like to create social networking among these cities – something we can call a “network of networks”, over the internet. That’s the beauty of the smart internet era. In the end, though, I think it should be feasible. We are moving away from national branding into city or place branding. Yokohama hosted the soccer World Cup final in 2002 and now Japan is hosting Olympics 2020. From infra­structure and hospitality to crowd and resource management, how do you play host to a global audience? We are also hosting the Rugby World Cup in 2019! These kind of social and international events are really important to focus people’s at­tention on. Two things are important: basic infrastructure and working transport - both are just as important as a good stadium is. Building a very good stadium was an excellent deci­sion taken by the Mayor earlier. It is another example of public-private col­laboration. You also have to have good social infrastructure – like hotels, transport and stadia and a ‘storyline’, like why a particular city is chosen. Each city has to think about the kind of image or storyline that tells people why a city is unique. For us, after the 2011 earthquake, building of resil­ience is another important factor. I had mentioned Y-PORT, which has essentially been there for four years as a programme already but we are now establishing it as an entity for city-to-city collaboration with more financial and human resources. Given our bilateral relations with India, I see a lot of potential and we have already received letters from senior function­aries in Bengaluru as well as from the states of Andhra Pradesh and West Bengal. 100 cities may not be on the cards but we would like to work with as many cities as possible in India, while carefully thinking about the op­timal size. We are also working closely with our PM’s office and hope that your PM will visit our city soon!