A snapshot of smart-city development in developing economies of the Mediterranean

Smart City Development is recently gaining a lot of traction not just as a mere policy alternative but rather a crucial economic strategy for cities and innovation. As such, countries in the Mediterranean region, through the EU-funded SME4SMARTCITIES project, are bringing together municipalities and small and medium enterprises (SMEs) to bridge the existing technology gap, and demonstrate innovative solutions to tackle pressing issues at hand.

A primary characteristic of smart cities is infrastructure development, which trickles down to economic, social, cultural, and urban development. However, most developing countries in the region are generally characterised by poor infrastructure and lack of smart-city technologies to cope with the needs of the twenty-first century in terms of economic resilience and sustainability. Accelerating the growth of innovative solutions in traffic management, online booking, big data, and IoT are highly needed to build an adaptive ecosystem, especially during the COVID-19 crisis. 

A further characteristic of smart cities is seeking sustainable alternatives for energy management. For instance, particularly during the COVID-19 crisis, many countries witnessed advancements in digital transformation,which supported the growth of remote work, e-commerce, online education, and other green practices that reduced numerous environmental hazards. Moreover, since most countries on the Mediterranean are generally sunny, SMEs have the opportunity to develop solar energy solutions that ensure the sustainability of environmental resources in the region. 

Another key characteristic of smart cities is creating a competitive environment by enhancing information and communication technologies (ICT). Although there is a clear willingness to drive investment in technologies such as 4G/LTE and 5G,  the entrepreneurship ecosystem in developing economies lacks the needed resources, guidance, and access-to-credit to utilise these technologies.

Due to the existence of such challenges in a fragile economy like that of Palestine, SME4SMARTCITIES will support the development and deployment of new products and services. This support will focus on facilitating the access of SMEs to private, public, and civil society financial services and resources, as well as introducing new technologies and processes that SMEs can utilise to grow and scale. Furthermore, SME4SMARTCITIES will facilitate public-private partnerships to achieve smart, sustainable, and efficient urban growth; one that engages and covers the needs of  all relevant stakeholders at a multisectoral level.