Metro-land Reborn? Iskandar Malaysia’s Smart City

4353873708_29813ef27b.jpgMetro-land: For Londoners, it’s a swathe of leafy commuter suburbs built alongside the Metropolitan Railway in the early 20th century. Marketed as an escape from cramped urban life, Metro-land even inspired poems from poet laureate John Betjeman:

And, with the morning villas sliding by,
They felt so sure on their electric trip
That Youth and Progress were in partnership.
– Baker Street Station Buffet (1954)

Today’s Metro-land

A century later – and some 10,000 kilometers distant – a new Metro-land is taking shape alongside the narrow straits dividing Malaysia and Singapore.

Iskandar Malaysia is a special economic zone on the southern tip of peninsular Malaysia. Spanning an area three times the land mass of Singapore – and overlooking its bustling neighbor –  the zone includes the smart city of Nusajaya, and a range of leisure, residential and commercial developments.

But instead of rail track, fiber-optic construction is now viewed a primary driver.

‘In terms of general connectivity requirements, telecom comes number one on the list,’ says Datuk Syed Mohamed Syed Ibrahim, president and CEO of Iskandar Investment, whose job it is to promote and manage this huge government-backed project. And he was certainly fielding many inquiries when we met at the GES Business Leaders Summit in Singapore.

Masterplanning partners

Map-Iskandar-Malaysia.jpgIskandar is handing masterplanning to Cisco Systems – experienced in similar projects worldwide – with Korean operator KT, incumbent operator TM and Malaysian integrator Mesiniaga allying to build a sustainable and highly-connected community.

Fiber deployment will connect Iskandar Malaysia internationally, but also attract people to come and stay, says Ibrahim. Although improved transport links will make possible a daily commute to Singapore, keeping workers in the zone – and in their homes – is an achievable goal in today’s Metro-land.

Indeed, as KT’s U-City Consulting group stresses, ‘U-City’ means an ubiquitous computing community not only built around technology and space, but also lifestyle.

Remembering Bournville

I think lifestyle is often underplayed in smart city discussions. Technology choice often dominates discussion, rather than impact.

In the late 1890s, the chocolate-making Cadbury family established the model village of Bournville near Birmingham, England. Certainly, canal and rail routes were a draw, but the family wanted to ‘alleviate the evils of modern more cramped living conditions’ for their workers.

Interestingly, Iskandar Investment recently sold land to a Chinese manufacturing firm aiming to set up a healthy and productive environment for its workers and their families.

In some ways, perhaps, certain aspirations haven’t changed in a century.

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