Shanghai builds on its smart approach
Weather conditions, transportation services and government hotlines feature among the information displayed digitally at the urban operations management center in Xuhui district, Shanghai. [Photo by ZHOU WENTING/CHINA DAILY]
Digital urban management improves efficiency in metropolis
If a visitor to the Nanjing Building in downtown Shanghai opened a window and reached out to take a photograph of the area, security worker Fan Tianyu would receive an immediate alert on a smart bracelet.
He then would rush to the scene of the incident in the seven-story structure, which is nearly 100 years old and stands on the bustling Nanjing Road pedestrian street. Fan would tell the visitor to stop taking photos and close the window.
The bracelet is part of a smart system being used in the building to detect safety risks posed by objects that could fall on crowds of pedestrians below.
The system uses a range of advanced technologies, including big data, artificial intelligence and 5G, and is equipped with multilayer data and internet of things sensing abilities.
It assesses the building for visitor flow, fire prevention, noise levels, use of elevators and escalators, disinfection work and the efficiency of its water pipes.
The system produces reports that are like health checkups for the building around-the-clock.
Wei Tao, manager of the building, which is home to a flagship Huawei store and usually has many visitors, said the structure "undergoes digital observation in a dynamic way to enable real-time assessment, discovery and resolution of problems".
At the start of this year, Shanghai became the first city in China to issue a document covering the comprehensive promotion of its digital transformation.
In late February, a smart management trial launched jointly by the Shanghai Urban Operation Management Center and the Huangpu district government marked the first use of innovative digital urban management in one of the city's buildings.
Xu Huili, deputy director of the center, said that in a huge city like Shanghai, traditional methods such as allocating additional personnel to front-line administrative work frequently failed to detect problems and potential hazards quickly and deal with them properly.
Shanghai is home to a population of nearly 25 million, 47,500 tall buildings and more than 6 million vehicles.
"The city, which is a window for the world to observe China, is a pioneer in promoting urban digital transformation. It is also attempting to integrate social resources with the government's administrative resources to facilitate digital urban management, which helps improve governance capability in big cities and ultimately benefits residents," Xu said.
The Shanghai authorities have announced that 100 "innovative scenarios" involving the use of smart systems will be created in the near future to help urban management in office buildings, large supermarkets and commercial complexes.
Fan, the security worker, said that traditionally he and his colleagues had to patrol the Nanjing Building regularly to detect problems, such as bikes being left in front of the gates, boxes blocking fire rescue routes and people smoking outside designated areas.
However, the smart system, along with technological support from Huawei, now plays a big role in such work.
When a problem is detected, a warning signal flashes on a large screen in the district urban operations management center. After a security worker goes to the scene and deals with the incident, the warning is removed.
Wei said traditional manual patrols are not very efficient and cover a relatively small area, while the new approach offers more scientific and refined management.
He said the Nanjing Building has more than 80 sets of internet of things sensing facilities equipped to collect data in various areas to ensure safe operations.
For example, when the flow of pedestrians on Nanjing Road reaches a medium-risk level, the district urban operation management center issues a "large passenger flow warning" to retail outlets and the building's smart system sends a dispersal notice to the security manager.
A plan to control passenger flow is then activated. This includes setting up notice boards at store entrances and exits, limiting the number of people in a store, and only allowing them to enter or exit through specific doors, in order to ensure safety.
Xu said the introduction of such a novel system would trigger far-reaching innovation in urban intelligent management and services in the city, which is also home to a subway network totaling 729 kilometers and boasts 240,000 elevators and escalators.
Shanghai has explored citywide intelligent management in recent years.
In September, a three-tier management system for the city, 16 districts and 215 sub-districts was established, enabling problems to be detected in every area of the metropolis.
The Shanghai Urban Operation Management Center said 1,700"vital signs" are included in the city's intelligent management platform, detailing how Shanghai handles social incidents, the environment, traffic, daily life and infrastructure.
In a written reply, the center said 185 systems and nearly 1,000 smart applications from 50 government departments have been integrated with the platform to enable the sharing, exchange and analysis of real-time data.
One example of the progress made emerged during the winter, when temperatures in Shanghai dropped below zero. More than 30,000 digital sensors in the city's water supply network monitored water volumes in neighborhoods and also spotted potential problems.
Xu said, "In many cases, warnings about water pipe failures were sent before residents made phone calls asking for help."
In 2016, Shanghai experienced a similar extremely cold spell, with the water supply authority receiving 230,000 calls about pipe failures. However, during the recent cold snap, only 20,000 such calls were received and repairs were completed more quickly.
Smart systems also enable precise weather forecasting for an area as small as 1 square kilometer for the coming hour. They can also regulate traffic lights by assessing the volume of vehicles on the roads to ensure smooth flows during peak hours.
Last week, an online platform was launched for grassroots community workers in Shanghai. The first of its kind in the country, it enables them to locate or request mini apps to make their daily work easier.
Dao Feng, vice-president of Tencent, which developed the platform jointly with Shanghai Big Data Holdings Co, with guidance from the Shanghai Urban Operation Management Center, said more than 200 apps, which can be accessed without downloading, are already available on the platform.
"They cover areas from epidemic prevention and control to business administration and the provision of better services for residents. They are intended to provide various solutions to facilitate work at community level," he said.
Xu, the management center's deputy director, said there had been strong demand for mini apps since early last year among community workers carrying out pandemic prevention and control work.
The apps helped the workers with epidemiological investigation work in neighborhoods, but many of the employees were unfamiliar with the technology and did not know how to choose a suitable app developer, Xu said.
As a result, technical support was sought at city level from leading enterprises, who were asked to design mini apps to meet the common needs of community workers.
Xie Xujun, a worker from the Xietu sub-district community service office in Shanghai's Xuhui district, said the apps had saved workers a considerable amount of time in surveying residents' travel history and potential contact history with confirmed or suspected COVID-19 cases.
Previously, when Xie and her colleagues received name lists for people who needed to surveyed at district level, they had to manually sort individuals according to their address. The lists were then sent to neighborhoods so that grassroots workers could complete the surveys.
"There was a lot of paperwork involved. We first had to hand out the forms that needed to be filled out for the grassroots workers," Xie said.
"If we printed out all the questions on one sheet of A4 paper, the characters were often too small to read. If we used a big font, there was the risk of some people complaining there were too many questions to answer on several sheets of paper."
Xie said that recent visitors to Shanghai were asked when they had arrived in the city. They were also questioned about their recent travel history.
"Another problem was residents missing some of the questions, meaning that the entire process had to be repeated, which took longer," she said.
The grassroots workers had to input the information into a computer to complete the forms digitally before sending them to upper-tier staff members, Xie added.
She said a mini app was trialed in the second half of last year. Workers at city, district, sub-district and community levels could access the app, and the process of surveying residents was moved online.
"Grassroots workers visited people's homes to tell them to answer the questions on their phones. A survey could only be submitted when all the questions had been answered," she said.
Upper-tier workers could view the survey results simultaneously and a district chart of individuals' completed replies, along with their nucleic acid test results, was produced automatically.
Yu Linwei, vice-governor of Xuhui district, said he hoped that the platform would lead to the involvement of more developers from different fields.
"For example, we may even welcome university and middle school students who can devise a mini app to solve problems they detect in community management and people's daily lives," he said.