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Smart Cities – The Future Ahead

Industry Developments
Smart City
02/06/15

Smart Cities – The Future Ahead

The UN estimates that by the year 2030, 70 percent of the world population will be living in global cities. The way these cities look, feel, and operate will affect the lives of billions of people. It will also have an impact on national and international economies along with the environment. It is therefore important to have an understanding of what we need and want from our future cities. 

Technology has changed the way we go about our lives. It has made it possible for us to proactively deal with everything from traffic jams to storm warnings. 

Our cities are sustained by their infrastructures. Unfortunately, infrastructure does not always get the attention it deserves. Those underlying structures that maintain our systems are hidden from us. As a result, they are often overlooked.

But our cities won't be able to exist without a good infrastructure, and unless we find a way to improve it, the future cities will find it difficult to survive. 

Impact Of Digital Technologies 

Digital technologies facilitate the economical use of resources and help provide better services to people. But they don't have any major impact on the environment. A smart city can be defined as a place where traditional services and networks are made better by the proper application of digital technologies. 

However, just because a city makes less emissions and uses its resources more economically, it cannot be considered as a smart city. Smart cities should also have better waste disposal facilities, improved water supply systems, smarter transport networks, and more efficient heating and cooling systems. These cities will have safe public spaces and more interactive city administration systems. In addition, they will be better equipped to meet the needs of their ageing population. 

Struggle For Established Cities

It is possible to build new cities with the required infrastructure. However, retrofitting those already established cities with such connectivity and infrastructure is a difficult task. Established cities are plagued by various problems like pollution, congestion, rising costs, crime, debt, and blackouts. Also, they compete with one another for jobs, investment, and talent. Solving these problems can be challenging, but every city can theoretically become a smart city. Smart cities have smart systems that benefit the environment as well as people. The liveability and sustainability of a city depend on its electric grids, water and gas distribution systems, private and public transportation systems, hospitals, homes, and commercial buildings. In order to transform a city into a smart city, the administration should improve these crucial city systems. The challenge is accomplishing this growth in a sustainable manner. Smart cities cannot be built on past practices that have often been haphazard. 

Cyber Security and Smart Cities

One major risk in a smart city would be of cyber security. Since everything will be online, networks will become vulnerable and personal information will be at stake. In such a scenario, cyber security becomes of prime importance. The network infrastructure should also be flexible and expandable. This would allow the model to grow in the future. Since technology advances rapidly, there can be several enhancements in the future and the city model should be prepared to evolve with it.

Although it seems like an excellent idea, there are several hurdles that need to be crossed. Building smart cities is not a quick solution, but needs a strong political will and government direction. Many policies die out due to the lack of a strong political will. To realise the dream of smart cities, the governments and political leaders should understand the benefits and embrace it.

Once the government is willing to create smart cities, they would need to collaborate with the urban master planners, engineers, technology specialists and architects.

This is a big challenge, but if it is accomplished, the outcome will be splendid. For example, the city of Santander in Spain has over 20,000 sensors connecting its infrastructure, buildings, utilities and transportation networks. These sensors measure everything including light, temperature, humidity, pressure, and the movement of people and cars. 

Vienna University Smart City Research Study

Researchers from the Department of Geography at the Vienna University have conducted a 7 year study on mid-sized cities. They analysed a range of indicators and factors inherent to smart cities. According to this study, a smart city exhibits six characteristics: 

- Smart economy

- Smart people

- Smart governance

- Smart mobility

- Smart environment 

- Smart living

Luxembourg received an above average overall rating:  In the Smart Economy criterion, its rating was above the ratings of all other cities in this study. Its productivity, international embeddedness and economic image are rated as excellent. However, it has a weak knowledge centre rating. 

Smart Cities - MIT

There is a City Science Initiative at the MIT Media Lab. It is a network of researchers experienced in designing infrastructure and analysing big data. The City Science Initiative provides an interdisciplinary platform where these networks can collaborate to improve the infrastructure and liveability of efficient urban environments.

Their objective is to develop strategies that will result in the reduction of CO2 emissions and traffic congestion and improvement in creativity and liveability.  The collaborative and coordinated approach is the way forward.