Smart cities – what are they?
A smart city can be described as a vision to integrate information and communication technologies, as well as the IoT, within an urban region in a secure way, in order to manage its assets. It requires the involvement of many technological platforms, such as automated sensor networks or data centres, among others, which see to include community services – such as local departments’ information systems, hospitals, electric and water supply networks, schools, transportation systems, waste management, law enforcement. Information technology is the main infrastructure and serves as foundation to provide essential services to residents.
A smart city has an integrated information network which is shared with its citizens, including information about infrastructures supporting economic growth, guaranteeing social inclusion and ensuring environmental protection. It also poses as a way to get citizens more involved in city life and to decrease the loneliness that naturally comes with living in a city. Turning to residents for input will, in its turn, assist them with feeling more attuned with the city, while increasing resource optimization.
Essentially, a smart city uses urban technology to improve efficiency in services and increase its citizens’ quality of life. It facilitates the interaction between the community, the city officials and infrastructure – resulting in accurate, real time understanding of what is happening in the city, how it is evolving, and how to provide better conditions for its inhabitants.
The most important aspect is the massive amount of data being collected (thereon processed and analysed) from citizens and devices, through sensors integrated with real-time monitoring systems, which is the key to tackle inefficiency and to enhance urban services’ quality, performance and interactivity. This results in reduced costs and resource consumption, while improving the contact between citizens and government.
In fact, when compared with a city with a mere “transactional” relationship with its citizens, a Smart City will be better prepared to rise up to challenges, being its paramount feature the possibility to react in real time to urban flows and adapt the subsequent response.
How did it start?
During 2008, amid the global economic crisis, it was IBM who introduced the concept of Smarter Planet, envisioning a strategy for improved development and growth. At the same time, progress was made regarding the application of computational power to everyday objects (such as phones, cars or power lines) which were previously devoid of any. “A trillion connected and intelligent things were becoming a system of systems — an “internet of things” — and producing oceans of raw data.” (IBM)
The Smart City (an extensive plan to help cities around the globe run more efficiently, save money and resources, and improve the quality of life for citizens, all while collecting valuable data) then took off, when several countries (such as South Korea, UAE or China), seeing the concept’s future potential, started investing in research and formation, and today we have examples such as Songdo International Business District (which was designed and created to be a Smart City, and built from the ground up, featuring a wide area network with data being collected from houses, offices and streets) or Amsterdam Smart City initiative (whose local residents, businesses and government have collaborated to develop over 170 projects). In Barcelona we see daily applications of what is called its “CityOS” strategy, namely the irrigation system in Parc del Centre de Poblenou (sensor technology was applied to convey real time data to gardening crews regarding the level of water required for the plants) whereas in Santa Cruz, California, local authorities use Smart City technology to assist with predicting police requirements (a daily list is generated containing the 10 most probable property crime locations and subsequently places available police efforts in the vicinity).
And so, innovative ideas started to see a realistic way of being carried out from the original concept, from individual-centred transportation and electric power as well as intelligent systems to assist in managing food, water, public safety and healthcare.
Each day is more likely that we see a redefined relationship between creator and creation; from an intelligent, interconnected world we are closer than ever before to see systems that can understand, reason and learn, using analytics, natural language processing and machine learning.
Where do we go from here?
With the progress that Smart Cities have been experiencing, they will become more present and increase the complexity and quantity of their features – from self-driving cars to drone takeaway delivery, the future is being prepared now.
However, there are expected complications getting in the way, and they all come to the foundation, so to say. It comes down to data.
Currently, the way that data is presented isn’t conducive to its proper analysis; it wasn’t yet adjusted to promote human interpretation of the massive amount of data being generated in any given time, which means that, instead of clarifying the links between data, the decision-making process is difficulted.
Another relevant issue has to do with the smart cities’ siloed nature, which hinders the interaction between different sectors’ sensors, preventing data crossing. This may be related with security costs as well as with older systems that didn’t consider synergy between different data providers.
We will need to alter the way we interact with data so that smart cities are aptly called ‘smart’.
On the other hand, there is an ever-pressing need to update infrastructures (taking into account smart buildings, for instance), in order to prepare and take into consideration newer technologies and new ways of living, which means planners need, now more than ever, to be in touch with technology.