Smart city technology has the potential to improve key quality of life factors for city residents.
Ongoing research suggests that smart city initiatives are improving quality of life (QOL) for urban residents — often in non-trivial ways. In 2018, the McKinsey Global Institute analyzed dozens of smart city applications across 50 cities and discovered that such initiatives can improve urban QOL by as much as 10-30%. McKinsey’s analysis looked at applications like predictive policing, intelligent traffic signals, smart parking, and data-driven public health interventions.
Clearly, the advantages of “smart” initiatives go beyond cost savings and efficiency improvements. When implemented strategically, emerging technologies can have a measurable impact on qualitative factors as well. Smart city technology is already starting to change lives for the better, and more change is on the way. To drive ROI against QOL metrics, municipal planners and city agencies must give them as much attention as they do factors like energy use and air quality.
Why Quality of Life Matters
Quality of life doesn’t measure just one aspect of urban living — from the time residents spend sitting in traffic, to how safe they feel walking around downtown, the metric has many dimensions. Although there is no one agreed-upon rubric for QOL, a number of organizations have used a mix of both objective and subjective factors to define the concept.
For instance, the World Health Organization (WHO) proposes its WHOQOL as an international, cross-cultural assessment. This measure emphasizes health-related statistics, including safety, recreation, traffic, pollution, transportation, mobility, and community support. Similarly, a 2018 study in Journal of Cleaner Production identified four main domains that could make up QOL — societal services and structuring, environmental health, material well-being, and community.
Each year, many organizations rank the most livable cities. The U.S. News & World Report 2018 quality of life index ranked cities based on factors like affordability, job prospects, and well-being. Austin, TX topped the list, followed by Colorado Springs, CO., and Denver, CO. The crowd-sourced site Numbeo collects data on QOL factors like cost of living, pollution, crime rates, healthcare quality, and commute length. By these measures, Raleigh, NC., Madison, WI., and Dallas, TX., top the list of most livable cities.
Mercer, a global HR consultancy firm, creates a yearly QOL index, analyzing and ranking cities worldwide for factors like recreation, health, the availability of consumer goods, public services, and transportation. Topping Mercer’s list are Vienna, Austria, and Zürich, Switzerland.
And of course, it’s possible to rank the least livable cities, based on factors like median home value, poverty rate, crime, infrastructure, and education. By some stats, the least livable cities include Salt Lake City, UT. and Atlanta, GA. — largely due to elevated crime rates — along with economically depressed cities like Baltimore, MD., and Cleveland, OH.
Of course, the vast majority of cities fall somewhere in the middle — and these could very well be the cities with the most potential to improve through smart city initiatives. A positive quality of life means more than happy residents. It means attracting new residents, retaining high-value ones, and preventing “brain drain.” It likewise contributes to lower costs related to health care and utilities. Ideally, creating a high quality of life will even boost a city’s economic prospects.
Smart City Technology and QOL
Smart city initiatives establish intelligent networks of connected assets that allow cities to better understand and provide for their citizens’ wants and needs. From public services like energy delivery, transportation, and internet connectivity to infrastructure systems like parks, roadways, and housing, America’s cities are responsible for a wealth of urban “ingredients” that impact their citizenry’s quality of life.
Developing a Smart City Platform
For many of the above smart city solutions, the power of this improved data collection is that it can be made actionable. City officials and workers can view the data immediately and respond appropriately. But that raises some questions — how will the right people actually collect and view that data? Can that happen quickly enough to make a difference? For instance, if the streets are about to overflow, the flood prevention team needs mobile access to the rapidly changing information coming from an array of sewer sensors. For cities hoping to truly leverage smart city technology, it’s not enough to install sensors and collect data for historical analysis. Departments and agencies need tools that help them use all that data in real-time, while it’s still actually useful.
That means implementing software solutions designed to provide better situational awareness and, most importantly, make data actionable. With the right platform, officials can integrate all relevant sources of data, share that visibility across their team, stay on top of changes and alerts, and make better decisions. This can mean everything from better train service to more efficient workflows for repairmen to better parking availability. And in the hands of emergency services, real-time insights can save lives. Truly smart cities will address quality of life with as much care as they do cost controls, and to make a real impact on QOL, cities will need to start with actionable data and real-time situational awareness.