“Smart Cities” are a popular topic for government officials and technology companies alike. That’s due in part to many major cities (like Boston, New York, Singapore, and London) rolling out new data-driven solutions meant to improve life and living environments for citizens.
These solutions, rather than just representing technological advances, actually show us how managers and decision-makers in the private and public sectors can come together to serve the public, and how the new metropolitan experience will revolve around participatory digital citizenship.
But what is a “Smart City”? What technology is involved in a smart city, and how does it actually benefit people? Here, we’ll talk about what a smart city is and how it addresses some of the basic issues facing cities today.
Literally, a “Smart City” is a city that uses digital communication technologies and big data to improve operational efficiency and the quality of life for residents.
As a big-picture definition, that sounds great. But the reality of a Smart City is much more complex than this because the technologies and benefits of a Smart City can touch almost any and every aspect of your life.
They key to a truly Smart City is the integration of existing city utilities and resources into a larger communication network. By connecting critical operations to a data-gathering network of recorders, sensors, and cloud servers, officials and engineers can gather raw data and convert it into actionable intelligence that allows these municipal resources to respond to the needs of the people who use them every day. This offers a few significant benefits, like
To realize this kind of integration, Smart City designers leverage innovative technologies and network tools gained from Big Data analytics and the Internet of Things (IoT). These technologies include:
This last aspect is perhaps the most important. No matter where a system gathers data from, and no matter what officials and engineers plan to do with it, there needs to be a unified platform that integrates the resources throughout the city with the communication network that transports that data, the software that processes and analyzes that data, and the people who will engage with the intelligence extracted from that data. Platforms ensure the interoperability of data, users, and systems.
Smart cities are becoming more of a reality because they address key concerns about sustainability and efficiency across several verticals related to city management. As mentioned earlier, cities are living entities that evolve and change on a moment-by-moment basis. So having access to real-time data based on events as they happen and resources, as they are used, provides cities with the intelligence they need to be more efficient, sustainable, and responsive to the needs of residents.
The benefits of a more efficient and more sustainable city are directly measurable in three categories:
In a move towards more productive relationships between private and public institutions, smart cities require businesses and state organizations to work together to develop solutions for complex problems related to managing city resources. It also requires some participation on the part of citizens in order to provide real-time, actionable data.
Government officials also have a major stake in the development of smart cities, for fairly obvious reasons. The kinds of intelligence and reflexive data available in a smart city are significant and promote the kinds of efficient management that most cities need. But, shifting to a smart city paradigm calls for different styles of management and innovative ways of thinking.
That’s not even mentioning the major effects of Smart City planning and participation will have on local and regional politics. With this kind of integration, there will be new ways to poll, vote, and reach out to constituents, and more ways to develop political platforms based on actual intelligence related to the day-to-day activity of all citizens.
This is great news for businesses in invested in IoT, data visualization, software platforms, and cloud computing solutions. More importantly, these businesses can get the best of both worlds, by putting their money and energy toward profitable operations that also serve the public in major and measurable, ways.
Finally, the residents that benefit from smart cities play a huge role in its success. They obviously benefit from lower utility costs, better municipal resources, and overall improved quality of life. But as more digital tools become available that allow residents to control the information they give and receive in relation to city services, they can make their preferences known more easily. This then calls for citizens to develop an awareness of how their behaviors affect the larger system, including city planners and their neighbors.
While Smart Cities are seen as the wave of the “future”, there are already several cities implementing their own smart solutions to common problems:
Boston has been encouraging smart development since 2010. Starting with the “App Showcase”, part of the Boston “smart masterplan”, residents in Boston can use their smartphones and a special app to report service outages and issues. Furthermore, other apps allow parents to track the location of a student’s school bus, while decentralized hubs provide public transit information, so residents can make decisions about how to get to and from work.
Smart Cities are our present and our future. As challenges related to finances, the environment, and efficiency continue to get more difficult in the upcoming years, decision-makers in the private and public sectors are going to need to respond with new and innovative approaches. Luckily, the advancements in IoT, integrated software platforms and wireless communications are making such solutions a reality.