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Smart cities concept arose during the global economic crisis of 2008. At that time, the IBM started working on the “smarter cities” concept as part of their Smarter Planet Initiative. At the start of 2009, the smart city concept had charmed the imagination of many nations across the world. Some countries like China, UAE and South Korea started investing heavily into formation and research. Currently, several excellent precedents that India can emulate already exist. They include Aarhus, Vienna, Cairo, Amsterdam, Malaga, Lyon, Malta, and the Songdo International Business District.
First, what is a smart city?
Smart cities are urban regions that are highly advanced in regards to the overall infrastructure, sustainable real estate, market viability and the principal infrastructure. Information technology is the primary infrastructure and key in providing important services to the residents. During the development phase, various technological platforms are involved. They include data centres and sensor networks.
According to the Smart Cities Website, the key infrastructures include adequate water supply, assured electricity supply, efficient public transport and urban mobility and affordable housing particularly for the poor. Others include robust digitalisation and IT connectivity, safety and security, health and education in addition to good governance and sustainable environment.
Some emerging features like machine learning, automation and Internet of Things (IoT) are actually driving the adoption of smart cities. Theoretically, any city management area can be added into the smart city initiative. Among the classic examples is the smart parking meters that use smartphone apps to assist drivers find the available parking spaces without circling crowded city blocks. Smart meters also enable digital payment.
In the transport industry, smart traffic management monitors and analyses the flow of traffic to optimize the streetlights and to prevent roadways from being congested based on the daytime or the rush-hour schedules. Another facet of the smart cities is smart public transit that is commonly used to ensure that the public transportation meets the user demand. Most smart transit companies use the smart public transit to coordinate their services and to fulfil the needs of riders in real time. Bike sharing and ride sharing also exist in smart cities.
Energy efficiency and conservation are a major focus in smart cities. Smart streetlights, which feature smart sensors, dim automatically whenever there are no pedestrians or cars on roadways. Even more, smart grid technology facilitates improvement of maintenance, operation, planning and the supply of power on demand. With smart sensors, it is easier to monitor energy outages.
Why smart cities?
The aim of smart City initiatives is to address and monitor environmental concerns like air pollution and climate change. Smart technology – involving IoT enabled waste transport management systems or internet connected trashcans – also helps improve sanitation.
Smart city technology has also helped in improving public safety. It has helped monitor high crime areas and improved usability of sensors in emergency preparedness. A quick example: smart sensors function as critical components of early warning systems before floods, droughts, hurricanes or landslides.
The other important feature of smart cities is smart buildings. Legacy infrastructures may be retrofitted and other buildings featuring sensors constructed to ensure public safety and to offer real-time space management. When attached to buildings, the sensors can easily detect wear and tear and even notify the officials when repairs are necessary. Also, the citizens can help in the matter by using smart city apps to notify officials through smart city apps when repairs are necessary in public infrastructure and buildings. Sensors also detect water main leaks and therefore help to minimize costs and increase workers efficiency.
Smart city technologies have also contributed greatly to the efficiency of urban farming and manufacturing. They have helped create more jobs, conserve energy and manage space. Consumers are also benefiting from fresher goods.
How smart cities will foster sustainability
Smart cities are fostering sustainability. How? With smart technologies, urbanization is likely to grow consistently. Around 80% of the Americans live in metropolitan areas. 50 years ago, only 60% lived in metropolitan areas. Smart technologies will help most cities sustain the growth and improve the efficiency for government efficiency and citizen welfare in the urban areas. Manhole covers and water meters are another part of city components that smart sensors monitor. Smart cities also include publically available and free Wi-Fi.
Concerns and challenges of smart cities
The smart city initiatives have to include the individuals they are aiming to help – the businesspeople, the residents and the visitors. City leaders should not focus on raising awareness of smart city technologies benefits solely. It should promote use of open democratized data to the citizens. When the people are aware of what they are taking part in and the associated benefits, they are likely to engage.
Fostering coaction between private, the city residents and the public sector is important in developing smart citizens who can be engaged and empowered to contribute to the community and city positively. Innovative and new collaboration methods improve engagement. Smart city developers should create plans on how to make data transparent and accessible by the parents – often through mobile apps and data portals.
That enables smart city residents to engage and understand the data. Through the smart city apps, residents can complete simple chores like viewing the energy consumption in their home, locating the most efficient public transportation and paying bills.
Most smart city opponents are worried that city managers may not maintain data security and privacy. That may place the data that citizens produce on regular basis at great risk of misuse and hacking. Moreover, presence of cameras and sensors is perceived as government surveillance and invasion of privacy. Any smart data the government collects should remain anonymous and personally unidentifiable information.
Some smart cities like the Kansa City involve smart streetlights, many blocks of public Wi-Fi and interactive kiosks. Parking spaces, pedestrian hotspots, and traffic flow is also publically available through data visualization apps. San Diego has already installed over 3,200 smart sensors to help optimize parking, traffic and to enhance public safety. Solar-to-electric charging systems exist to empower the use of electric vehicles. Connected cameras also pinpoint crime and monitor traffic.