It seems to me….
“Smart cities are those who manage their resources efficiently. Traffic, public services and disaster response should be operated intelligently in order to minimize costs, reduce carbon emissions, and increase performance.” ~ Eduardo Paes.
Many cities are experiencing exponential growth as people move from rural areas in search of better jobs and education. The urban population is growing with nearly two-thirds of Americans and 54 percent of the world currently living in cities. And this number is increasing: by 2050 75 percent of the human population will be urban dwellers. Some changes are necessitated as cities are responsible for 70 percent of global carbon dioxide emissions. Urbanization is an issue with which all cities must necessarily deal and many of them are seeking ways to better serve their constituents.
Cities’ services and infrastructures are being stretched to their limits in terms of scalability, environment, and security as they adapt to support population growth. Urban visionaries and planners are seeking to develop a sustainable economy to improve energy efficiency and minimize carbon-emission levels. Along with cities’ growth, innovative solutions are crucial for improving productivity (increasing operational efficiency) and reducing management costs.
While the definition of a smart city remains somewhat imprecise, it basically is an ultra-modern urban area that is addressing the needs of its businesses, institutions, and especially citizens. While the objective of both a smart city and smart urbanism is the same – the life of its citizens – there are primary difference. Historically, architects of ancient cities did not take into consideration long-term scalability; e.g., housing accessibility, sustainable development, transport systems, and growth; there is no scalable resource management that may be applied from one decade to another.
Not every city will have the same goals and needs to become a smart city; the technologies a smart city needs vary based on the region and the country. Considerable planning is necessary as just implementing various technologies simply because they exist is not sufficient. Even if an implementation is successful in one location, it does not guarantee it will be equally successful elsewhere.
Smart city planning is being able to adapt and be significantly more agile than in the past utilizing IoT sensors and technology to connect components across the city to derive data and improve the lives of citizens and visitors. Leveraging advances in smart infrastructure, information, and communications technologies combined with data analytics can help cities as well as energy, water, telecom, and transportation companies meet their goals to becoming “smarter”. If not planned for, there isn’t any way to take advantage of the opportunities afforded by technology, the opportunities that are being revealed through data, and the opportunities afforded by having different city systems work together in a much more interconnected way.
Citizens are demanding more out of their cities than in the past. Not only are cost savings and efficiency important, they’re expecting the same services and opportunities from cities that they receive from leading technology and service providers. An improved customer experience, cost efficiencies, resiliency enhancements, or sustainability improvements are not possible without smarter planning.
Simply inundating smart city projects with data does not work due to access, analytics, availability, and the ability to turn big data into insights. It’s important to break down urban silos so that each department within a city knows on what the other is working. Data also needs to be unconstrained as it moves between systems with due attention to intellectual property, security, and privacy concerns. Privacy issues must balance the need to provide sufficient information to improve service while preserving personal confidentiality.
Data collection and analysis is a key component of a smart city to provide predictive analytics. Sensors, especially IoT sensors, actuators, and technology are necessary to connect components across the city and they impact every layer of a city from under the streets to the air its citizens breath. Examples are support for multi-modal transportation, smart traffic lights, and smart parking as well as overall energy usage using smart grids and smart meters.
The massive amounts of data collected must be quickly analyzed and patterns derived from the collected data. Open data portals are one option that some cities have chosen in order to publish city data online so anyone can access it and use predictive analytics to assess future patterns.
Initiatives are underway in numerous locations in many different countries. Cities across the U.S. have begun to draw on the reams of data at their disposal – about income, burglaries, traffic, fires, illnesses, parking citations… – to tackle many of the problems of urban life. President Obama in 2016 announced a “Smart Cities” federal initiative to research and leverage more than 25 new technology collaborations to help local communities tackle key challenges such as reducing traffic congestion, fighting crime, fostering economic growth, managing the effects of a changing climate, and improving the delivery of city services. Cities are finding more ways to use the considerable amounts of data at their disposal.
Cities are caught between the proverbial rock and a hard spot: most are experiencing substantial budget constraints, unable to adequately maintain schools or infrastructure (water, sewer, transportation…), while attempting to increase operating efficiency by investing in expensive technology without any guarantee of success. They must attempt to plan and implement an integrated solution maximizing the economy, society, environment, and welfare of its communities and that facilitates supporting the shift towards more sustainable behavior among all stakeholders: users, companies, and administration.
The only reasonable way for cities to reduced public spending is to increases their efficiency and quality of services but in addition coping with financial constraints, many also encounter political opposition from departmental Balkanization protecting internal fiefdoms – data and operational silos. Even many constituents accepting the advantages of system implementation seek to delay investment believing current critical priorities must be resolved prior to what they consider to be non-crucial expenditures.
To reap the benefits of the smart cities movement requires the U.S. to get “smart” in more ways than one. At stake is not just greater livability and sustainability but the jobs and investment that accrue to communities at the cutting edge of innovation.
That’s what I think, what about you?
 Eduardo da Costa Paes is a Brazilian politician who is the former mayor of the city of Rio de Janeiro.
 Khatoun, Rida, and Sherali Zeadally. Smart Cities: Concepts, Architectures, Research Opportunities, Communications of the ACM, August 2016, pp46-57.
 Urban Population Growth, World Health Organization (WHO), http://www.who.int/gho/urban_health/situation_trends/urban_population_growth_text/en/.