What is a Smart City?



Published on: September 1, 2020

I frequently get asked What is a Smart City and my answer invariably depends on who I am speaking to. Such is to say: the smart city is many things to many people, and many definitions exist. This article offers an overview of some of the most common themes people discuss when talking about the smart city.

Everything about our lives is getting smarter in the 21st century. Fortunately, our cities have also been caught in this wave. For a city to be smart, it has to be an urban region that leverages information and communication technology to serve the citizenry. A smart city is built to optimize resources while meeting the populace’s environmental, economic, and social needs.

A smart city incorporates ICT concepts such as big data, and electronic internet of things (IoT), to collect data from different devices to provide better services, such as:

  • Intelligent infrastructure
  • Better security
  • Smarter transportation systems
  • E-governance and increased citizen participation
  • Waste management
  • Commerce
  • Resource allocation

A smart city also supports the United Nations concept of sustainable living. Sustainability speaks to the city’s ability to meet present needs without sabotaging the future.

It involves finding long-term solutions that meet the economic, environmental, and social needs of the present while creating future opportunities.

The need for smart cities has never been more pressing than it is now. It is estimated that by the year 2050, 70% of the world population would live in urban cities, i.e., over 6.5 billion people will live in cities. Urban cities now make up about 3% of the global land area. And according to research carried out in 2012, they accounted for over 75% of the natural resource consumption and 60-80% of carbon emissions.

To solve these challenges, cities have begun adopting smart technologies that provide sustainable living while delivering a higher quality of life.

Big Data and Internet of Things (IoT) in the Smart City

Cities have always needed information to function better. The first known census was taken as way back as 3800BCE in Babylon. This census went as far as counting the amount of milk, vegetables, livestock that the empire had. The idea of collecting detailed information is still useful, and cities need to gather as much data as possible to provide a better quality of life in a sustainable environment.

Big Data works by collecting, studying, and analyzing large sums of data to show patterns and trends concerning human behavior analyses. Big Data is data coming from everywhere and everything, and it works hand-in-hand with the Internet of things (IoT). IoT involves the use of sensors to connect physical structures and devices, basically everything, to the internet. These interconnected devices can then interact, collect, and share data between them.

The importance of this cannot be overemphasized. For instance, imagine how easy it would have been to combat the COVID-19 pandemic if we could detect carriers’ movements and the people they made contact with correctly. It would have been easier to quarantine and check the spread of the virus. Your phone would also be smarter and more useful as it can direct you to the nearest parking space within a parking lot without any hassle. Bad roads can be detected faster, and emergency services can be alerted in case of an accident without human input.

Smart city managers can use these data to surmount present urbanization challenges such as sustainable living in the face of a growing population.

Key Features of a Smart City

There are many ways that a city can become smart. However, comprehensive development that improves infrastructure to support better living is a common trait. Below is a list of features that makes a city smart:

Smart Infrastructure:

The journey to becoming a smart city begins with the availability of smart buildings and infrastructure. Physical infrastructure such as roads, street lights, and buildings, in general, are fitted with smart sensors that generate, collect, and analyze data. Better buildings and infrastructure are crucial to the efficient running of other parts of a smart city such as smart environment, digitalized governance, smart transportation, sustainable living, and waste management. It is estimated that water and energy consumption can be reduced by over 40% if smart buildings are implemented.

For instance, Austria’s smart office buildings have been credited with contributing more energy to the grid than it consumes.

Also, smart infrastructure can aid better connectivity. In New York, the city launched a pilot program where hundreds of smart sensors are placed in different business districts. The data collected is used to promote commerce and waste management through the use of smart bins.

Smart Transportation

Smart transportation aims at reducing traffic congestion while providing safer, faster, more economical, and greener means of travel. Smart transportation systems use various data sources to monitor and ease traffic for both mass transit and private transport. We see instances of this in Copenhagen, where the Copenhagen Solutions Lab monitors traffic and controls traffic lights according to traffic movement and density, parking spaces, and available routes. Also, in Sao Paulo, the city’s bicycle-sharing scheme has cut down carbon dioxide emissions by over 570 tons from 2012 to 2016. The Grand Paris Express is another perfect example of how transportation can be made fast and sustainable.

Smarter Waste Management

Waste management is crucial to sustainable living, but the rate at which waste is produced in urban areas is astronomical. Smart waste management involves the use of technology in the reduction, collection, and recycling of waste. Some cities, such as New York, Singapore, and Barcelona, have incorporated smart bins to monitor waste levels for greater management efficiency.

Commerce and economic development

Despite suffering a significant economic downturn in the 1980s, Barcelona has still managed to become one of the most advanced cities in Spain. With the use of smart technology, Barcelona has been able to maintain economic growth for its populace. By implementing low-energy lightning, automated waste management, renewable energy sources, and regulated energy consumption, Barcelona reduced expenditure, saving billions of dollars each year. These funds can, in turn, be reinvested in to facilitate economic growth further.

Improved Security

With the use of information communication technology, security agencies can better manage and curb crime. Data-driven policing can be used to not only prevent crime but also to respond quickly should it occur. Applications such as smart surveillance, gunshot detection, and home security systems can aid in saving over 300 lives per year. Cities like Dubai, have autonomous police stations where people can report crimes without any human intervention. The New York Police Department has been able to reduce violent crimes in the city through its Hunch Lap, an internet-based software. The app works by using historical crime data to predict and respond to crimes.

E-governance and increased citizen participation:

Cities like Amsterdam and Singapore have used smart technology to ensure greater up-down and bottom-up governance. Citizens can now participate more in how the State is being run through their smartphones. “Virtual Singapore” is an application that allows the government to amass data relating to the everyday activities in the city.

Technology can be used to improve virtually all facets of life. Hence, we cannot exhaust all the possibilities that smart cites can provide. Features such as Smart health, better energy and water management, integrated connectivity are also things to look out for in a smart city. As we look forward

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