How Smart Are Smart Cities Getting?

Urbanization in the 21st century is creating a set of new challenges for governance. How will national, state/provincial, and city governments effectively provide vital services to citizens? And as a greater portion of the world’s population gets connected through smart phones and other slick new data-sharing devices, how will people access those services?

In the next 20 years, the world population will grow from 6.9 to 8.3 billion people. However, the urban population will grow even faster, from 3.5 to 5.0 billion people, over the same time period. That means the urban population is growing an average of 1.2 percent per year and cities must welcome 75 million new people to the neighborhood every single year. That’s the population of five Mumbais added to cities annually. So city governments around the world are starting to look for innovative ways to provide crucial municipal services.

Major software and telecom vendors have noticed this and have started to develop “smart city” platforms that will allow municipal governments to manage a wide variety of public services, from utilities to education to healthcare to public safety, in new ways. There’s no standard recipe for a smart city, but the general idea is to centralize the management of municipal services, thereby making them easier and less expensive to manage, especially as demand for those services grows. For example, the city of Chicago worked with IBM and the network provider Firetide Networks to deploy a network of videos and sensors that will help Chicago multiply its ability to monitor and control crime beyond its existing police force as demands on Chicago’s police force increase.

Of course, sustainability is a major driver of the smart city movement worldwide. However, in this case, it’s a slightly different breed of sustainability than we typically see. On a basic level, smart cities are usually a component part of larger urban initiatives to integrate smart grid technologies (such as smart meters), renewable energy, and electric vehicle charging infrastructure, which have an obvious role in curbing energy consumption and carbon emissions. But on a deeper level, the smart city phenomenon represents a move toward making cities more attractive to families, businesses, and industries – sustainable in the sense that they can maintain a high quality-of-life for residents in the long term.

There’s also a competitive undercurrent to smart cities. For example, Amsterdam is looking to use its smart city platform to cut carbon emissions by 40 percent by 2025, a feat that would place it ahead of many other cities in the Netherlands and Europe and, perhaps, attract an increasingly sustainability-minded population. The early adopters hope that, by getting on the smart cities train early, they’ll be in a position to provide top-quality municipal services and, hence, a better quality of life for citizens, in the coming decades.

While the smart city concept evokes a few common themes across all projects (sustainability, quality-of-life, economic development, and competitiveness), there are many different sizes and shapes to smart city platform, which I’ll be discussing in greater depth in subsequent posts.

Article by Eric Bloom, appearing courtesy the Matter Network.

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One comment on “How Smart Are Smart Cities Getting?

It’s obvious that in a few years time a couple of “smart cities” will have surpassed all of the other cities around them, deepening the gaps even more.

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