Smart City Initiatives

Leading examples of smart cities across the globe

How Smart City Initiatives Are Changing Urban Environments

Smart cities around the world are using technology to improve city services, address environmental issues and raise their residents’ quality of life. Advancements in the Internet of Things (IoT) and Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) are driving the change, making cities more efficient and safer. 

With close to 66 percent of the world population predicted to be living in urban environments by 2050, cities will need to tackle issues such as congestion, resource management, and pollution. Enhanced city operations and new solutions will bring benefits such as improved safety, clean air, water conservation, energy efficiency, and mobility.

Read on to learn what makes a city “smart”, how smart city technology can benefit residents, and see examples of new smart city initiatives and urban planning.

In this article:

What Is A Smart City

What makes a city smart? A city is smart when it leverages technology to improve city services and increase the quality of life of its residents. City governments can use the Internet of Things (IoT) to collect data from citizens, devices, and assets. They can make use of this data with the help of technologies such as machine learning and data analysis, which can help authorities improve resource management and public services.

Smart cities aim to use technology solutions to address issues such as air and water pollution, sanitation, and public safety. The initiatives often focus on areas such as energy and water conservation, with cities incorporating smart street lighting and automated water meters.

Cities use software solutions to improve transportation issues, monitoring traffic flow to prevent congestion and managing public transport schedules to attend to citizens’ demands in real time. Multimodal mobility solutions, including ride sharing and micro-mobility programs like bike sharing, are also common in smart cities.

Smart cities often apply technology solutions to improve public services such as waste management. One example is the BigBelly project in New York, consisting of smart trash cans that optimize waste collection and recycling.

Information and Communications Technology (ICT) plays a major role in smart cities
Cities apply ICT solutions to improve efficiency in city operations. Through e-participation, city halls engage local governance and launch initiatives such as London’s open innovation challenge. City authorities use ICT solutions to monitor urban activities, connecting with communities and the city infrastructure. 

To improve traffic or environmental conditions, smart cities need data to track them. IoT sensors and devices can gather data on weather and traffic patterns, as well as water usage. For example, smart sensors allow street lights to dim according to the number of pedestrians looking to cross the road. Other sensors measure air quality in highly populated areas.  

Benefits Of Smart Cities

The demand for more efficient city management solutions is growing at a rapid pace. More cities are implementing smart city projects, with investment in smart city solutions expected to increase to $224.5 billion in 2021. 

Cities leverage smart technologies to improve sustainability, governance, environmental management, and transportation. Some of the main benefits cities derive from implementing smart technologies are:

  • Effective decision making—city officials can address issues quickly, by getting the data processed in real-time. For example, cities can predict the crime rate in high-risk areas and distribute police officers using big data applications. 
  • Improved transportation—cities use traffic management solutions to optimize public transit and manage traffic flow, through intelligent traffic signals. Other technologies such as mobile applications enable citizens to track public transport options in real time and even to pay fares online. 
  • Efficient utilities—cities use smart sensors to conserve water and electricity. New York implemented smart water meters that track water usage and alert authorities to leaks and damage, reducing waste. Smart street lighting helps cities avoid energy waste by adjusting the light intensity according to usage. 
  • Economic growth—the implementation of smart city projects attracts talent, generating a fertile environment for the growth of tech companies. In addition, investment in smart city technologies is associated with an increase in economic growth. A report from ESI Thought Lab, covering 136 cities, found that smart city initiatives can increase economic growth as much as 21 percent. 

Smart City Projects

Around the world, governments and private companies are changing urban environments. 
Some governments and enterprises are taking a bold approach and building new cities from the ground up. By designing smart cities from scratch, they can take full advantage of new technologies. 

These are three examples of new smart cities:

Songdo, South Korea

This energy efficient, highly digital and heavily surveilled city is benefiting its 50,000 residents with features such as:

  • A city plan that prioritizes public transport and bikes
  • Green areas covering 40% of the city’s area
  • Tunnels connecting homes directly to waste processing centers 

Belmont, Arizona, U.S.A
Developed by a private investment group, Belmont will consist of some 80,000 residential units plus commercial and open space. Some of the key points of the new city include:

  • It is designed for autonomous vehicles, including self-driving cars
  • The entire city will use sensors to optimize resources
  • The plans include high-speed digital networks and data centers in the city 

Masdar, UAE
This planned work community focuses on sustainability. 

  • The entire city is powered by renewable energy, such as solar and wind. 
  • High-performance buildings allow for a 40% reduction in water and energy usage 
  • The city boasts a network of autonomous vehicles connecting the business district 

However, most people live in long-established cities, which were not designed for efficiency or sustainability. Many major cities are incorporating the IoT into the existing urban infrastructure.. Since they cannot rebuild the city, big metropolises are deploying smart city projects such as smart traffic lights, interactive kiosks for wi-fi, and autonomous vehicles.
These are examples of established cities that are implementing smart city initiatives: 

The city launched a smart city program in 2009, implementing 70 different collaborative projects to improve the economy, environment, government, living standard, and mobility. Some key projects include:

  • Renewable energy—taking advantage of projects like GridFriends for sharing energy and installing solar roofs on metro stations.
  • Smart mobility—using car sharing platforms and an autonomous transportation line that carries approximately 2500 passengers every day
  • Reuse, recycle—initiatives include a project that incinerates garbage to produce electricity, and the use of sewer water to produce natural gas

The city is gathering data from sensors and processing it through an open-source platform, Sentilo. Barcelona is applying smart technologies for uses such as:

  • Smart street lights that adjust to traffic volume
  • Home waste management solutions that direct the garbage to designated underground collection spots, reducing garbage trucks 
  • Optimizing transportation with multimodal mobility options

The city has launched over 20 initiatives with the goal of becoming the smartest capital in the world. With a model based on digital collaboration between public and private stakeholders, big data analytics are promoting economic growth and tech development. Some of the initiatives include:

  • Smart lamp posts—with sensors to monitor air quality
  • The Heathrow pod system—a fleet of autonomous vehicles connecting the airport terminal 5 with the car park  
  • 5G wireless connection—installing 5G cells across the city 
  • London datastore—a free and open data-sharing portal with more than 700 datasets of city information 

The city won the U.S Department of Transportation smart city challenge in 2016, and since then is developing several projects to connect neighborhoods, improve public safety, address environmental concerns and engage community members.
Some of the projects include:

  • Smart Columbus Operating System—a free-access central hub for data collection and processing for all the city smart initiatives. 
  • Connected vehicles—to improve public safety, prioritize emergency teams and manage traffic. 
  • Smart mobility kiosks—self-service travel kiosks that provide the citizens with mobility options, displaying real-time transportation data of multiple transportation modes. 
  • Connected autonomous vehicles—shuttles in the Easton neighborhood connecting passengers from the central station to areas with heavy employment concentration.

What’s Next?

With new cities being planned and others being refurbished, the future of smart cities looks bright. Residents can benefit from a greener environment with cleaner air and water, the use of renewable energies, an improved transportation system, and better opportunities. 

Smart cities are attracting talent, investors, and companies, turning into a hub of technology innovation. The new technologies and initiatives implemented around the world are turning smart cities from a futuristic dream into a reality. 

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