Despite the challenges coronavirus has handed us, cities are still the center of life for many. If you’re an urban dweller, imagine your pre-pandemic commute to work. If you drive into the city, you likely got up when your alarm went off – early – to ensure you beat traffic. If you drive, even before the day began, you may have spent up to a half hour circling your workplace and looking for a place to park. If you take public transit, perhaps you spent your morning frustrated thanks to late buses, trains, and other modes of transportation.
And that’s just the traffic management aspect.
If you’re a city dweller, you’ve likely had to take more factors into account when it comes to living in your home. Concerns about air pollution have been on the rise for years, with cities like Los Angeles becoming just as famous for the Hollywood Hills as they are for the thick layer of smog that is often visible to visitors and residents. Further, concerns about crime have always been central to city life, with congestion making it difficult for emergency vehicles to access crime scenes and sites of traffic accidents.
However, there is good news: cities are becoming more connected, efficient, and as a result, have the potential to improve the quality of life for their citizens. By 2020, global Smart City spending is expected to reach $34 billion. Further, by 2050, urban expansion is expected to soar to new heights, with 70 percent of the world’s population located in a city.
You’ve likely heard the term “Smart City” before. But for many, the idea is an abstract concept that brings forth notions of vaguely science fiction-esque, futuristic ways of living.
Yet, smart cities are a much closer reality than we think, with smart cities examples like Amsterdam and Shanghai already utilizing smart city initiatives to increase efficiency. For those unfamiliar, the Smart City concept uses different types of data collection sensors to manage assets and resources more efficiently by tracking information. These monitored items run the gamut of anything from waste management to air quality, traffic and transportation systems, hospitals, schools, law enforcement, and libraries. The data collected is then analyzed to respond to challenges and make improvements. The central concept to a Smart City is using technology and data to maximize the use of resources while making everyday life easier and better for the people who live and work in the city.
More and more people are migrating to cities – in fact, the UN predicts that 68 percent of the world’s population will live in urban areas by 2050. As a result, cities are facing growing environmental, economic, and societal challenges. Yet, when we make cities smarter, we address these challenges head-on and make cities a better place to live. One report by McKinsey Global Institute found smart city technology can improve the quality of key life indicators – such as crime incidents, health issues, and the daily commute – by 10 to 30 percent.
Smart cities are made possible thanks to a “perfect storm” of technology trends that allow us to create more spaces in which technology interacts with humans in a more automated, connected and intelligent way. These trends include having access to Wi-Fi, big data, the Internet of Things (IoT), and artificial intelligence. When combined, these advances rapidly change the world and how we live in it – and this includes our cities.
The current world population is 7.8 billion (July 2020) and its growing. Roughly half of the world’s population lives in urban environments, and according to LinkedIn Learning, about 3 million people move to cities each week. If we look to the next 20 years, this figure equates to approximately 20 billion more people living in cities. Unfortunately, cities are not prepared to receive this influx of people.
According to Jonathan Reichental, Ph.D., chief information officer for the City of Palo Alto, a city that is utilizing smart solutions, as we continue to use finite resources, such as fossil fuels and clean drinking water, and we create more waste, the challenges for cities rapidly change. Thus, while better meeting the needs of our citizens, we will need to think differently about how to address these complex issues.
Further, citizens will demand that their cities be transparent with the data that is collected. Palo Alto has already enacted a solution for this by investing in its infrastructure. For the last few years, they have also ensured through an open data portal that the data they stored is available to anyone who wants to see it. This transparency allows them to understand what citizens want and how infrastructure can build the best solutions for them.
When technologies are utilized correctly, Smart Cities can solve a number of problems that cities face on a day-to-day basis. For instance…
If you’re a city dweller, you’re no stranger to the problems presented by congestion within a city. Traffic congestion can cause you to be late and can make it take twice as long to get to a particular destination, among other daily annoyances. Interestingly, the Smart City Challenge report estimates that 30 percent of urban congestion is caused by drivers looking for a parking spot.
An example of a Smart City solution includes installing lighted sensors, like Park Assist®, to lead drivers in an easy and quick manner to parking spaces that are available in real time. Further, public transport routes can be adjusted in real-time according to demand, and intelligent traffic light systems can be used to improve congestion. In the Chinese city of Hangzhou, an AI-based smart “City Brain” has helped to reduce traffic jams by 15 percent.
The public investment in smart cities may mean massive expansion in gross domestic product growth thanks to cities’ innovations. For instance, many private sectors are working with government officials to invest millions of dollars in smart city projects.
Smart city development is playing an increasingly important role in enhancing cities’ regional and global competitiveness to attract residents and businesses. Providing an open data platform with access to city information helps businesses to study the interaction and activities of citizens and to plan business strategies accordingly by making decisions with data analytics.
Deploying a range of applications to their maximum effect could potentially reduce fatalities like homicide, fires, and road traffic by 8 to 10 percent. Further, incidents of assault, burglary, auto theft, and robbery could be lowered by 30 to 40 percent. The benefits of these metrics, of course, is the peace of mind and freedom of movement they would give city residents.
When it comes to crime, agencies can use data to deploy scarce resources and personnel more efficiently. For instance, real-time crime mapping utilizes statistical analysis to highlight patterns. Predictive policing can anticipate crime and when incidents do occur, applications such as home security systems, gunshot detection, and smart surveillance can make law-enforcement response happen more rapidly. Yet, data-driven policing must be deployed in a way that avoids criminalizing specific neighborhoods or demographic groups and protects civil liberties.
Further, when lives are at stake, smart systems can optimize call centers and field operations while traffic-signal preemption can give emergency vehicles a clear driving path. These types of applications could cut emergency response times by 20 to 35 percent.
When compared to traditional cities, smart cities are remarkably energy efficient. Environmental pressures multiply as urbanization, industrialization, and consumption grow. Applications like building-automation systems, some mobility apps, and dynamic electricity pricing could combine to cut emissions by 10 to 15 percent. Water-consumption tracking pairs advanced metering with digital feedback messages. It can encourage people to conserve and reduce consumption by 15 percent in cities where residential water usage is high.
The biggest source of water waste in the developing world is water leakage from pipes. Using sensors and analytics can cut those losses by up to 25 percent. Applications such as pay-as-you-throw digital tracking can decrease the volume of solid waste per capita by 10 to 20 percent. Overall, cities can reduce unrecycled solid waste by roughly 8 to 34 gallons annually per person and save 7 to 21 gallons of water per person each day and. On the air health front, air-quality sensors can identify sources of pollution and provide the basis for further action.
In less than a year, Beijing reduced deadly airborne pollutants by roughly 20 percent by closely tracking the sources of pollution, thus regulating traffic and construction accordingly. Further, sharing real-time air-quality information with the public via smartphone apps lets individuals take protective measures. Depending on current pollution levels, this can reduce negative health effects by 3 to 15 percent.
While living in a hyper-connected smart city offers its perks, citizens also have concerns when it comes to their privacy. Yet, for a smart city to truly thrive, it in turn benefits from smart citizens who are engaged and actively taking advantage of new technologies. Through in-person and virtual town hall-style meetings, email campaigns targeted at voters, and the use of an online educational platform that keeps citizens informed and up-to-date, citizens can more secure and better connected to the smart city in which they live. When community members feel like they are playing a part in the overall decisions that affect their daily life, they are more apt to use available technology and encourage others to use it as well.
Five years ago, in December 2015, the U.S. Department of Transportation put into motion a Smart City Challenge. The challenge called for mid-size cities across the United States to develop ideas for integrating first-of-its-kind transportation systems that use technology and data to help goods and people move more quickly, efficiently, and cheaply. Of the 78 applicants, seven finalists were chosen: Austin, Columbus, Denver, Kansas City, Pittsburgh, Portland and San Francisco, with Columbus coming in first place.
Columbus has a population of 860,090, making it the 15th largest city in the United States and the second-fastest growing city in the Midwest, after Chicago. As the winner, Columbus received $40 million in funding from the U.S. Department of Transportation and $10 million from Vulcan, Inc. With the grant, the city made plans to focus on bettering mobility and transportation for its residents and visitors.
When interviewed by Fox News, Jordan Davis, director of smart cities at the Columbus Partnership, explained the city wanted to address these areas because faults in their systems resulted in hundreds of deaths a year. Specific initiatives include:
Other initiatives announced by the White House in 2015 included significant investment in various smart city initiatives. Objectives included:
Clearly, smart cities have been invested in for quite some time; now, as our urban populations boom, it becomes even more important for cities to transform their initiatives into Smart City projects.
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