Smart City solutions for urgent global challenges

Smart City solutions for urgent global challenges



A Smart City is not a marketing campaign, a slick sales technique, nor an amusing political catch phrase. It is a series of solutions to a serious and urgent situation the world faces today. Smart Cities are emerging as a civic reaction to a 'perfect storm': the convergence of market conditions, technology innovation, social wants, government needs, and the migration to urban environments that has accelerated on a global scale, dwarfing any previous mass movement of people in history.

One striking example is found in a report by McKinsey & Co. in 2009 that stated 350 million people in China would move to cities throughout China by 2025. In the five years since that report was published, the numbers of migrating Chinese to cities within China is proving this prediction correct. Existing Chinese cities, already overpopulated and struggling to maintain public services, are bracing for this onslaught of humanity by preparing, planning and implementing large scale urban projects, designed to transform from industrial urban environments to Smart Cities. Not because they want to, because they have to.

A Smart City has many emerging definitions. The flexibility of this definition provides cities the opportunity to define its programs, policies and procedures according to its own local set of priorities and needs. Smart City definition frameworks are being designed and marketed by academics, companies, urban associations and the media. Through this cacophony of frameworks, a foundation has emerged that helps define areas of Smart City interest, action and measures. Most frameworks use the word SMART as an acronym to mean Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-based goals.

These same frameworks provide the definition of 10 Smart City elements:

  1. Energy
  2. Water
  3. Waste
  4. Infrastructure
  5. Public Safety
  6. Education
  7. Healthcare
  8. Green / Sustainable Buildings
  9. Transportation
  10. Citizen Services

The interesting thing about Smart City initiatives is the closely integrated way that seemingly disparate elements work together. As cities begin their transformative process into Smart Cities, it helps to consider the manner in which cities will need to address the social, economic, engineering and environmental challenges. And this manner will center on Knowledge.

treating cities as living organisms

As we identify the challenges of living in a highly connected, Information Age world, it is comforting to relate to our cities as organisms. If the city is a body, then we have seen its evolution from the agrarian society to the Information Age through the development of systems. Each city has its own cardiovascular system (traffic, mass transit), skeletal system (infrastructure), respiratory and digestive systems (energy, waste) and even a primitive nervous system (telecommunications). In order for a city to provide access to its intelligence behind the knowledge and become a Smart City, the development of the Intelligence System that connects the central nervous system to a brain is required.

Due to the implementation of vast information technology (IT) solutions over the past few decades by cities, the world has created a cornucopia of data. This data comes in all shapes and sizes and enables an enormous amount of tasks to be conducted more effectively and efficiently. The issue is not if the city has the proper data to become a Smart City, the issue is how. The media and marketing people are calling this emancipation of data being freed from their silos, Big Data. This means that an enormous body of data has the ability to enter your city’s body and freely circulate.

      Tel Aviv was just named 'Smartest City' at the Smart City World Expo 2014 in Barcelona.

      Tel Aviv was just named 'Smartest City' at the Smart City World Expo 2014 in Barcelona.

The job of today’s city IT departments is not just to secure people from getting into a city’s system, but how to control and manage the glut of data that will be trying to get out. A major issue for a city’s IT department is how to manage Big Data, now that it can be set free so easily. The cities that solve this issue will be on the correct path to being a Smart City. Those that don’t may experience what other organisms experience when there is too much blockage in its nervous system--a breakdown.

The focus on Big, Infinite Data and your city’s behavior towards its management is a critical element towards being a truly Smart City. A smarter, efficient city that would encompass aspects of intelligent transportation, security, energy management, CO2 emissions, and sustainability is contingent on the implementation of a Big Data strategic plan to enable decision makers and authorities to perform their jobs. In response, some cities have taken an Open Data approach to assist in making its data available to the general public. This has spawned an emerging market for the development and sale of 'apps' to enable this Open Data to come alive and provide value to a user.

Cities are a mirror to the values of our civilization. At the core, Smart City solutions, both large and small, have an opportunity to assist in creating an environment for people to prosper in a more welcoming, inclusive and open manner. In this sense, a Smart City’s success will only be measured by how well its inhabitants' quality of life improves. That is our generation’s greatest challenge... and the best legacy we can leave to our children.

A co-founder of the AEC Hackathon, the author is president & CEO of the digit group inc. and a senior fellow on the Design Futures Council. He recently returned from Barcelona, where he presented at the Smart Cities Expo World Congress 2014.

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