There are an awful lot of ‘smart’ things these days. Even many things that were previously ‘dumb’ are becoming ‘smart’ through the addition of sensors and decision logic. From street lamps to subways and everything in between, the very towns and cities we inhabit are joining the trend.
As cities like Seoul and Vienna (among many) are using technology to revamp their communication infrastructure and resource distribution, we all have an opportunity to learn some things about what we can expect when the ‘smart’ label gets slapped onto the towns and cities we call home.
So, what makes a city smart?
Unfortunately, the term ‘smart’ applies only to the city itself and not its citizens. A global tour of the world’s smartest cities is not likely to be any more personally enlightening than a stroll through any of our regular old ‘dumb’ cities. However, this global tour would likely reveal some of the common traits that these smart cities share, and shed some light on how and where resources are being applied to make these cities smarter.
A city is generally considered smart when it distinguishes itself from other cities in terms of its technology, urban planning, environment, and/or overall management.
Smart cities are expected to be cleaner, safer, and more efficient than their dumb brethren. This is accomplished primarily through the application of new technologies, but also frequently requires entirely new models for organization and management.
Some of the more prominent features of today’s smart cities include:
Green Buildings: Smart cities tend to erect new buildings (or enforce laws requiring others to erect buildings) that have the least possible environmental impact – both during construction and operation. Older buildings can be retrofit with more efficient appliances and sensors to help control lighting and temperature.
Smart Mobility and Transport: Bike-sharing programs, smart traffic lights, sensor-based parking availability detection, and real-time communication about public transportation are some of the hallmarks of a smart city.
More Efficient Utilities: In addition to employing alternative energy sources like solar and wind, smart cities are frequently more inclined to employ smart grid technology and use sensors to manage the distribution of water and reduce waste.
More Engaged Citizens: Another common trait of smart cities is a pronounced effort to be more responsive to the needs of their human resources. Whether through smart street lights, cleaner streets, social media involvement, digital signage, and many other initiatives, smart cities are putting more effort into involving citizens in the city’s governance.
Of course, these are just a few of the many ways that cities are remaking themselves as smart cities. In some cases – in cities like Santiago and Tokyo – entire smart communities are being developed according to all of these principles and more.
Since a real economic incentive can be attached to the idea of reduced waste and greater energy efficiency, it is very likely that this trend will continue well into the 21st century, until when eventually the smart cities of today will be referred to as simply “cities”.