Futurists, tech visionaries and urban stakeholders have been talking about “smart cities” for a number of years now, as though they’re the product of a simple recipe: Take a city, add the internet of things, and voila — smart city!
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Needless to say, it’s hardly that simple. Smart cities will, indeed, require connected technology to deliver on their promise. However, they aren’t created just by association with technology, but rather by intentionally applying four core principles to all civic initiatives powered by that technology.
Before we get into the how of developing smart cities along those principles, though, we should explore exactly what they are and why today’s stakeholders should be working to bring them about.
A smart city leverages the internet of things for the distinct purpose of delivering services sustainably and efficiently without overtaxing its resources. It accomplishes this by prioritizing those elements that cover functions that are absolutely necessary — emergency services, for example — and virtualizing the supporting elements that force people to perform mundane tasks but don’t contribute to their work or enjoyment. The classic example is the parking meter: give people an app that shows where available spaces are and allows them to pay digitally, and they will never again have to drive in circles hunting for an open spot, only to discover they don’t have any coins to feed the meter.
This approach will become increasingly important over the coming decades. According to the United Nations, by 2050 more than 6.4 billion people — representing nearly two-thirds of the world’s population — will be urban. If cities haven’t figured out how to use smart technology to streamline their infrastructure and delivery of services well before that influx, the economic consequences will be catastrophic. This is where is the four smart city principles come into play.
Once the stakeholders — citizens, government agencies and enterprises — begin considering these guidelines, the internet of things will help bring their smart initiatives to fruition:
1. Smart cities are experience-oriented
In the smart city, people only show up physically to have an experience or receive a service, not to plan it or purchase it. Time-consuming activities that do not contribute to work or recreation, like standing in line to pick up tickets, will be eliminated. People will have the same experience whether they are renewing their driver’s license, booking a facility for a wedding rehearsal dinner, paying their taxes or transferring between modes of public transit.
2. They are solutions-oriented
Technology will be applied to address specific problems. There will be no one-size-fits-all solution handed down by a centralized authority or vendor. Cities will instead encourage a diverse network of innovators and developers to create best-of-breed apps to provide the solutions needed by officials and citizens to improve the urban experience.
3. They are fully digitized
All services and infrastructure are optimized for a mobile-first population, with physical backup services for those without digital access. There will still be physical infrastructure, of course — roads, transportation, power, water supply, hospitals, etc. — but it will be supported by smart technology. A combination of sensors and open data exchanges will provide constant information about these systems and allow cities to address, in real time, everything from heavy public transit demand during rush hour to emergency responses during natural disasters.
4. They are seamlessly interconnected
All services and infrastructure are open to deep links and data sharing, so that if required, they can work together through an ecosystem of best-of-breed apps. To facilitate this, civic data sources are made available through open portals that anyone can access as a resource for identifying problem areas and creating solutions to address them.
Putting IoT in everyone’s pocket
The key to all of this is the smartphone, which will be the citizen’s personal node in the internet of things and gateway to the smart city. The Pew Research Center noted in a 2016 report that smartphone adoption continues to grow across the globe, even in developing countries. It won’t be long before smartphones are ubiquitous, therefore allowing smart cities to be a global reality.
The imperative is urgent and clear: the time is now to begin the process of building smart, tech-enabled cities, with a seamless flow between the different services provided for residents, commuters and visitors. The internet of things will empower citizens through their smartphones, creating create tremendous benefits for the people who live in, work in or travel to and within smart cities.
When today’s stakeholders encourage the creation of a best-of-breed ecosystem that leverages civic data and supports the internet of things, in line with the core principles above, they are giving their cities an advantage over those that are not taking these same steps. The smartest cities of 2050 will have put down their roots today.
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