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Cities Of The Future: What Are Smart Cities?

Cities of the Future: What are Smart Cities?


Cities have never been so crowded. There are 442 metropolises that hit the million mark. More than half of the world’s population already lives in urban centers and, according to UN estimates, by 2030, this percentage should rise to 70%. With so many people clustered, problems arise – traffic, pollution, homelessness, access to health -, but also innovations to solve these problems. Smart City is the conglomerate of innovative technological solutions to optimize city life.

As the world becomes increasingly interconnected, a new wave of intelligent applications is changing the way we approach everyday activities – be that having a simple lunch or commuting. Smart cities bring together infrastructure and technology to improve citizens’ quality of life and improve their interactions with the urban environment.

Anthony Townsend, research director of the Institute for the Future in Palo Alto, Silicon Valley, says:

“Technological solutions for cities are being created in every corner of the world, from small businesses and individuals to multinationals and governments”

What is a Smart City?

Smart cities are projects in which an urban space is the scene of intensive use of technologies (Internet of Things) and data driven urban management. Broadly speaking, a Smart City is a city whose vision of urban development is connected to the development of information technologies.

“An Intelligent City is one that puts people at the center of development, incorporates information and communication technologies into urban management and uses these elements as tools that stimulate the formation of an efficient government, which encompasses collaborative planning and citizen participation.”

Source: Inter-American Development Bank (IDB)

What does a city need to be considered Smart?

Smart Cities are defined by three main areas: Internet of Things (objects with advanced infocommunication capabilities), Big Data (processing and analysis of large amounts of information) and action-based management and planning based on algorithms applied to urban life . Check out some of these applications in practice:

1- Smart Street Lighting / Interactive signs

Illumination that turns on or off based on the presence of vehicles and people and traffic signals that display guidelines and aids when needed. The Array of Things Project in Chicago enables congestion reduction during peak traffic hours through real-time data from GPS-enabled taxis.

2- WiFi / Smart Parking / Intelligent Water Systems

WiFi networks available throughout the city capture data. Parking systems that optimize the flow of traffic. Leak detection systems and intelligent sprinklers to conserve and manage water. The city of Barcelona has adopted intelligent technologies implementing a fiber optic network throughout the city, offering free high-speed Wi-Fi access that supports IoT, integrating intelligent water systems, lighting and parking management.

3- Sustainability Solutions

City Halls are now rushing to use smart technologies to predict and manage fires, optimize police practices, medical care, water, sanitation and other public services during and after disasters. In the United States, large cities such as Boston and Baltimore have deployed smart trash cans that convey how full they are and determine the most efficient withdrawal route for sanitation workers. In the city of Armação de Búzios, the government implemented remotely controlled LED lamps, as well as solar panels in homes. The expectation is that there is a reduction in energy consumption of up to 80%.

4- Applications available to facilitate services

Today, we hardly find anyone who does not use some food delivery app or for getting around the city. These applications allow the city a greater consumption capital, since the ease of getting what one wants, be it meal, shopping or transportation.

Smart shopping carts sit at the entrance to a grocery store in the Long Island City neighborhood in the Queens borough of New York. Inc. opened a cashierless convenience store called Amazon Go, marking its biggest effort yet to change the way people shop in the physical world. Today a fleet of companies are working to replicate elements of Go or invent other ways of streamlining store operations. Inc. has opened a cashless convenience store called Amazon Go in New York, its biggest effort yet to change the way people shop physically through smart shopping carts.

However, even in more developed cities, there is the problem of social inequality. This reflects the fact that many cities that have high economic levels at the same time are the most unequal, which can lead to problems in different segments of society. Therefore, one of the biggest challenges of the Smart Cities is to become urban centers that are simultaneously prosperous, equitable and inclusive.

Despite being a relatively recent concept, Smart City has already consolidated itself as a key issue in the global discussion on sustainable development and moves a global market for technology solutions, which is estimated to reach $ 408 billion by 2020. 

See a ranking of the best placed Smart Cities according to Forbes (2018):

  • 1st New York, USA
  • 2nd London, England
  • 3rd Paris, France
  • 4th Tokyo, Japan
  • 5th Reykjavik, Iceland

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