Whether you are a city dweller or a country rambler, there is no denying that cities are an inescapable fact of our existence. Though they only cover around two percent of the earth’s surface, they contain more than half of the world’s people and contribute around 70 percent of global CO2 emissions. The United Nations expects the percentage of the world population living in cities to reach 60 percent by 2030, with huge metropolitan areas like Tokyo – which has a population of 37 million – set to become more common.
It is a global shift which has serious implications. Housing shortages, bottlenecks in energy supplies and overburdened infrastructures are just a few of the issues this rapid increase in population is causing – and pressure is mounting to find sustainable methods of maintaining this growth.
It is against this backdrop of uncertainty that a new concept is gaining momentum: Smart Cities. There are a number of differing opinions on the actual definition of a smart city, due in part to the sheer diversity of possibility that is covered by the umbrella term. Research published in 2011 by Mark Deakin and Husam Al Waer defines the Smart City as one which utilises ICT to meet the demands of its citizens and government, using connected technology to improve infrastructure and positively impact the community.
There are three key elements to creating a successful Smart City – improving the infrastructure, engaging the community effectively and using the data gleaned to adapt and evolve.
To give an example, Amsterdam is already making use of Smart City technology to increase its energy efficiency. A series of smart lamp posts have been installed, which can be adjusted via remote operation or by sensor technology to change the lighting for a range of situations, for example, according to the weather or to control the flow of traffic and pedestrians. In addition to this, movement sensors can detect whether lighting needs to be brighter or dimmer, saving energy which can then be diverted elsewhere. Amsterdam’s energy-saving is not limited to its street lighting – the city also boasts a number of solar power garbage compactors, car recharging stations and smart energy meters.
For a Smart City to become truly successful, it is vital that an effective community engagement plan is developed, involving citizens in the decision-making process and creating support. David Sandel, President of Sandel & Associates and founder of the Gigabit City Summit, has previously said: “High impact Smart Cities are 90 percent sociology and 10 percent infrastructure.” When a community responds positively to a Smart City pilot, it is far more likely to be successful – in other words: resident participation is the glue that holds an effective Smart City together.
Also key is the connection of different arms of a city’s functioning core. Better communication between municipal departments enables them to share their data with each other, which in turn makes their systems smarter. This technology has massive potential; from the accurate prediction of crime spikes based on previous crime data to precise real-time traffic recommendations to keep traffic moving in city centres, smart city technology has the potential to truly connect everybody – keeping people safe and improving quality of life.
At Proactive PR, we are proud to be working with several organisations and businesses which are driving forward the concept of Smart Cities to make it a reality. While the journey to the end destination is bound to be a long one, it has begun and we look forward to watching cities utilising the new technologies coming to the fore and adapting them as they grow.