Smart cities: from fantasy to reality

There are a lot of disruptions in today’s world. On one hand, we can observe a huge increase in population and in resource consumption and waste. On the other, nobody can fail to notice all the technological advances. This evolution in technology is revolutionising everything we do, and even the way we live. A few years ago, the idea of a Smart City was a fantasy. But today, it is becoming a reality. Let’s discover the different aspects of this ‘futuristic’ city.

What is a smart city?

We have all heard about smartphones, smart appliances and many other smart devices. But what are smart cities exactly? Just like any smart device, these cities function on information and communication technologies. Indeed, they use power sensors, wireless networks, and web/mobile-based applications. Their purpose is to be as sustainable as possible, both economically and environmentally. In other words, a smart city uses advanced technology to offer its citizens energy-saving buildings and transport, in addition to a better waste and resource management. While managing natural resources in the best way possible, it provides them with higher standards of living.

smart city
High standards of life with low use of resources are now possible

Why do we need smart cities?

Logically, the development of an innovative concept is based on the creation of a need. There are various elements that contribute to the creation of smart cities. Among these, we find population, transport, water and global energy. There are an infinite number of studies showing that the world’s population is increasing, aging, and moving to urban areas. By 2025, it is predicted that there will be around 8 billion people on Earth. Could you imagine the world with 1 billion people more than today, in terms of resources, urbanisation and quality of life? In order to handle this large-scale increase, some strongly believe that our planet needs smart cities.

The increase in population eventually leads to transport, water and global energy problems. By 2030, there will be a 29% increase in the number of commuters using public transportation in New York, 28% in Chicago and 27% in Los Angeles. Building smart cities will contribute to a better management of transportation. Furthermore, urban mobility can improve the quality of life for all smart city citizens.

Apart from transport, we mentioned that water is a diminishing resource that smart cities could ‘save’. Studies show that by 2050, half of the population will be living in water-stressed regions. In fact, experts consider this to be one of the biggest urban challenges. What is the role of smart cities regarding water? Smart technology allows the optimization of water consumption and the minimization of leakage and costs.

In addition to that, smart cities are said to be sustainable. As global energy consumption is predicted to rise by 56% by 2040, smart cities are needed. With the digital technology and the innovation they provide, they contribute to the reduction and the better use of energy consumption.

So how do smart cities work?

Now that we understand why building smart cities is essential for a better quality of life on our planet, let me briefly explain how these smart cities function. Before describing the systems used in smart cities, one should understand the basics.

How are smart cities, Internet of things and Big Data related? The answer to this question could be found by simply defining these concepts. Internet of things is a computing concept where objects identify themselves to other devices. And according to Arthur van Benthem, “Big Data is an enormous opportunity for making environmental improvements and harnessing energy-efficiency savings”. So, by combining these two definitions, we can get a big picture of what a smart city is. Furthermore, Google fibre networks play a very important role in the creation of smart cities. To work perfectly, high tech Internet services are essential. This service is increasingly available across different cities in the United States.

How do smart city systems handle the needs discussed earlier? Within smart cities, transportation is handled with the installation of Intelligent Traffic Management systems such as connected road signs, coordination of traffic lights, and a vehicle location tracking systems, to name a few. By capturing the signals on the roads, these systems maximize the efficiency and manage the transport issue linked to urbanisation.

Water was another reason why smart cities are a must nowadays. To avoid the scarcity of this resource and improve water efficiency, smart cities use Internet of Things water systems, or “smart water”.  These systems measure the flow, pressure, level and chemical content of water. Thus, improving the efficiency and quality of water based on real-time information. This brings us back to the higher standards on living within a smart city.

In some countries of the world, such as the United Kingdom, the term smart meter is quite common. People who install these meters are rewarded. Smart cities are based on this kind of systems. In fact, smart energy could save more then $1.2 trillion, in the United States. Smart energy uses Internet of things devices, and big data analytics. Using energy resources in a more efficient way is one of the pillars of a smart city.

The Smart City concept has a lot of benefits. Yet, it is at the heart of major debates. Are smart cities really a need? Will smart cities really provide higher standards of living?

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Mia Tawile

Mia is a web marketing consultant. She works on content creation, digital transformation and innovation missions.
Mia Tawile
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