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The Smart City We Dream of Living in – Solutions, Trends & Examples

Posted by Kat Andersson

September 8, 2021

It’s been a couple of decades since cities and countries around the world started engaging in smart city trends. While the concept of sustainable smart societies may sound very sci-fi-esque, it’s actually surprisingly relatable. Seriously, if you’re one of the over 4 billion people who live in cities, there’s a good chance your city has some smart solutions.

However, there is still a LOT of progress we need to make. According to an exhaustive study by McKinsey, most cities only have a couple of smart implementations, if any. While the vast majority of cities that’ve put time, money, and effort into building smart solutions hit the mark on only some of the main priorities for smart cities. In fact, in 2018, only 38% of cities around the world with the highest tech bases scored over 50% of potential points when evaluating sensors, communication, and open data portals.  

That’s why we’re still in the “dreaming of the perfect smart city” phase. There are a lot of examples of specific features of an intelligent city. Yet, there are few examples of fully integrated smart cities. Wondering how your city fares amongst the smart city projects in the world? First, let’s define what we even mean.

 

What Makes a City Smart?

Business Wire defines a smart city as “a framework that utilizes information and communication technology (ICT) to deploy, develop and promote sustainable development in urban areas…A smart city relies on both hardware components, such as chips, sensors, and actuators, and software solutions like user interfaces (UIs), communication networks, and the Internet of Things (IoT) devices.” 

In plain, oversimplified terms, our dream intelligent city collects data, transmits it, analyzes it, and communicates it in order to make better decisions and smarter solutions. Sounds a little like our definition of IoT? You bet it does. IoT plays a huge role in enabling smart cities. But more on that later.

Just like all technology solutions, getting the data is only half the battle. It means nothing if it doesn’t lead to insights that city planners can use to manage resources, services, assets, and quality of living. 

 

Some of the Indicators of Smart Cities

Modern cities and infrastructure should be based on technology. Of course, that doesn’t negate the need for people. Think of it as a symbiotic relationship. People need tech. Tech needs people. This relationship will lead to progressive and smart city development plans. Here, we mean smart in both the “digital transformation” way and the “straight up this is an intelligent, intuitive plan” way. 

Other more specific indicators of smart cities include sustainable environmental initiatives, highly effective public transport, and generally improved mobility.

At its heart, a smart city should enable people to live, move, work, and grow comfortably, peacefully, and contentedly. 

 

Crowds of people on the street

 

Why We Need Smart City Solutions

We’re currently at 7.89 billion members of this delightful blue and green ball we call Earth. In the 30 seconds since I looked up the population count, we’ve gained nearly 400 lives. If you visit the population clock, you’ll see that the “births” counter ticks up quite a bit faster than the “deaths” counter. 

Combine this not-so-slow and steady population growth with the fact that city populations grow faster each year than rural populations. If we don’t work on smart city solutions now, quality of life will inevitably decrease as the population increases. And these initiatives work. Cities around the world are already reporting improved quality of life for their citizens, as you’ll see further down.

 

The Main Features of Smart City Projects

There are a lot of really cool smart city solution examples actively being planned and implemented around the world. Most of the features of smart cities fit into these seven broad  categories: 

  1. Mobility & transportation
  2. Energy & natural resources 
  3. Waste management
  4. Public safety & security
  5. Community health & education
  6. City development & construction
  7. Public services & accessibility

Again, these are broad categories. It’s actually really cool that so many cities are implementing and adopting smart solutions because it gives us a lot of solutions to choose from. However, the more solutions there are, the harder it will be to put in easy packages and categories.

 

So how do we imagine our perfect sustainable, smart society? 

Mobility: With the aid of real-time monitoring, connected apps, and smart vehicles, we’re able to move around with fewer hazards or traffic jams. 

Energy: Smart grids and energy sources work together to power our smart city. Smart technology, combined with sustainable energy can ensure not only a smooth-running city, but one that will last.

Water: Smart monitoring systems keep track of both precious potable water and wastewater to avoid leaks and/or larger water disasters.

Waste: To combat the global waste catastrophe, we’re definitely going to want to implement smart waste management and monitoring systems.

Public Safety: Comprehensive solutions involving smart surveillance, real-time monitoring, and early warning systems will help keep our city safe and secure from man-made threats and natural disasters alike.

Health: While we’re not necessarily stating whether we want public, private, or hybrid healthcare systems in our smart city, we can agree that smart solutions can improve a whole host of community health threats, like pollution, infectious diseases, and lack of access to fair and equitable medical care.

Education: Both children and adults need access to high-quality education. We’re rooting for a smart city that enables both through continuous peer-to-peer learning around the globe, eliminating distance and language barriers.

Construction: The possibilities of individual smart construction solutions are endless. These solutions and practices will not only help cities and construction companies make better use of resources and promote project success but will help ensure safer work environments and more accurate data collection for the teams involved. Regardless of specific solutions, our cities will employ sustainable, evidence-based, and automated construction practices.

Public Safety: Comprehensive solutions involving smart surveillance, real-time monitoring, and early warning systems will help keep our city safe and secure from man-made threats and natural disasters alike.

So far, no single city currently incorporates all of these amazing smart city trends.

To be completely fair, it would take quite a lot of budget, planning, and cooperation between public and private organizations to make all of this work. In the meantime, we’re imagining what a city would look like if we were able to fast forward and implement all these smart city opportunities. Let’s take a look!

 

A busy city street

 

Smart Mobility Solutions Are Top of the List

Because we cannot stand another day of traffic jams and impossible parking. Obviously, it’s a lot bigger than that. However, as far as things that every single one of us have to deal with on a daily basis…transportation and mobility are right there. If you think rush hour is crazy now, with 7.9 billion people, imagine what it will be like in 2030, with 8.5 billion people, around 60% of which will live in urban areas. Smart traffic solutions are the only way we’ll be able to deal with this. 

Smart Traffic Management 

We want to be able to drive on a street controlled by intelligent traffic signals. We’ll be able to avoid stop-and-go traffic by using optimized and dynamic traffic lights and speed limits. Emergency vehicles and public transportation will get an even higher level of optimization with traffic light preemption technology. 

We’ll have access to even better real-time road navigation. Imagine Google Maps, but with an added IoT and sensor infrastructure that enables it to alert you of congestion, accidents, detours, and construction and provide a viable alternative route. 

Smart Public Transit

There will be no more confusion regarding public transportation due to real-time public transit information. That’s right. Waiting for the bus, the subway, or the train? Know exactly where it is, in real-time, when it will arrive, and when it will depart. Not sure if the subway or bus is better? It will all be on our phones. Public transport in smart cities will be so much faster, easier, and smoother. Hopefully, it will be more comfortable too, but that’s not really in the smart city purview. 

Once we’re on the public transportation of our choice, the payment will be touchless and digital. Ciao lines of people waiting to pay and board. Hello, smart city bus stops. 

Smart Vehicles

Oh yes, we may not even be driving our cars in our dream city. That’s right, our smart city will facilitate autonomous vehicles. Why? Because, when done right, autonomous vehicles will cut down on traffic, accidents, and other problems caused by human error. How? Sensors, my friend. Lots of sensors. And the right IoT platforms to back them up. 

Smart Parking

In the smart city of our dreams, we will never again have to drive in circles scouting available parking spots. Smart parking systems like applications and smart meters will do all the work for us. All we have to do is pay, which may include dynamic fees according to demand. I mean, we don’t really want to encourage private transportation if we don’t have to, right?

 

Who’s Got the Best Mobility and Transportation?

Copenhagen, Denmark has implemented a whole host of solutions oriented towards making their city more friendly and convenient for cyclists. Hong Kong uses real-time monitoring from government departments to help travelers navigate their city efficiently. The government of Chennai, India has been successfully converting motorists to cyclists to cut down on private transportation.  Moscow, Russia has done a lot of the above. Real-time traffic and accident monitoring, real-time public transport, and real-time parking options are all connected through an app.

 

Sustainable energy with solar panels and wind power

 

If Our Smart City Energy Isn’t Sustainable and Clean, Then Try Again

There are no excuses, and we know it. The technology exists, and it’s time for cities to start introducing smart energy solutions to their communities. Systems like building and distribution automation are some of the options available. Though smart energy can’t be “turned on” with a switch, there are big and small changes a city department could start planning for the near future. 

Building Automation Systems

Things like public buildings and commercial spaces are places with large water and energy consumption. To eliminate inefficiencies, automated systems have been created, such as optimized lighting and HVAC. Some other implementations are access/security controls and electric parking information.

Smart Energy

Smart grid technologies have been introduced to various city plans to optimize energy efficiency and bring stability to power grids. These include FDIR, M&D, Volt/Var, and substation automation. Some other energy-efficient solutions are smart streetlights. These can be equipped with speakers, gunshot detection sensors, optimize brightness, and reduce maintenance needs

 

Cities With the Smartest Energy

Singapore is a leader among smart cities and energy, including energy-efficient public lighting and solar panels on thousands of buildings rooftops. Norway is planning on building a smart city from scratch with smart energy based on sensors, automation, and renewable energy. In Amsterdam, various public-private projects are developing smart solutions for housing development, sports, and public energy. In Stockholm, buildings are testing automation systems and smart energy apps in new and modified structures.

 

Wastewater treatment plant as seen from above

 

Smart Water & Wastewater Management is a Must

Water is too precious to waste. On the other side, no one wants the issues that arise from problems with wastewater. 

Smart Potable Water Solutions 

When it comes to resources, water is indispensable. Not only do we need it for our post-workout hydration or nightly bubble bath, but for crops, energy, and health. That’s why smart water solutions are needed, and these are some examples of how technology is making this possible. 

Leakage detection and control can help thousands of utility companies and city departments find rapid solutions before damage causes major environmental issues. With remote pipe monitoring systems, the water pump pressure can be controlled to an optimal level. This means water regulation and proper energy usage, resulting in both economic and environmental savings. And while water usage is hard to keep track of, through mobile apps, texts, and emails notifying citizens, the game changes for both companies and civilians. Awareness will help the population and utility companies who can measure water consumption without the need for manual meter readings.

Smart Water Quality Monitoring

Another way sensors and data-collecting devices are helping the population are by water and air quality monitoring. These real-time monitoring systems can alert the public via mobile apps, texts, emails, and websites about consuming contaminated water or if there is a presence of air pollution. This also prompts city departments to act rapidly and civilians to modify their behavior.

Smart Wastewater Solutions

If your home’s wastewater system (aka your bathroom) fails, you get a really nasty cleanup. For cities, the implications are clearly much wider. Remote wastewater plant monitoring helps cities know the moment tanks start to fill before they overfill. Predictive wastewater maintenance helps the maintenance department keep small issues from becoming emergencies. This is especially important when even minor wastewater spills can cause catastrophic pollution for local communities.

Smart Irrigation

As we mentioned, water is a precious commodity. With the help of data analysis such as local weather, soil conditions, and plant types, irrigation optimization can eliminate unnecessary watering一saving as much of this resource as possible. Whether this means purifying water or forecasting control, smart irrigation is changing the world of thousands of farmers and crop companies. 

 

Where They’ve Got Advanced Water and Wastewater Management

In Marineterrein, Amsterdam, biochemistry is used to purify urine through distillation, which is later used for irrigation and fertilization. Cities such as Copenhagen use real-time sewer network control to reduce environmental consequences and flooding.  In the capital city of Bulgaria, Sofia, smart city solutions for proper water waste involve smart sewer cleaning technology.

 

Waste bins and recycling bins in a city

 

We Want Smart Urban Waste Management Because the Alternative Is…Gross

Okay, it’s not just because the alternative is gross. It’s also polluting, inefficient, and unsustainable. Remember a couple of decades ago when we started worrying about what to do with waste? Now, look at our waste, with nearly 2 billion more people. What about now, thirty seconds later? We have 400 more on the population count? Next year? Next decade? Waste is the next huge crisis that we don’t see coming…but really should. 

Smart Waste Management

Let’s say I’m walking down the street while finishing an invigorating venti Starbucks latte. After the last lukewarm sip, it’s time to throw away the cup where they, once again, misspelled my name. In a truly smart city, I’ll be able to toss that sucker into a smart trash bin or smart recycling bin. To be honest, I probably wouldn’t normally think about that coffee carcass ever again. But I can rest easy knowing that the smart bin has sensors that measure trash volume and optimizes waste collection routes. The latte may have given me tachycardia, but at least it didn’t hurt my city. 

 

Where These Technologies Are Being Implemented

In Barcelona, Spain vacuums suck waste from bins into underground storage, where sensors alert the city on waste levels and accumulation.  Prague, Czech Republic has waste containers with their own solar panels that enable the containers themselves to compact waste. Sensors let the city know everything from waste levels to fires and clogs.

 

Emergency response vehicles on the street with their lights on

 

Improved Public Safety in Smart Cities Sounds Like a Dream

Rumors that the bigger the city, the bigger the danger can once and for all rest, thanks to smart solutions. Walking at night, having a business close late, or just waiting for your ride by yourself shouldn’t be situations that put your life at risk, and here is how smart cities are tackling crime and implementing smart security in their streets. 

Smart Policing

When it comes to being in public service, especially policemen and firefighters, it’s important to keep themselves and the people around them safe, and technology is helping them achieve their duty. One of the most interesting assets that smart solutions can bring to the force is predictive policing systems. Through the use of big data and analytics (including social media), the police force can predict when and where a crime is likely to happen, making the deployment of police officers easier and more efficient. And with body-worn cameras, they can record video and audio and provide audiovisuals of incidents and police operations.  

Another way of keeping the streets safe is by using real-time crime maps and smart surveillance. While the first one helps law enforcement agencies to visualize and analyze crime incident patterns, smart surveillance is an intelligent monitoring system that can detect anomalies based on facial recognition, license plate recognition, and smart closed-circuit TVs.

Smart Disaster and Emergency Systems

Other ways that make a city a smart city are their disaster and emergency responses. These can include technology-designed systems that provide early warning for natural disasters like hurricanes, floods, wildfires, and earthquakes. And, if danger is approaching, with the help of analytics and technology, the deployment of emergency vehicles and responders can be optimized and save hundreds of lives.

Smart Inspections

We can’t forget that, as the world changes, old buildings will need inspections to avoid any potential risks. We can prioritize which buildings need fire code inspections and which homes need lead inspections using data-driven building inspections.

Smart Road & Bridge Monitoring

Roads, especially older roads, erode and break down the more we use them. However, cities and counties don’t often have the necessary infrastructure to monitor all roads under their responsibility. Smart road monitoring programs have to get creative. So far, there are several breeds of road solutions that involve monitoring with sensors and cameras connected to cars. These sensors search for issues that compromise roads, for example, potholes. 

Bridges have a bit of a different issue. It’s less about potholes and more about structural integrity. Smart bridge monitoring can also benefit from sensors attached to cars. However, in this case, those sensors collect data on vibration.

 

Cities Improving their Safety the Intelligent Way

Santa Cruz, California has decreased burglaries by 14% by predicting areas where burglaries are likely to happen and deploying officers there. Boston’s food inspection algorithm also predicts safety violations, but in the case of food violations at restaurants. In Nairobi, Kenya, security surveillance and smart dispatch has enhanced police response, coordination, and decision-making. In Shanghai, crime rates have dropped by 30% in this city, and police arrive at the scene in about three minutes thanks to smart surveillance. 

As far as road and bridge safety, convenient apps like Street Bump help Boston keep their roads smooth and safe. The U.S. Postal Service (USPS) has explored using their USPS trucks to monitor roads and bridges with cameras and accelerometers.

 

Telemedicine appointment from a doctor's perspective

 

One of Our Main Smart City Goals Would Be Better, Smarter Health

We have tackled healthier environments, safer streets, and practicality, but public health improvement is another benefit of a smart city. Smart health care in smart cities should be a priority. After all, without a healthy population, all the other betterments within the city will only favor a few. As we mentioned before, our population is growing at a frightening pace. This has impacts on both public health efforts and access to healthcare. 

Smart Public Health Interventions

Data collecting is one of the most important tools when it comes to public health interventions. This includes providing at-risk populations, like expectant and new mothers, with data-based education health campaigns. This can also help collect crowdsourced data on gaps in sanitation systems, using analytics to direct targeted interventions, for example, where rainfall absorption needs to be increased.

Smart Infectious Disease Surveillance

Infection disease surveillance, which includes data collection and rapid analysis, can prevent the rapid spread of infectious and epidemic diseases. And thanks to smart distribution systems, awareness and vaccine campaigns can be effectively promoted to the public. We’ve seen this for HIV / AIDS campaigns in multiple nations. 

Smart Health Care

Remote patient monitoring can collect and deliver a patient’s data for analysis and rapid intervention from health care providers. Someone who needs to monitor their vitals or has a glucose measurer can get notified of irregularities and act accordingly. This can also be incorporated with telemedicine assets, such as a virtual patient/physician emergency consultation. This also means hospitals and clinics in smaller or secluded cities can be connected to highly specialized health centers in larger cities or even in other countries.

 

Where Smart Health Care and Smarter Public Health Are Already a Reality

With the help of the University of Chicago, Chicago’s public health department has made advancements in detecting structures where children could have been (or are being) exposed to lead paint. In Louisville, Kentucky, they collected data from sensors attached to inhalers, they were able to identify hotspots with high inhalers usage, resulting in the discovery of areas with particularly bad air quality. Let’s look at Kenya, where SMS reminders increase childhood immunization rates. In China, they’re connecting clinics in smaller cities with larger hospitals in urban areas through telemedicine.

 

Two teenage girls sitting side by side using a phone

 

Smart Education Is Both a Leading Factor and a Result of Our Imagined Smart City

When technology merges with your city, one of the greatest smart city benefits would be easier access to education. This won’t mean people will only learn from a screen while being secluded from any human-contact social interaction. Still, it will provide better opportunities for people looking to learn and are unable to do so in a traditional way due to various reasons. 

Smart Education

Not everyone learns in the same way, and this has been proven time after time. Current educational systems still put all of their eggs in one basket, while in reality, some people might require personalized education. The use of student data and helps educators identify students who need additional resources or attention. This could lead to better learning environments for individual students.

Smart Adult New Skill Training

No matter the age or social status, anyone can learn. With online retraining programs, people who might have never finished school or are at risk of unemployment can regain their confidence and learn new skills. This also provides an opportunity to the elderly who are trying to keep up with the fast-paced technological environment or people who want to grow in their work department but don’t have an elite educational background.

 

Smart Cities with Smart Residents, Because of Smart Education

Samsung has partnered with Chennai, India to create smart classrooms. This can also be seen in public schools in Nashville, Tennessee, where tutors were provided with real-time information regarding student’s reading levels. The city of Buenos Aires has shifted from intuition-based education to evidence-based education.

 

A construction worker looking at a tablet in a smart city construction site

 

Of Course, We Can’t Forget Intelligent and Innovative Construction Practices

It would be impossible to achieve the smart city of our dreams without having smart construction practices. Though these may not be on every city’s smart development plan, we know they are essential to the future in both economic and construction safety means. 

Alternative Construction Methods

Smart construction practices may include 3D printing buildings. At the very least, searching for sustainable and efficient alternatives to slow and costly construction methods. And, regardless of the construction method, we vote for smart construction sites. Automation, supervision, and drones can help workers stay safe and city projects get constructed faster and more efficiently.

 

Where They’re Building with the Right Technologies

Dubai recently built a 31-foot-tall, 6,889-square-foot concrete building using a 3D printer. In other parts of the UAE, live-work communities have been developed with an emphasis on sustainability, including low-carbon buildings. Moscow has reduced construction time while preventing accidents at an early stage through the use of smart construction site technologies.

 

Biometric ID fingerprint reader on an individual's desk

 

Digitalization…Because Paper-Based Processes Were So Last Century

If there is something the COVID-19 pandemic showed the public, it’s that life does not stop when the world stops. Legal paperwork, service billings, license renewals, and public solicitations can’t all be paper-based. Not only has the paper system proved to be slow or prone to mistakes, but it also puts a barrier to people who don’t have access to the designated offices (whether this is a result of a disability or sickness). 

Digital Citizen Services

Things like tax filings, car registration, or applying for unemployment benefits fit the description for digitalization. These administrative services can be improved, and all it takes is the digitization of the user and the creation of back-end support the function might need. 

Biometric IDs

ID cards can, unfortunately, be faked. Fingerprints, on the other hand, are a bit trickier to fake. It’s also a lot harder to forget your fingerprint at home. That’s why biometric IDs are revolutionizing public services. This method of identification can help citizens in digitized cities conduct different types of government business. Not only does this cut down on fake IDs, it negates the need for physical identification and all that that process involves.

 

Places That Have Been Digitizing

In Dubai, almost 90 government services are now digital and accessible through an app. Like the emirate, in Buenos Aires, Argentina, people can access city services, get notified of relevant city news, and access digital documents online. Cities like São Paulo are making efforts to reduce the time of business registration from 128 days to less than a week by digitizing their paper-based processes.

About 10 years ago, India started issuing unique 12-digit identification numbers to citizens who stored biometric and demographic data. Residents can use these IDs to conduct different types of government business, including filing taxes or accessing pensions. The Land Transport Office in the Philippines launched new cards for their biometric driver’s license program. In the US, states such as Colorado, Idaho, Wyoming, and Washington DC are using a pilot program with digital driver’s license. The Shanghai metro uses speech and facial recognition tech to make ticket purchasing fast, efficient, and contactless.

 

Pollution sensors in a smart city

 

What Do Smart Cities Have to Do With Smart Industrial Solutions?

Everything. The technology we use to enable smart cities is the same tech we use to create smart plants and warehouses. Sensors pick up on data people would normally have to manually monitor. Cloud computing sends that data to central databases. Apps, though enterprise-class, make it all accessible to workers and management the same way they make it accessible to citizens and city administrators.

The benefits are clear in both. Predictive maintenance leads to lower costs and more efficient operation, whether it’s an urban wastewater treatment plant or a wastewater plant on a manufacturing site. Fewer manual processes lead to less reprocessing and adjustment, whether it’s an offshore drilling platform or a city’s electrical grid. And the insight-rich data makes everyone happy, from directors of operations to city planners. At the end of the day, the smart solutions are essentially the same. What’s different is the packaging, message, and scope.

 

It’s Time to Embrace Technology!

The world is changing, and we believe our dream smart city is closer than ever. With all these smart solutions and implementations, there is no doubt a sustainable, efficient, and safe city environment can be achieved. But for all of this to happen, the responsibility also falls into the population. Ask your representatives for smart solutions. Get behind the tools and technologies your cities have already implemented.

The clock is ticking up on the world population. If we don’t continue “educating” our cities with smart solutions, they’ll soon become unlivable. However, these small physical and psychological changes may just be the thing that helps our population survive the decades to come.

 

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