Electric car grids, smart parking, crowdsensing, digitized education, smart lighting – these are among many concepts that top global cities are pursuing to improve the experiences of citizens and businesses. Using the latest technologies, local governments are addressing pain points that are top of mind for their citizens.
For example, In The Netherlands, Amsterdam is one of the highest traffic regions so the city launched its own “virtual traffic manager” which tracks and controls the entire national traffic system in a centralized system. Because of this initiative, Amsterdam natives spend ten percent fewer hours in vehicles. Digital change takes time and resources, but many cities around the world are paving the way for what will be the future standard of city living.
New York City, USA
This year New York is celebrating the fifth anniversary of its open data law which provides open access to information from its city agencies. This includes 1,600 open data sets covering everything from crime stats by neighborhood, 311 calls, and every street tree in New York City. By sharing this knowledge, the city hopes to empower citizens and incentivize them to solve the problems of fellow residents and, thus, accelerate the development of its digitized services. Also in its fifth year is New York City’s civic innovation competition called “BigApps NYC” that challenges designers, developers, academics, entrepreneurs to develop solutions that use city agency data to improve New York City. Competition winners have created apps that allow people in neglectful housing situations to digitally file claims, find jobs, and guide people out of poverty by providing information about federal, state and local benefits.
London, United Kingdom
One of London’s smart city initiatives is the city’s new smart, sustainable park, Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park. Over 45 hectares of parkland, the city built five world-class sporting venues, 10,000 new homes, a university district and a media and digital hub, among other features. In addition to being entirely Wi-Fi connected, the park is connected to a low-carbon heat and cooling network and uses natural environmental features in the landscape to both promote biodiversity and mitigate flood risk. The park’s homes are also environmentally-friendly and produce 62% fewer CO2 emissions than the UK industry standard home. The Smart London Innovation Network is continuing to test the area as a beta area for the rest of the city to examine smarter crowd management, environmental sensing, community building and heightened engagement with visitors.
Seoul, South Korea
Seoul serves as one of the premiere examples of how eGovernment can be leveraged effectively. Under its “u-city” or “ubiquitous city” concept, Seoul is using high-tech infrastructure to digitally integrate city services such as public housing and traffic. For example, Seoul is already using the data it has gathered to make the city safer through the launch of its Owl Buses. The city discovered that poorer populations who worked late were being taken advantage of with overcharging by late night taxis. Using data that the city had collected, the city could determine the optimal bus route, traffic intervals and volume of buses to use to meet the needs of the population.
Although technologies like artificial intelligence and artificial reality are still developing, these tools will be used by smart cities sooner than we think. London is already building 26 miles of new tunnels as a part of its new Crossrail train system and is using immersion facilities, to allow engineers to work in a collaborative, virtual 3D environment to work with building information modelling.
As urban dwellings become increasingly population-dense, technology will provide us with infinite possibilities to improve citizens’ lives. They will also bring up unique challenges stemming from dense connectivity and digitization, like potential security breaches (think of the sleepless night Dallas residents suffered when a hacker penetrated the city’s security system and set off repeated hurricane alarms). At the onset of the digital transformation journey, how can other cities follow the examples of New York, London and Seoul?
1. Public-private partnerships create better, safer and more sustainable living: “Smart city” technology is still being developed, distributed and integrated (according to analyst firm IHS Markit, global smart city device shipments will increase from 202 million in 2017 to 1.4 billion in 2026). The technologies that are now cutting-edge will be outdated tomorrow. Remember that becoming a “smart city” is a long-term process – be strategic about the use of technology, mapping it to your priorities, and enlist the right partners from local the government and businesses to maximize its implementation and reach. The Dutch city of Eindhoven, for example, is partnering with Philips Lighting, roads infrastructure developer Heijmans and the Technical University of Eindhoven for the Roadmap Urban Lighting Eindhoven project.
2. Prioritize pain points: Following from the first point, as cities are still exploring the possibilities for getting “smart,” focus on what pain points you need to address the most to provide citizens with the fullest experience. For example, Amsterdam focused on traffic, while NYC focused on issues that come with dense urbanization, such as crime and poverty. Each city has different pain points and demographics that they prioritized in their digital transformation. Especially for smaller cities that lack the budgets of bigger cities, prioritization will be key.
3. Empower your citizens: The Internet of Things and other collaborative technologies empower citizens to participate in key areas of decision making, and provide valuable information to local governments for mapping out the city landscape and testing initiatives. For example, one of Boston’s smart city initiatives is an app called Street Bump, which helps identify and repair sunken manholes with data gathered from the phones of Bostonians who download the app. Eindhoven is another city that plans to involve citizens in the building of the smart city. Actively communicating with citizens and providing them with the tools to connect with local governments (and each other) will facilitate the process of transformation.
Looking to the future, technology gives us many reasons to be optimistic about the improvements smart cities can make in citizens’ lives. As we move towards an interconnected era that brings the cities and citizens closer together, cities across the world can also be more connected with each other, sharing best practices and key learnings. The inspiration and learnings smart cities provide can help us surpass the challenges presented by the increasing density in urban populations.
*) About the author: Naveen Rajdev, Chief Marketing Officer / Digital & Customer Evangelist. Naveen has devoted his entire career to breaking conventional norms – asking the “what ifs” to achieve “what could be.” As the Chief Marketing Officer for one of the largest digital and technology brands in the world, he sees beyond the linear, one-dimensional business approach to deliver billion-dollar opportunities, rapid business success and disruptive solutions.