Unless you’ve been living in a bunker deep underground for the last ten years, you’ve no doubt heard talk about “smart cities.” Everyone’s talking about it, and a few truly forward thinking cities around the world are making it happen. But what exactly is a “smart city,” and what does it mean to you?
The short answer is that the smart city concept is the logical and foreseeable outcome of a world in which connectivity has become an integral part of our daily lives. In a smart city, things like utilities, transportation, education, housing, and more are all connected via sensors that provide data in order to improve the quality of life of the city’s residents. Civic leaders use this data to make better, “smarter” decisions for the way the city operates and interacts with its citizens. It’s a way to make infrastructure more efficient, to make government more transparent, and to make day-to-day interactions with technology smoother.
The best smart city improvements are based on a people-centric model, in which technology is merely a tool that improves the lives of those it touches by solving problems that might otherwise be insurmountable. Imagine a “smart” parking lot that can alert you to an available parking space via an app on your phone, reducing or eliminating your time driving around hopelessly looking for one. Or how about a smart communications system for emergency personnel, able to assess a situation holistically, summon the appropriate personnel, identify and notify the nearest hospital with the appropriate treatment facilities, and even turn traffic lights green as needed for the ambulance en route, thereby decreasing response time significantly.
These aren’t simply concepts found in science-fiction novels, but initiatives actually put in place today in smart cities around the world. By making use of data collected from a variety of sources in an intelligently-connected infrastructure, and parsing that data in useful ways, these smart applications can be used to improve the quality, performance and efficiency of everything from major water utilities to individual home appliances. Europe and Asia have been making these steps forward for some time but America is catching up now in cities like New York, Boston, San Francisco, and even Wichita.
From a municipal perspective, smart technology is being used to streamline city-provided services, and to oversee and regulate services provided by outside organizations in order to minimize frustration and dissatisfaction and to maximize economic growth and development. In Amsterdam, for example, the city has installed “smart” garbage bins, so that trash is collected only when the bin is full, thus making garbage collection more efficient and less costly.
There’s even more to know about smart cities, and we’ll cover that in “What is a ‘Smart City?’” Part 2.