In Part 1 of this article, we talked about some of the characteristics of a smart city, including hyperconnectivity, people-centric technology, and increased efficiency of city-provided services. But although those things are critically important, they’re not the end of the smart cities story.
Economic development is an important driver for most cities considering an upgrade to “smart” status, with most cities looking to attract new businesses to their community. But how? In 1942, economist and social scientist Joseph Schumpeter coined the term, “innovation economics,” which, he argued, meant that innovation was a major factor in spurring economic growth and change as it created “temporary monopolies” when new products and technologies were invented, that then encouraged the development of competing products and processes, thereby creating beneficial economic conditions. He further believed that government’s most important role was in creating a fertile ground in which these innovations could occur. In this sense, the smart, connected, and efficient city is the technological soil in which the seeds of economic growth will be planted, yielding profits and benefits that will in turn enrich both individuals and society at large. Therefore, the cities that are at the forefront of smart cities transformation will reap the largest benefits from this explosive, and in many case much-needed, growth.
For example, an unique and innovative display of economic development using smart technology is taking place right now in South Korea. A major grocery retailer wanted to expand business, but without opening additional physical locations. The answer proved to be “virtual shelves” in the city’s subway stations. Wall-length billboards display goods for sale, complete with images and prices, allowing customers to order by scanning QR codes, paying, and arranging for delivery within a day. This optimizes commuter time in the stations, and expands business for the retailer without the expense of a building, rent, utilities, maintenance, staff, and all the other requirements of a physical location. The result is that this retailer has reached the number one position in the online market, and the number two position in terms of brick-and-mortar stores.
Besides these obvious advantages, an area in which smart cities can actually save lives, and one that is top of mind around the world right now, is by helping to deal with natural disasters, before, during, and after the event. Sensors can continually monitor air and water quality, weather and seismic events, and even increased radiation levels, for example, thus providing critical early warnings of disasters about to happen, and can disperse that information to residents via smart phone apps. Once an event occurs, smart data can be used to provide much-needed safety information. During Hurricane Harvey, for example, data collected via connected systems was able to provide residents with real-time information about increased water levels through information from county flood gauges, as well as identify passable evacuation routes and assistance, available shelters, food banks, and more. Drones can be – and are being – used to survey damage and to aid in recovery efforts, reducing the risk for human crews. And this is clearly the tip of the iceberg as regards ways in which “smart” technology will be able to aid in human response to natural disasters.
Of course, these are only a few of the ways in which smart technology can benefit communities. Every city and county has its own needs, especially in the early planning stages of digital transformation. What’s important to remember, however, is that smart cities aren’t coming, they’re already here, and the earliest adopters of this incredible technology will be the ones to reap the greatest benefits from it. Those that delay, or who reject the smart cities model altogether, will quickly find themselves woefully behind the curve, unable to compete with those communities that showed more foresight in these early days. Customers and residents are constantly increasing their demands for bandwidth as the fuel needed to drive their desire for connectivity, and the communities that can provide these services seamlessly and easily win the lion’s share of business and revenue. It’s never too early to start thinking about smart city transformation, so what are you waiting for?