It is not unusual to be asked about the smarter city concepts.  Why do we need a smarter city?  What makes a city smarter?  Will making a city smarter really drive tangible benefits for economical and social investments?  The answer is a resounding, “yes”.  The smarter city strategy is vital to the future development and growth of any urban collective.

So, what is a smart city anyway?  A smart city is a urban development vision to integrate multiple information and communication technology (ICT) solutions in a secure fashion to manage a city’s assets – the city’s assets include, but not limited to, local departments information systems, schools, libraries, transportation systems, hospitals, power plants, law enforcement, and other community services.  The goal of building a smart city is to improve quality of life by using technology to improve the efficiency of services and meet residents’ needs.  ICT allows city officials to interact directly with the community and the city infrastructure and to tell what is happening in the city, how the city is evolving, and how to enable a better quality of life.  Through the use of real-time systems and sensors, data are collected from citizens and objects – then processed in real-time.  The information and knowledge gathered are keys to tackling inefficiency.

Okay, then what are the top ten attributes of a smarter city?  Just listing the top ten is difficult as there are many more attributes that could be discussed here and how these attributes are rated and ranked varies from one city to the next.  Some city’s drive for economic development, others focus on social development needs, and others simply try to make services and access easier for the ratepayers.  It is defined differently for every smarter city project that I have been involved in and is greatly influenced by the political will of the day.  Cost is another major driver for defining a smarter city.  Some cities just cannot afford to invest in every aspect, others have the investment capability, but do not have a clear vision of what is needed?  With that said, here are the top ten most popular attributes seen in our smarter city projects.

  1. Energy easily leads the way with smart meters and smart power grids.  Electricity is expensive and managing it efficiently is important.
  2. Environmental is a popular topic, albeit still an early stage emerging issue.  The concern is that pollution, carbon taxes, CO2 emissions, and general management of waste needs to be addressed with pending new regulations looming over cities.  Green topics and recycling are important issues for every city.
  3. Traffic is an urban problem that seems to get worse every year.  Using the Internet of Things (IoT) to bring new levels of automation to traffic is a worthwhile investment.  Traffic flows are moving from static models towards dynamic models that reflect the scenarios as they evolve.
  4. Parking is a problem along with vehicle traffic management.  This is especially problematic in cities that are constrained by rivers and shorelines that influence urban design.  Knowing where open parking spaces can be found is an ideal topic for IoT and mobility applications.
  5. Transit comes in many forms, from shared bicycles, to buses and streetcars, to trains, and airports.  Transit is normally viewed separately from personal vehicle traffic as the issues are different along with the funding and legislation governing it.  There are many IoT processes that can deliver positive results for Transit projects.
  6. Streetlights are often neglected as a smarter city topic, but from experience we can advise that they can deliver some serious cost savings and some tangible benefits beyond what the less informed might assume.  This is a great place to start a smarter city project.  The saving are driven by changing the lamps to LED and automating the lamps to track traffic flows with motion detectors and time of day.
  7. Water, Waste Water, and Storm Sewers are starting to gain importance in the smarter city topic.  In some countries like Canada, where water is readily available and at a low cost, it is less of a concern.  When water cost much more, it quickly escalates as a chief topic to consider.  The costs to manage waste water and storm water are increasing considerable and demand solutions.  The major issue with water of any kind is losses from the pipes.  Locating leaks and maintaining the sewers is a critical application with tangible benefits that can be measured.
  8. Surveillance and Security are important in all cities, but perhaps more so in the USA where crime is a serious issue.  We have become a surveilled society and the public is getting use to be watched and recorded if the benefits serve to help keep them safe.  Civil librettists argue that “a surveilled society is not a free society”.  We can leave that topic for another article.  But, video surveillance can be delivered in a cost effective manner with a suitable IoT network.
  9. Smart Buildings are a key component of any smarter city.  It cannot be left to government alone to implement smarter cities.  It takes the entire community to come together to make it work.  A smart building is a green building that efficiently uses available resources and does not pollute the city.  Some buildings have green roofs or solar energy generation, with proper installation and acoustic isolation.  They can charge electric vehicles and allow for bicycle parking.
  10. Healthcare is likely the fastest growing cost for any city with the aging baby boomer retiring.  Health costs are increasing and a smarter city is one that is fully accessible by all, especially those with disabilities that need easy use of the city transit and access to buildings.  Transit plays a major role in accessing medical facilities.

It would be easy to list 40, 50, 60, or more smarter city topics.  You can find many listed in this article – The Top Internet of Things Applications.

Open standards are instrumental to ongoing innovation and global market growth in the areas of technology development that figure to have long-term impact on tomorrow’s sustainable cities.  Standards are creating a foundation of interoperability, upon which next-generation technologies and capabilities can be cost-effectively and seamlessly layered in the decades to come.

Securing long-term economic and ecological sustainability has become a constant challenge facing urban planners. We can offer a unique opportunity to understand how the latest technologies could be harnessed to create economic clusters, foster entrepreneurship, and develop new industries in cities and urban centres.

With a keen eye on blending technological advancement with critical urban planning, compliance to legislative demands, and respect towards economic realities, smart cities need to bring together leading minds in both the public and private sector to drive innovation and discover solutions that maximize efficiency and service delivery to communities.

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About the Author:

Michael Martin has more than 35 years of experience in broadband networks, optical fibre, wireless and digital communications technologies. He is a Senior Executive Consultant with IBM Canada’s GTS Network Services Group. Over the past 11 years with IBM, he has worked in the GBS Global Center of Competency for Energy and Utilities and the GTS Global Center of Excellence for Energy and Utilities. He was previously a founding partner and President of MICAN Communications and before that was President of Comlink Systems Limited and Ensat Broadcast Services, Inc., both divisions of Cygnal Technologies Corporation (CYN:TSX). Martin currently serves on the Board of Directors for TeraGo Inc (TGO:TSX) and previously served on the Board of Directors for Avante Logixx Inc. (XX:TSX.V).  He served on the Board of Governors of the University of Ontario Institute of Technology (UOIT) and on the Board of Advisers of four different Colleges in Ontario as well as for 16 years on the Board of the Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers (SMPTE), Toronto Section.  He holds three Masters level degrees, in business (MBA), communication (MA), and education (MEd). As well, he has diplomas and certifications in business, computer programming, internetworking, project management, media, photography, and communication technology.

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References:

IEEE Smart Cities. Standards and Smart Cities. IEEE. Retrieved on March 4, 2016 from, http://smartcities.ieee.org/

Wikipedia. (2016). Smart City. Retrieved on March 4, 2016 from, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Smart_city