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Smart Cities: What role are they going to play in constructing our future?
Triguna Saideep Chillara Solution Architect – Manufacturing Vertical | January 22, 2021

The cities have always been at the center of pollution and have been criticized for not taking into consideration the environmental impact of today’s actions like improper Municipal system, Energy wastage, uncontrolled pollution, cutting down trees, improper traffic system, etc. Recently, this is shifting a bit with the advent of smart cities. The idea behind a smart city is to provide high-quality and sustainable living by using the Internet of things, data, and sensors etc.

So, what are smart city projects, or what are the things that make a city smart?

Smart city projects use the data collected by the sensors, actuators, and other technologies to connect each component of the city. The issue of the ever-increasing pollution levels across the world can be solved by better management of transportation, noise pollution, and waste. Smart cities understand the demand of people in a precise way, helping businesses cater to the needs of the customer efficiently. The smart city projects also create demand if the data is utilized and analyzed well.

Smart cities precisely understand the demand of people, helping businesses cater to customer needs efficiently.

Let us talk about Barcelona, one of the pioneers in the smart city race. The city had been one of the worst-hit in the air quality index just a few years back and was well above European Union norms for Air Quality Index (AQI). A smart infrastructure plan was prepared to counter this. The plan included real-time updates of the necessary details done automatically by sensors. The necessary details consisted of checking the parking slot occupancy status, road clearance, and whether it is safe for the pedestrians to travel on the road at that specific point in time. It also indicates to the Municipal Corporation of the city if there is a need to clear the garbage in time.

Activities like this will improve the response time and optimize smart infrastructure management to ensure a better quality of life for the citizens. In smart cities, there is a need for information security, and initiatives such as restricting access and enhancing citizen awareness by providing online learning platforms are regularly undertaken.

“Smart City is not a destination; it is a process.”

Smart City is not a destination; it is a process

For a city to be considered smart, it should have a sustainable energy source, top-notch waste management facilities, optimized transportation and parking, smart infrastructure, smart irrigation techniques, clear air, and good quality water. Most smart cities today have an app of their own to update and also analyze the progress in real time.

Smart Buildings

The building blocks of a smart city are smart buildings, which can optimize the energy needs of the building itself, like switching off the lights, air conditioners, and other appliances when there is no need and self-sustained solar power energy sources. Smart buildings work on the technology of motion sensors and IoT. Smart buildings can also be used to mitigate ChloroFluoroCarbons (CFCs) emitted by the appliances to reduce ozone depletion, which is sustainable, thereby reducing global warming. Smart buildings are also capable of notifying the wear and tear to an extent of where exactly the issue is detected and can warn the residents if there is any need. These sensors can also predict natural disasters such as floods, rains, and thunder, etc. if the city/building is close to such an environment by using analytics.

Super Blocks

Super blocks are small areas in the city’s architecture designed to reduce vehicular traffic inside these blocks to increase pedestrian traffic, the safety of pedestrians (by reducing the number of accidents), increasing the street businesses, and reducing pollution in the neighborhood. This concept is in the testing stage in Barcelona to see its impact and scale further.

Public Spaces for Citizen Use

Source: BCNUEJ Figure 1: Public Spaces for Citizen Use

In this concept, cars and other heavy vehicles are only allowed inside these superblocks if the speed of the vehicle is around 10kmph, which will not harm the pedestrians. There are roads around these superblocks for regular usage of vehicles. By segregating the traffic this way, the economy of the city grows with many small size street businesses, and air and noise pollution are in check. Barcelona’s city architecture helps in forming superblocks, but the concept can be expanded as per any city’s architecture and requirements.

Smart Energy Management

Energy management can be done better when the information on the usage of the energy/fuel is available for the public, and measures are published. For instance, if the electricity bill of any property is being generated, it would be beneficial for the citizens’ sake, and the city as a whole, to include how much energy is being utilized by each component in the house by using sensors attached to each appliance. Analytics performed on this data can provide insights for the city’s management team to improve the efficiency and take further steps on educating the citizens on energy conservation. The energy distribution can be further advanced with more efficient technologies such as a smart grid to localize the power generation and provide a continuous power supply.

Smart Transportation and Parking

Smart transportation and parking management systems implemented in Smart cities use real-time tracking and analytics of the system already in place to find a vacant parking slot in the nearby area for parking issues. Also, such systems can increase the supply of public transport in areas of peak demand by taking the time needed and the number of passengers into consideration for optimizing the transport system as a whole.

Smart transportation detects accidents and provides relevant information to healthcare in time that can save the victim’s life. This technology is in place in some of the smart cities. However, it is expected that a full-scale implementation on a global landscape will take time.

Smart Waste Management

This is already implemented in many cities. There are sensors attached to the garbage bins to send a signal to the municipal corporation when the garbage in the bin reaches a certain level. The disposal vehicle is directed per the optimized routing and time management to ensure timely collection of waste. Involving the citizens in such activities by rewarding the best street or area in terms of waste management can create good competition and improve the city’s waste management. These kind rewards can help in receiving feedback from the citizens leading to innovative solutions or even direct innovations from the residents. Ownership and recognition are the keys to a successful implementation of any project.

Intelligent Waste Collection Solution

Image source: Ecube Labs Figure 2: Intelligent Waste Collection Solution

Educating the Citizens of the State/City

The success of a smart city depends highly on the involvement of citizens. With the advent of any new technology, there is always a need to create awareness among citizens. A few cities have offered free courses online to counter the issue. These learnings also make the people aware of how the feedback loop works, the progress of each small project, and also the holistic impact of these projects in improving the city’s economy and environmental concerns. The involvement of citizens is one of the key success factors as they are the primary stakeholders. All the details can be updated in the city app to make the content available for everyone free of cost with just a click of a button.

Benefits and Impacts of a Smart City

There are many advantages to smart cities other than just environmental concerns and transportation management. The other benefits are as follows:

  • Improved economic situation of the city
  • Increased competitiveness of the city
  • Increased literacy of the citizens
  • Improved waste management systems
  • Better education for the students
  • Increased transparency of the issues and recognitions among the citizens
  • Improved quality of life
  • Increased employment opportunities improving the standard of living of the residents

The benefits mentioned may not be exhaustive but can provide an idea of how many ways smart cities can impact the living conditions of the people. Hence, smart city projects are being taken seriously by almost all governments in developed and developing countries.

Information/Data Security

Data, even the minute details of vehicles and residents in a specific area at a precise point of time when made available on the public forum, always draws a need for a high degree of security. This is required to counter data breaches that could lead to terrorist threats. Hence, information/data security is a vital part of a smart city and its future. Citizens and their safety are the key concerns for this project. A few smart cities in Europe have tried to fight these threats by data localization, increased security infrastructure such as restricted access to confidential data files to citizens. Although there are many tools today for data security, the needs of a smart city are no different from any organization. The stakes, in fact, are higher in this case (the safety of citizens). Hence, extra measures must be taken, and the public should be made aware of the possible ways of a data breach. The security guidelines should be issued with utmost care and updated regularly with new threat patterns.

Some Facts on Smart City Investments and its Future

  • According to Allied Market research, the Global Smart city market is expected to grow at a CAGR of 21.28% & reach $2 Trillion by 2025
  • According to WHO, 70% of the global population will be living in cities by 2050
  • Around 1.3 million people are currently moving into cities every week as per smartcityhub.com
  • Top 600 urban centers generate 60% of the global GDP today, use around 60-80% of the world’s annual energy needs, according to the smart city hub
  • The number of connected devices in the world is expected to cross 75 billion devices by 2025, according to Statista

While this article talks about some of the initiatives taken by governments globally, it's always beneficial to note that every city is unique on its own in ways such as infrastructure, problems, citizen expectation, the primary source of revenue, etc. Hence, while designing, planning a smart infrastructure for a city, these points have to be taken into consideration to ensure the particular city’s smart journey is optimized by targeting the issues specific to the city.