by Adam Kanter, Masters Student, Maxine Goodman Levin College of Urban Affairs at Cleveland State University //
What is a Smart City?
The meaning of the term “Smart City” varies widely, depending on the context. Often the focus falls solely on the technological aspect of the term, but this narrow reading fails to grasp that a true “Smart City” needs transparent and engaging governance, visionary city leaders, and an empowered and active citizenry, all utilizing and supported by an advanced technological infrastructure.
The applications of smart city technologies and practices are countless; they create opportunities to positively impact performance across all sectors, including, public safety, transportation, healthcare, governance, sustainability, education, and energy.
Ideally, a smart city would break down the traditional barriers between sectors, linking their processes, best practices and success. Today’s system lacks the ability to capitalize on shared resources and innovation between sectors, creating debilitating inefficiencies and redundancies.
Why Do We Need Smarter Cities?
The global urban population has swelled in recent decades. More than 54% of the world’s population now lives in urban areas. With an estimated 180,000 people moving to cities each day, this percentage is expected to increase to 66% by the year 2050 (World Health Organization, 2015). The aging infrastructures and systems of today’s cities cannot handle this rapid urbanization. Public transport is overcrowded, energy consumption and carbon emissions are at an all-time high, emergency services are stretched thin, and numerous other public services are failing to meet the needs of urban citizens.
The Role of Local Government in Smart Cities
In order to facilitate a true smart city, local government must invest in the creation of transparent procedures and provide its citizens and institutions new mediums for governance and social inclusion.
City dwellers are increasingly expecting transparency and accountability from their government. Residents want information regarding government spending, policy creation and program performance. Without this accountability, government progress stalls–uninformed constituents have no grounds to challenge government underperformance. With a transparent system, citizens have knowledge they can use to demand change, and act as a catalyst for innovation and improvement.
Government also needs to be readily accessible through the internet. With easy accessibility, the public can be engaged in decision-making like never before, transforming the political landscape. Utilization of information and communication technology has the potential to create an electronic democracy: enabling citizens to vote electronically and create electronic town halls and forums to promote dialogue among citizens and between elected officials and their constituents
The Internet of Things
As technology improves and its production becomes more efficient and cost-effective, the possibility of a completely interconnected city becomes more and more realistic. This interconnectivity of objects is often referred to as the “internet of things.” It will not just be the traditional devices like phones and tablets that will be connected, but also parking spaces, street lights, appliances, and cars. The sensors embedded within these objects create a “digital nervous system” within our existing physical infrastructure.
With an intelligent infrastructure a city can overhaul its operations and management. Barcelona is the leader in the adoption of the internet of things, combining widespread wireless internet connectivity with a city-wide network of sensors that constantly measure and store data and provide real-time information to the city’s citizens. This data is used to better understand public transport, traffic congestion, pollution, noise-levels, and all others aspects of city life, helping to streamline city operations.
For more information, visit: http://smartcity.bcn.cat/en
With any significant societal change there are unforeseen consequences and displacements. No city to date has fully integrated smart technology, which makes prediction of the costs, benefits, and difficulties associated with implementation basically a “best guess”.
The thought that advanced technology will be seamlessly integrated is unrealistic. The potential downfalls are numerous, including: widening the gap of education and wealth, infringing upon the citizenry’s right to privacy, and over-involvement of private sector money and influence in the political decision-making process.
So, while the potential economic and social benefits of a smart community are high, there are significant risks and challenges. Integrated service delivery created by a smart city must be implemented correctly, intelligently and comprehensively. The technological capabilities are clear, and further innovation will lead to new opportunities every year, but it is the responsibility of government to create a framework for smart city initiatives to achieve sustainable success, while protecting citizens’ rights, voices and privacy.
About the Author
Adam Kanter is pursuing his Masters of Public Administration at the Maxine Goodman Levin College of Urban Affairs at Cleveland State University. He is focusing his education on advanced and renewable energy policy and is currently conducting research on the economic opportunity of hydrogen fuel cell production in Ohio.