Smart Cities: The Future of Urban Development
Category Pretoria: Newsletter News
Smart cities: a concept that is evolving as rapidly as the tech that drives it.
Artificial Intelligence, Big Data, cloud computing and the Internet of Things (IoT) are providing us with information and opportunities that challenge the traditional parameters of our societal and environmental framework.
Forbes explains: "Creating a network of objects capable of smart interactions opens the door to a wide range of technological innovations that could help improve public transport, give accurate traffic reports or provide real-time energy consumption data."
This increased intelligence is forcing individuals and businesses to adapt and adopt new life-changing technologies. There mere idea of a talking virtual assistant might have been laughed at a decade or two ago, but today Amazon's Alexa is making home security, access to information and daily functioning more efficient.
But on a governmental level, how does this technological disruption impact communities, societies and the cities we live in? What is the future of urbanism, and how can it evolve to create safer, more efficient societies?
What is a 'Smart City'?
The term was first put forward in 2008 by IBM. While there is no globally recognised definition, the goal of a Smart City is to meet citizens' demands, improve their quality of life, and enable sustainable development using high technologies. While each city will have different requirements, it involves infrastructure and technology working together in cohesion to improve the quality of life of the citizens that occupy that specific city.
It also allows leaders to use data to become better informed on how citizens live and interact with their urban environments, informing city planners of future plans. This means not only improving access to technology but using technology to create a green and sustainable environment. These technologies are already transforming the way municipalities globally manage their everyday operations and services.
The end goal for creating a smart city is to develop a process using technology that is able to obtain and analyse data that will help improve various aspects of life. These cities will then be afforded the information to identify challenges and opportunities in real-time, which will reduce expenditure and unmercenary usage.
The Benefits of Smart Cities
Having technology as the backbone has opened a plethora of opportunities to governments and municipalities to help them solve problems they may face managing a city. The idea of smart cities aims to reinforce the idea of creating operating systems that provide insight into key participants, markets, stakeholders, growth drivers, technologies, technology providers, challenges, the role of cities, and future outlook in this space.
A few reasons why smart cities have been identified as the future of urbanism is because they present the ability to:
- Monitor and control all utility usage;
- Control parking around the city;
- Manage traffic flow and reduce congestion;
- Monitor energy consumption;
- Improve public safety and security;
- Improve transport and public transport mechanisms in and around the city;
- Monitor ageing infrastructure;
- Improve several public service operations; and
- Assist with conservation.
Smart tech is future proofing cities, helping governments make decisions that affect the economy.
Global Examples of Smart Tech in Cities
- Singapore is the world's smartest city, with technology being effortlessly integrated in every aspect of life. Forward-thinking infrastructure, smart buildings, smart transport and even smart underground malls create a network of information to help citizens live easier.
- Barcelona has fast WiFi all over the city, which has been utilised to monitor water, lighting and parking usage. Barcelona saved €75 million of city funds and created 47,000 new jobs in the smart technology sector.
- The Netherlands used IoT-based infrastructure in Amsterdam that monitored traffic flow, energy usage and public safety in real-time.
- Copenhagen uses smart tech to monitor local water levels, reduce energy consumption from outdoor lighting, optimize heating systems in the city's buildings and improve waste collection.
- Boston and Baltimore have used IoT to monitor their waste, allowing sanitation workers to know the most efficient pick-up route, how much waste to expect as well as the urgent routes that need attention.
- Xiongan, China, is the country's first city to roll out intelligent streetlights. They turn on automatically and adjust their brightness according to the number of pedestrians and vehicles around them at any given time. Seats on the side of the streetlights provide the perfect place for pedestrians to rest while charging their phones and accessing a free WiFi network. The lights are also equipped with a multifunction camera to collect traffic information.
- The City of Johannesburg has installed a network of Vumacam cameras across the city, with a further 15 000 additional cameras to be rolled out this year. They watch every person and car in the vicinity, and if their algorithms pick up something strange (like a license plate linked to a crime) security companies can access the data and react.
What Role Does the Real Estate Industry Play?
Infrastructure and space play an obvious role in the advancement of urbanism and smart cities. In recent years - property owners, landlords and developers have focussed on transforming properties into desired spaces fit for smart usage. We see this in the increased focus of suburbs, buildings and developments being multi-purpose, digitally equipped and environmentally friendly places to live and work.
It is no longer enough to work in isolation - close collaboration with government departments, data security experts, city planners, environmentalists and property developers is needed to invest in new infrastructure. The foundation of a smart city is digital. Buildings will need to be built with a tech-first approach, with smart infrastructure in line with the city's objectives being cemented in to its bones.
To apply the smart city concept to an entire city with millions of inhabitants requires more than just data collection. Business Wire explains that in order for a city government to collect and analyse data, they need mobility operating systems. Their main function would be to empower a city's government to gather and analyse important data pertaining to the city, which in turn opened up the possibilities for solution-driven mechanisms using IoT. The key components of this system involved communication, solutions and very basically a storage unit for real-time information that can be used as a control centre for the city. With the help of AI and predictive data analytics - all supported by smart applications - this is how smart cities will be developed in the future and has already begun in some parts of the world.
With this being a fast-changing environment and a space that not only generates interest and attention but also holds massive opportunity, landlords and property developers will need to ensure that they produce and maintain and infrastructure that support this shift.
The smart city concept is both an opportunity and a responsibility - with so much data at stake, data security measures have to be in place from inception. This means robust and reliable internet connectivity, data privacy and cyber security policies and platforms, and skilled, digitally-savvy teams. In South Africa this is the first leg in the race to transform our cities into intelligent, data-driven environments that put the lives of citizens at the forefront of developments.