How Smart are Our Cities?

By 17/05/2019 No Comments

Imagination is your preview of life’s coming attractions…
– Albert Einstein

“Smart cities” have become one of the modern world’s most trending terms. But what do we mean by smart cities? Cities that can think, take decisions and act upon these decisions by themselves? Can smart cities learn over time? What are the benefits of creating smart cities and why should we invest in them?

The “smart” part of a smart city refers to the integration of information and communications technologies (ICTs) into an urban setting. The purpose of integrating such technologies is to enhance the quality and performance of services offered in a city for ultimately increasing citizens’ overall quality of life. These service sectors include transportation, energy, and utilities to name a few.

In this realm of smart cities, integrating Internet of Things (IoT) and cloud technologies and establishing 5G networks are essential to facilitating faster and more secure data transfer and analysis in real time. Physical infrastructure in cities such as buildings, roads and ports need to be connected to the online world using 21st century (re-)emerging technologies, such as AI.

While setting up smart cities may seem to be a daunting task, the projected benefits make it worthwhile. Intangible benefits of smart cities to a citizen’s day-to-day life include lower crime rates and more convenient public transit systems. Moreover, having remote control over one’s house, home appliances, cars, electronic devices, and other gadgets provides ease of mind, increased security and convenient asset management.

In addition, smart city projects and applications add financial value over time and the return of investment is significant. The city of Barcelona is one of many examples. According to Forbes, the city was able to make savings of US $58 million a year from smart water and US $50 million from optimized lighting and parking management, as well as create 47,000 new jobs related to the smart city developments.

From an environmental point of view, smart cities can bring many benefits to our society. Investing in smart cities has the potential to mitigate the effects of climate change by reducing energy consumption. Large office buildings and commercial towers could be transferred into energy efficient facilities that optimize the use of energy with various technologies including advanced lighting, next-generation HVAC units, and independent renewable energy grids. This would in turn contribute to Canada’s GHG emission reduction targets.

Converting our cities to smart cities is a long-term process and it is essentially a cumulative effort by all of us. Community involvement is a necessity and expecting a static outcome would be unrealistic. On the one hand, we need to invest in R&D and commercialization of platform technologies, such as IoT, cloud computing, 5G networks, and AI/ML, that will power the creation of smart cities. On the other hand, we need to establish state-of-the-art infrastructure on which such technologies can be embedded.

At the end of the day, who doesn’t want less traffic on their commute?