Smart city ideas
By 2050, the world's population will be nearly 10 billion. This fact presents an unprecedented challenge that shifts responsibility to cities, as the UN estimates that 67 percent of the world's population will live in cities by 2050. The economic, demographic, social, and environmental challenges will almost certainly be met with the same concept: Smart Cities. Governments worldwide are, for the most part, playing the same card: trying to make everything "smart."
Six Big Ideas that a Smart City Needs
Some fantastic projects aim to improve the lives of city dwellers among the tsunami of ideas. Here are some of them.
Spark a revolution in electric and networked transport
How we get around has become the main protagonist, a challenge significant in dense urban areas. New York City has found a solution in electric buses. The city government has proposed improving traffic flow by installing sensors in these buses and at traffic lights so that when a bus approaches a traffic light, either the green light is extended or the red light changes to green in anticipation. This method of prioritizing bus passage at intersections has already resulted in a 20% reduction in travel times.
However, not only the world's megacities are attempting to meet the demands of a new mode of transportation. Oslo (Norway) is focusing on reducing carbon dioxide emissions from automobiles. The goal is to cut these emissions into the atmosphere by half by 2020. How? By redesigning their entire transportation network and prohibiting the circulation of private cars.
Facilitate official paperwork from the mobile phone
Tel-Aviv, Israel, began its transformation in 2013 when an internal survey revealed that residents adored their city but despised its management. From there arose DigiTel, a mobile application through which one can pay water and municipal bills, register for a place in the public school system, request parking permits, and send photos of potholes and roads in poor condition.
A similar app has been developed in Palo Alto (California, USA), one of the most connected and innovative places on the planet due to its proximity to Silicon Valley, from which citizens can report incidents and access local services anytime day. They are not the only ones, as this type of service is available in a variety of locations around the world, including Gijon (Spain), Astana (Kazakhstan), and Southampton (UK).
Control the expenditure on electricity
Real-time control of household electricity expenditure is a European Union goal, an advertising claim for many utility companies, and a reality in the United Kingdom. The national Smart Meters campaign aims to install 53 million of these meters in England, Wales, and Scotland for free, with direct control of gas and light consumption. They have until 2020 to reach all of the island's residences.
According to the US Department of Energy, more than 51 million advanced meters have already been connected to homes in the US. Other cities, such as Oslo, have begun similar municipal initiatives to facilitate the creation of an electric vehicle charging network.
Enhance the smart healthcare system
Asian tigers such as Singapore, Japan, and South Korea have begun to innovate in their healthcare systems. Doctors, patients, and robots are already walking through the corridors of Changi General Hospital, one of Singapore's major medical facilities. HOSPI, a human-sized autonomous robot, has been operating for two years, and its mission is to transport drugs, files, and blood samples throughout this hospital's four buildings. It is not the only robot in the facility that houses autonomous loading devices and robot surgeons. These are also common in Japan.
Other initiatives focus on the geolocation of patients within the building to facilitate staff work or the monitoring of the patient from the bed—thanks to the installation of fiber optics in the mattresses—to check the temperature or to breathe from a distance.
Provide open and transparent data
Big Data concepts have become commonplace in the development of smart cities, but what use does storing millions of pieces of data have? Some municipal governments, such as those in the Finnish cities of Tampere and Helsinki, have decided to collect data on their citizens related to traffic, geographical location, the city budget, and consumption.
The data is aggregated, and the volume is so large that it is impossible to identify any individual, but it can provide an overview and generate business opportunities. There is only one condition: this data must be open and transparent, which means it must be accessible to all citizens.
Commit to programmed education
The final great project that a smart city requires is the one that ensures all the others: education. Those still in school today will create the devices and ideas that will make life easier for city dwellers in the future. Singapore, the PISA report winner, has a clear goal: to teach computer programming. This measure has already reached over 20,000 children between the ages of three and twelve. It begins in nursery schools, where children primarily play with robots and learn how to program them. Once in school, programming becomes a compulsory subject: video games, drones, 3D printers, circuits, and robots.
The small French town of Saint-Quentin in France demonstrates how it is not necessary to be one of the world's wealthiest countries to try to lead this change. In recent years, it has launched a cloud robotics conference and robotic workshops for children, new degree programs in the university on digital robots, and computer programming courses for unemployed people. Change, too, begins small.
What makes a city smart?
Smart cities use data and digital technology to make better decisions and improve the quality of life. More comprehensive, real-time data allows agencies to monitor events as they unfold, understand how demand patterns are changing, and respond with faster, lower-cost solutions.
Three layers collaborate to make a smart city hum. The first is the technological foundation, which includes a critical mass of smartphones and sensors linked by high-speed communication networks. The second layer is made up of specific applications. Transforming raw data into alerts, insights, and action requires the right tools, where technology providers and app developers come in. The third layer is public use by cities, businesses, and individuals. Many applications are only successful if they are widely adopted and change behavior. They encourage people to use public transportation during off-hours, change routes, use less energy and water at different times, and reduce strains on the healthcare system through preventive self-care.
It improves public safety
Using a variety of applications to their full potential could reduce fatalities (from homicide, road traffic, and fires) by 8 to 10%. This could save up to 300 lives per year in a high-crime city with a population of five million. Assault, robbery, burglary, and auto theft could be reduced by 30 to 40%. On top of these metrics, there are valuable advantages to giving residents freedom of movement and peace of mind.
Although technology is not a panacea for crime, agencies can use data to allocate scarce resources and personnel better. Real-time crime mapping, for example, uses statistical analysis to highlight patterns, whereas predictive policing goes a step further, anticipating crime to prevent incidents. When incidents occur, applications such as gunshot detection, smart surveillance, and home security systems can help law enforcement respond faster. However, data-driven policing must be implemented to protect civil liberties and avoid criminalizing specific neighborhoods or demographic groups.
Seconds count when lives are at stake, so first responders must arrive quickly. Smart systems can optimize call centers and field operations, while traffic-signal preemption provides emergency vehicles with a clear driving path. These applications can potentially cut emergency response times by 20 to 35 percent. A city with an already low response time of eight minutes could save nearly two minutes. A city with an average response time of 50 minutes may be able to reduce that by more than 17 minutes.
It makes daily commutes more efficient and less stressful
Tens of millions of people in cities worldwide begin and end their workdays fuming in traffic or crammed into overcrowded buses and trains. Improving the daily commute is critical to the overall quality of life.
Cities that implement smart-mobility applications have the potential to reduce commuting times by 15 to 20% on average by 2025, with some people benefiting from even more significant reductions. The potential associated with each application varies greatly depending on the density of each city, existing transit infrastructure, and commuting patterns. In a dense city with extensive public transportation, smart technologies could save the average commuter nearly 15 minutes per day. The improvement could be 20 to 30 minutes per day in a developing city with longer commutes.
In general, cities with extensive, well-used transit systems benefit from applications that streamline the rider experience. Riders can adjust their routes on the fly by using digital signage or mobile apps that provide real-time information about delays. Installing IoT sensors on existing physical infrastructure can assist crews in resolving issues before they cause breakdowns and delays.
Applications that reduce traffic congestion are more effective in cities where driving is every day or buses are the primary modes of transportation. Intelligent traffic signal synchronization has the potential to cut average commute times by more than 5% in developing cities where most people travel by bus. Real-time navigation alerts drivers to delays and assists them in choosing the shortest route. Smart-parking apps direct them to available spots, saving time circling city blocks.
Cities can act as catalysts for better health.
The sheer density of cities makes them critical, albeit underutilized, platforms for addressing health. Recognizing that the role of technology in healthcare is broad and changing by the day, we examine only digital applications that allow cities to play a role. We quantify their potential impact on disability-adjusted life years (DALYs), the primary metric used by the World Health Organization to convey the global disease burden, which includes not only years of life lost to premature death but also productive and healthy life lost due to disability or incapacity. If cities use the applications in our analyses to their full potential, we estimate that DALYs could be reduced by 8 to 15%.
Applications that aid in preventing, treating, and monitoring chronic conditions such as diabetes or cardiovascular disease may have the most significant impact in the developed world. Remote patient monitoring systems can potentially reduce the health burden in high-income cities by more than 4%. These systems use digital devices to take vital readings, which are then securely transmitted to doctors in another location for analysis. This data can alert the patient and the doctor when early intervention is required, preventing complications and hospitalizations.
Cities can use data and analytics to identify demographic groups with high-risk profiles and target interventions more precisely. mHealth interventions can deliver lifesaving messages about vaccinations, sanitation, safe sex, and adhering to antiretroviral therapy regimens. In low-income cities with high infant mortality rates, data-driven interventions focused on maternal and child health alone could reduce DALYs by more than 5%. Another 5% reduction is possible if developing cities use infectious-disease surveillance systems to stay ahead of fast-moving epidemics. Telemedicine provides clinical consultations via videoconference and can also be lifesaving in low-income cities with doctor shortages.
a cleaner and more sustainable environment
Environmental pressures increase as cities, industries, and consumption grow. Building automation, dynamic electricity pricing, and some mobility applications could all work together to reduce emissions by 10 to 15%.
Water-consumption tracking combines advanced metering with digital feedback messages, can nudge people toward conservation, and reduce consumption by 15% in cities with high residential water usage. Pipe leakage is the leading cause of water waste in many developing countries. Sensors and analytics can reduce losses by up to 25%. Applications such as pay-as-you-throw digital tracking can reduce the volume of solid waste per capita by 10 to 20%. Cities can save 25 to 80 liters of water per person per day and reduce unrecycled solid waste by 30 to 130 kilograms per person per year.
Air-quality sensors do not automatically address the causes of pollution, but they can identify the sources and provide a foundation for further action. Beijing reduced deadly airborne pollutants by roughly 20% in less than a year by closely tracking pollution sources and regulating traffic and construction accordingly. Individuals can take protective measures when real-time air-quality information is shared with the public via smartphone apps. This could reduce negative health effects by 3 to 15%, depending on current pollution levels.
It creates a new type of digital urban commons and enhances social connectedness.
Community is difficult to quantify, but MGI surveyed urban residents to see if digital channels for communicating with local officials and digital platforms that facilitate real-world interactions (such as Meetup and Nextdoor) can have an impact. According to our analysis, using these applications could nearly double the share of residents who feel connected to the local community and almost triple the percentage of those who feel connected to local government.
Establishing two-way communication channels between the public and local government agencies could make city governments more responsive. Many city agencies have an active presence on social media, and others have created interactive citizen apps. In addition to disseminating information, these channels allow residents to report concerns, collect data, and weigh in on planning issues. Paris has implemented a participatory budget, inviting anyone to post project ideas and then holding online votes to determine which one's merits funding.
Smart solutions can make local labor markets more efficient and lower the cost of living.
Many city officials want to know whether becoming a smart city will result in an influx of high-paying tech jobs or accelerate a wave of automation. Our analysis finds a slightly positive net impact on formal employment. Smart technologies will eliminate some jobs (such as administrative and field jobs in city government) while creating others (such as maintenance, driving roles, and temporary installation jobs). E-career centers can have a minor positive impact by improving hiring processes and attracting more unemployed and underemployed people into the workforce. Data-driven formal education and online retraining programs can help a city's pool of skills. Digitizing government functions such as business licensing, permitting, and tax filing can reduce red tape for local businesses, contributing to a more entrepreneurial business climate.
Many of the world's most dynamic and desirable cities face severe housing shortages, driving up rents and home prices. Increasing the supply of housing can help to reduce those costs. In many places, bureaucracy stifles land acquisition, environmental studies, design approvals, and permitting. Digitizing these processes can reduce risks and delays, encouraging more construction. Furthermore, most cities have a surprising amount of undeveloped land that could be used for infill housing. Creating open-source cadastral databases can aid in the identification of land parcels for development.
Smart applications generate savings in other areas, encouraging more efficient use of utilities and the healthcare system. Products like home security systems, personal alert devices, and lifestyle wearables require consumer purchases, but they provide value that many people are willing to pay for. Mobility applications also offer a new deal, though e-hailing may encourage people to take more rides than they previously did. However, e-hailing and other sharing applications allow some people to avoid owning a private vehicle. MGI estimates that the average person could save up to 3% on their current annual expenses.