The future of urban living has already begun. Smart homes can be controlled through smart phones. Smart cities monitor the movement of pedestrians and traffic. Smart planners use that information to improve infrastructure, and smart governments provide public services via smart apps. So smart, so good.
However, hurdles remain on the path to achieving significantly better urban living conditions, traffic flows and policies (i.e. major smart-city goals). Technology will surely connect the dots between citizens, services and smart devices, but how? Several lighthouse projects are already showing the way.
In order to create a truly smart city, one of the most urgent needs is to secure the participation of the people who live there. One way to do that is to encourage their feedback. If citizens become accustomed to regularly contributing ideas, questions, requests and criticisms, policy makers can use these to construct ways to improve citizens’ lives. Which in turn reinforces citizen participation.
Nevertheless, phrases like “monitoring people’s movement” sound intimidatingly sinister, so it’s important to explain the advantages of what that might mean. Perhaps it’s not even necessary for all citizens to participate, but rather to have a large enough sample to reflect public opinion or monitor traffic congestion, etc.
If that type of approach bears fruit, the public benefits become apparent, and more people participate. Still, there should also be immediate benefits for the pioneers. That is, reasons to adopt interactive technologies, such as instant traffic updates, event notices and other real-time tips. For instance, participants might benefit from red lights turning green more quickly, or by getting tips that help them avoid red lights altogether.
Smart this, smart that. But what does “smart city” really mean? A city can be very high-tech, yet nowhere near the “smart” ideal. And, of course, technology is only an enabler: it can be used for bad as well as for good.
Smart cities, however, have a clear intention of utilizing technology to improve residents’ lives. Such cities strive to be healthy, green, efficient, clean, responsive, democratic and diverse places that promote a positive living experience. Making these intentions known is the first step in gaining widespread popular support.
But it also helps if smart is fun. Games are fun, so making smart accessible and desirable might mean making it into a game.
Currently running in Amsterdam and Grenoble, the “Age of Energy” is a post-apocalyptic game that collects smart-meter data and helps teach users how to save energy. Other “serious games” could allow users to try their hand at making improvements to a virtual copy of their own cities, or accumulating game-points for a specific urban project being proposed, etc.
Making smart solutions popular might also simply mean doing an old job better than before. For instance, predictive maintenance solutions help to prevent the technologies on which we depend from breaking down. Science fiction? No, it’s already happening with elevators, where downtime can be halved thanks to machine learning and the Internet of Things.
Governments that can clearly see the big picture want their citizens to lead healthy lives – it helps to ensure a productive and satisfied populace, and keep down healthcare costs.
With sales of wearable devices predicted to rise 18.4% in 2016, governments will have new opportunities to promote health. Hospitals will be able to monitor at-risk patients 24 hours a day. Fitness trackers and apps can be provided to citizens free of charge.
Such applications are particularly attractive for managing costs in countries with publically funded health systems.
When it comes to city planning and development, people won’t be satisfied with token PR events that give the mere semblance of participation. Citizens want to play an active role in improving their cities, whether through volunteer programs, apps or other avenues of participation.
If one were to list the things that people want from their cities, the result would be quite similar to what we call a smart city. (URBAN HUB previously noted that top smart cities frequently also top the livability rankings.)
Left to their own devices – no pun intended – people would probably create smart cities all on their own. Projects like “Here Comes Solar”, a community based solar power project in NYC, are signs that people really want to live in smart cities that focus on clean tech and excellent quality of life.
Businesses are also helping to improve urban lives. One company, for example, is using wearables to help seniors remain independent, rather than move to assisted-living facilities.
Kansas City, Missouri, USA, is partnering with Cisco, Sprint and app developers in the construction of a 2.2-mile smart streetcar line. All along the line (which won’t charge a fare), people will benefit from free Wi-Fi, smart streetlights, beacons and traffic signals, as well as sensors that will monitor parking and weather, and improve the deployment of snow plows when necessary.
Kansas City’s public-private partnership – called “Kansas City Living Lab” – is a further initiative that seeks to harness the creative power of startups and freelance developers to help solve urban problems. Overall, it’s an excellent example of a city striving to both utilize and foster its citizens’ creativity.
So, has the smart city come of age? Is it ready to face the challenges of our urban future and the demands we will place upon it?
Let’s review. We already have enough smart technologies to get started. We have what we need to integrate citizens into the network of smart technology. Is that enough?
It will be. The smart city has come of age, and we can now enable cities to become more efficient, more secure, more environmentally friendly, healthier and more livable. And we can do it ourselves: we can be the change we imagine. And with wearable technology, it will fit like a glove.