Smart cities pave the way to efficient, eco-friendly living

Traffic jams, pollution, derelict areas, these are problems that many cities face. And rising urban populations mean these problems may soon get a great deal worse. The move toward smarter cities is one way to help urban areas grow and become better places to live at the same time.

Smart inside and out – In many ways, the smart city concept is simply good urban planning that incorporates both advances in digital technology and new thinking in the age-old city concepts of relationships, community, environmental sustainability, participatory democracy, good governance and transparency.

Published on 15.11.2014

Imagine a city you know. How easy is it to drive there and find a parking space? Is the shopping district crowded; is it even safe to ride a bike? Now imagine that same city with even more cars, bikes and, of course, people. Lots more people. According to the United Nations, the world’s urban population will increase from around 3.92 billion in 2015 to 6.25 billion in 2050. That’s an increase of nearly 60 percent.

One way to accommodate this trend could be so-called “smart cities”. Cities that can source and interconnect the best solutions for mobility, sustainable energy, space utilization and, most importantly, offer a great place to live and work, despite rising population densities.

What is a smart city?

Definitions can vary, but the term smart city generally refers to the combination of urban innovation, human networks and the environment. The smart city concept recognizes the value of collaboration across various groups, such as academia, business, city government and citizen groups – people coming together to find the most efficient solutions for the city of the future.

Smart cities are green cities. Not only should cities function better at every level, they should achieve smart, sustainable economic growth while minimizing their impact on the environment.

At its most basic level, a city is a collection of networks: networks of people, technologies, infrastructure. When these networks work together well, they enable reduced energy consumption, optimal use of space and improved quality of life.

Future Trends in the Century of Cities

Keynote at New Cities Foundation Summit 2014 by Dr. Parag Khanna, Managing Partner, Hybrid Reality


Raising urban IQ

In practice, there are many initiatives that lead to smarter cities. They can involve construction, building management, urban planning, revitalization, mass transportation and city administration, and that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

Renewable energies from wind, solar and thermal sources play a major role, because, among other things, public health depends on a healthy environment. Renewable energies support reduced fuel consumption and cleaner air, but cities will also have to learn to use energy more efficiently to really go green.

Buildings, for example, are responsible for 40% of the world’s energy consumption, making them an obvious target for cities that aim to reduce their carbon footprint. Buildings are ripe for the age of smart cities, with an expanding web of development across myriad fields: green roofing, combined heat and power, solar tech and much more. Even more exotic and innovative ideas like power-generating elevators are gaining ground, as well.

Smart technology can also improve city living at the personal level. E-governance programs offer a direct link between citizens and public administrators. Smartphone apps may address public health, help people improve their energy efficiency or even just find the nearest parking space or ride sharing opportunities.

Aspects of the Smart City concept
“Businesses and communities worldwide are cooperating to find solutions that can be integrated flexibly, sustainably and aesthetically into urban structures to provide a better quality of life.”

Prof. Dr. Hans Ferkel

Head of Research and Development, thyssenkrupp Steel Europe

Moving ahead

Most commuters are all-too familiar with traffic jams or delays in public transportation. Bikers and walkers are also affected by the stop-and-go of city traffic. Smart mobility offers cities efficient, eco-friendly and comfortable transportation options. Cyclists and pedestrians in the smart cities of tomorrow might enjoy elevated paths that eliminate waiting at crosswalks.

Urban railway stations can serve larger areas by installing fast-moving walkways that utilize overlapping panels to allow for a safe, slow start and finish, yet quicker speeds in transit. Longer distances can be traversed on raised roadways for driverless vehicles.

Improvements such as these also enrich the lives of people who don’t have cars of their own. Persons with disabilities particularly benefit from better connections that help them travel and reach new places in the cities they live in.

With public transport reaching new levels of efficiency, many of today’s car drivers might decide to give up their vehicles altogether. Indeed, future public systems may work so well that cities could opt for car-free city centers. The reduction in energy consumption and emissions that comes as a bonus protects the environment and makes the city an even better place to live.

“Recently, we are taking our proven passenger transportation solutions to the streets. Our technology is used at stations, airports and in many buildings. Wherever people congregate, our products keep things moving. That’s why we are specifically investing in the development of new technologies to raise urban mobility to the next level.”

Patrick Bass

Head of R&D, thyssenkrupp Elevator

Capital ideas

How do we make this idea succeed? If cities want to get smarter, they need to involve everybody. Citizen participation is key. The users of public infrastructure are often the best source of ideas to inspire intelligent solutions. Social media is one way that businesses and city administrators can collaborate with the public. Users can post suggestions for improvement on company Facebook pages and interact with politicians on Twitter.

Businesses are also contributing to better life in the modern metropolis. They install the charging stations for e-vehicles, improve energy efficiency, offer cleaner energies and make getting around easier for everyone. Public-private partnerships are definitely a smart way to employ the competitive ingenuity of the private sector in order to improve public services.

The sustainability factor

The quality of urban life will also depend on having the right advocates for the environment. Ideas may flow in from so-called “think tanks”, cross-disciplinary teams in non-profit organizations or academic research centers. The MIT Media Lab, for example, has come up with an electric, stackable city vehicle for car sharing in urban settings. Sustainability degree programs and multi-field research teams can now also be found in universities around the world.

Further support is coming from standards and voluntary certification programs, which are bolstering the image and visibility of sustainable design. Furthermore, the Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design (LEED) Certificate is a green building certification program that recognizes buildings for efficient energy consumption, water usage, recycling practices and air quality. International and regional certifications recognize businesses for going beyond the legal requirements. In return, companies can improve their image by showcasing their high standards of sustainability.

“We think ultimately all of this stuff can come together, a new model for mobility, a new model for housing, a new model for how we live and work, a path to market for advanced technologies, but in the end the main thing we need to focus on are people. Cities are all about people. They're places for people. There's no reason why we can't dramatically improve the livability and creativity of cities.”

Kent Larson

Principal Research Scientist, MIT Media Lab

Smart City think tanks and other sources

Changing Places at MIT Media Lab

New Cities Foundation

Smart City Expo – World Congress, 18 – 20 November 2014

The future is smart

Simply put, smart cities make the most efficient use of the space and resources they have to provide an attractive and clean place to live. Everything and everyone works together harmoniously contributing ideas and finding solutions. Do you have any ideas for your city? It might be easier than you think to connect with a sympathetic ear.

In addition to smart mobility and smart buildings, be on the lookout on URBAN HUB for more information on green buildings, decentralized energy production, zero carbon, smart grids, autonomous vehicles, connectivity and more.

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