Smart Cities - a cities ABC

By Dinis Guarda - Apr 25, 2020
cities are now smart cities, image collage by Dinis Guarda for citiesabc.com

Smart Cities the Heartbeat of the 21st Century Covid Driven New Age of Agility

In Rome you long for the country; in the country – oh inconstant! – you praise the distant city to the stars.
Horace

We will neglect our cities to our peril, for in neglecting them we neglect the nation.
John F. Kennedy

The axis of the earth sticks out visibly through the centre of each and every town or city.
Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr.

“A smart city is an intelligent town that provides enormous possibilities for human growth through art, culture, social, architectural, economic, political, environmental, and scientific flowering with the optimal mix of nature, technology, humanity, and arts.”
Amit Ray

Cities are the epicentre of our societies and we propose here to offer an ABC to define and desmistify the concept of smart cities and why we need it more than ever, if we want to solve a lot of the global problems we are facing today and in the future.

Over half of the planet now lives in cities, and more than two-thirds of the world’s population will be urbanized by 2050. Cities are the epicentre of all the challenges we are facing today and with the advent of covid-19, millions of people have had their modus operandi changed and this has led to exposing the fragility of the social, environmental, psychological and economic / financial systems. The crisis has raised questions on whether the exposed fragility is sustainable or do we need to modify or change these systems going forward to a new paradigm. To achieve this paradigm shift, we need new solutions and narratives to re-build these social, environmental, psychological and economic / financial systems, which at its core is a circular economy that is inclusive. Cities have to proactively work across borders to build coalition networks and to find solutions for work, healthcare, finance and new social models. Key to this, in terms of speed and impact,  is the increased adoption of technology and to digitally transform these Cities which contribute to four-fifths of global GDP, and are taking centre stage in securing an inclusive, safe, productive, sustainable, and resilient future for humanity.

Here is what the World Bank defines as smart cities:

The World Bank - When we think about Smart Cities, we usually go in one of two directions:

A technology-intensive city, with sensors everywhere and highly efficient public services, thanks to information that is gathered in real time by thousands of interconnected devices. (For example, trash cans have sensors that indicate when they are full, and trash collectors follow a specific route based on this information.). All buildings are “intelligent”, with smart meters and energy saving systems, and transport is painless.

A city that cultivates a better relationship between citizens and governments - leveraged by available technology. They rely on feedback from citizens to help improve service delivery, and creating mechanisms to gather this information. For example, Citizens are more active in managing their neighbourhoods. Open government data is used by civil society to co-create smartphone applications (or an SMS service), e.g., to report a full trash can, and trash collectors can accommodate their routes based on this information.
We believe that both approaches are not mutually exclusive, and that they can be adopted by cities in developing countries to improve the delivery of public services. In essence, we propose a smart city development framework.

All major global cities whether in Europe, Africa, Americas and Asia are becoming smart cities. London, New York, Singapore, Tokyo or Beijing, Shanghai, Shenzhen and Barcelona cities are adopting smart cities technologies which makes them the leading smart cities. Developing cities with weak and deficient infrastructure are potentially able to be smarter cities if they implement the latest infrastructure that include the latest smart technology.

“What should a city be structured or optimise for?” Even in the age of peak tech cities such as Silicon Valley, that’s a hard question to take seriously for city leaders and societies. This is more important when the present global Pandemic is shifting and disrupting the whole world. This moment is now critical for citizens and their leaders to be more agile and for their cities to be the main driver of this change.

The question is how can we improve our cities , do it now and be practical about it? Should we build cities from scratch, or work to optimise these cities and create better infrastructures keeping historic core and leverage the present and the future, using the best of green infrastructure, smart technological architectures and optimise the intelligence data of the city.

cities abc smart cities definition by Dinis Guarda for citiesabc.com

How can cities function, be optimised, and how can they function and better collaborate?

The focus should be on how cities can provide further help to their residents to be more integrated, socially and environmentally happier and the ability to reach their full economic potential. This raises an important question: How should we measure the effectiveness of a city, what are its Key Performance Indicators, “KPI’s”?. Here we need to utilise the ground breaking work necessary to be done by urban designers, planners, and scholars who have been asking the big questions for centuries: How can cities function, be optimised, and how can they function and collaborate better?

Smart Cities are the beating heart of the best cities in the world and the intersection of all the challenges, innovation and concerns, especially when it comes to the organisation of society, citizens, innovation, commerce, technology and data. Smart cities are the epicentre of all the operations and challenges and opportunities.

Smart cities like the city states in the past embed the highest hopes of humanity through the promise of harnessing the Fourth Industrial Revolution 4IR innovative technologies for citizens better lives and social harmony. However, smart cities also represent and could highlight the challenges and fears, citizens have  of a dystopian ecosystem which could be over ‘controlling  their lives’, where society is subjected to some kind of panopticons governed by the emergence and disruption coming out of artificial intelligence, IoT, Blockchain with automated devices, augmented tools and software digital transformation systems.

Since the 20th century the rural populations have been moving to cities, faster and for the long term. It is evident that these cities are increasingly being driven by the tech era , resulting in these cities changing faster than ever. Cities are continuously evolving, ever-changing, not fixed on a marked destination. Humanity is at one of the most important moments of change since its inception and an important point in that evolution, as new forces emerge and combine to create opportunities where new ways for cities to work and societies to live, emerge.

As big data and social media flourish in society, revolutionising the way leaders, citizens and commerce interact within this environment , cities will be presented with the biggest challenges and opportunities for the next 100 years. The data and technologies that drives these smarter cities must be carefully managed and secure, so as to safely drive its unhindered progress.

Cities are essentially built with our dreams of creating better urban environments that are a key driver to  the “smart city” vision. For the past decade or so, this concept has been promulgated most energetically by big technology, engineering and consulting companies. The movement is predicated on ubiquitous wireless broadband and the embedding of computerised sensors into the urban fabric, such as bike racks and lamp posts, CCTV and traffic lights, as well as geeky home appliances such as internet fridges and remote-controlled heating systems, become part of the so-called “internet of things” (the global market for which is now estimated at $1.7tn). Better living through biochemistry gives way to a dream of better living through data. You can even take an MSc in Smart Cities at University College, London.

citiesabc smart cities matrix by Dinis Guarda for citiesabc.com

As national governments increasingly focus on national issues, cities are at the forefront of all human activities and must take greater advantage of the most advanced technologies to update local service delivery. New possibilities and business models target the creation of radical new efficiencies, sustainable solutions for long-standing challenges.

Cognitive computing, blockchain technology solutions and artificial intelligence in particular and its capacity for building citizen engagement, identity and sustainable models of circular economic values introduces fresh opportunities for government organisations to improve citizens' lives and the business environment, deliver personalised experiences, and optimise program and service outcomes.

The choices we need to make today are many and mostly about what makes a city smart, empower our lives and make them matter for multiple reasons. The challenging momentum of technological innovation will continue, and in the next decades will be bigger than in all history of humanity. So the way we plan, manage and architect smart cities has to be done in a way, to increase in the near future, giving us new ways to address pending global challenges, in areas such as social inclusion, climate change, inequalities, health or education.

On the other hand, because the majority of the human race live in societies and these individuals whose lives will depend on such choices, will be city dwellers. Yet, for city leaders, investors, and citizens, such choices often remain difficult to make because they are complex, and often rely on imperfect or asymmetrical information. Real estate tactics have often prevailed over transport, energy or waste management concerns. Quality of life seldom received priority over urbanisation, architectural or technological ambitions., where efficiency sometimes eclipses social harmony.

In all avenues of life, challenging citizens, it remains extremely difficult to improve without thinking inclusively and empowering both humans, nature and balance it in a way that can be measured. It is hence no surprise that so many ‘smart city indices’ have blossomed over the past few years. The main reason is simple: the quasi-totality of existing indices remains technology-centric. But lots of work needs to be done to build the right basis of smart cities, balancing solutions that include governance, economy, people, mobility, living, environment and education in a dynamic way and updated in real time.

4th Industrial Revolution, "4IR" Blockchain and AI in particular are changing the way cities operate, deliver, and maintain social, cultural and public amenities, from structure, urban planning, lighting and transportation to connectivity and health services. However, the adoption of smart cities infrastructure has a long way to go and can be obstructed by the selection of strategies that doesn’t efficiently work together or integrate with other social, economic and cultural city services. For cities to truly benefit from the potential that smart cities offer, a change in mindset is required.

The authorities should plan longer term and across multiple departments to prevent data collecting in silos and given the volume of data become easier to analyse and forecast the impact, effect and be able to efficiently match resources and deployment of services. We can easily see that cities can benefit tremendously from the technological advances but work has to be done between investors, entrepreneurs, startups, corporations, universities, governments and international organisations. Smart Cities are the heartbeat of the 21st century the focus should be on it as a way to solve humanity challenges.

cities, smart cities strategic architecture DNA proposal by Dinis Guarda founder of citiesabc.com

Smart Cities - Definition, Features and Smart related Policies

There are many definitions of smart cities. Moreover there are a lot of myths about smart cities and a lot of fears and incorrect assumptions. Smart cities are at the centre of any strategy for cities today. Smart cities are the common denominator where traditional networks and services are made more efficient with the use of technology and policies that are built using digital and telecommunication technologies for the benefit of its ecosystem.

Smart cities are now critical and must include a strategic level of  infrastructure and circular economic sustainable architecture to serve its inhabitants, education and social organisations for business and industry. A smart city is firstly a municipality that uses tech driven information and communication technologies (ICT) to increase, manage and optimise operational efficiency, share information with the public and improve both the quality of government services and its citizens welfare, sustainability,  health, education and security.

A smart city is an urban area infrastructure system that uses different types of multiple technologies such as electronic Internet of things with sensors to collect data and then use insights gained from that data to optimise and better manage assets, properties, resources and services more efficiently.

The ultimate objective of the Smart Cities Mission is to promote cities that provide a social empowerment core infrastructure and give a decent quality of life to its citizens, with a clean and sustainable environment by the application of 'Smart' Solutions that make the city more balanced and with a better quality of life.

To provide for the aspirations and needs of cities societies - the citizens, leaders, urban planners, multiple players ideally aim at developing the entire urban eco-system, which is represented by four pillars.

The Smart Cities four pillars:
1. comprehensive development-institutional and smart policies with balance between governance, education, health, research, security and economic balance;
2. physical, mobility sustainability infrastructure;
3. social empowerment infrastructure;
4. Industrial and economic infrastructure.

Smart cities have, as a foundation strategy, to use data and technology to create efficiencies, improve sustainability, create economic development, and enhance quality of life factors, health, education, employment, criminal activity control, air control and mobility for people living and working in the city. It also means that the city has a smarter infrastructure that requires solid investment with financial and energy infrastructure management.

The differences between regular cities and smart cities comes out especially to the holistic ways to look at infrastructure and set a tech and social driven strategy.  An example can be that a regular city has standard lamp-posts but has a lack of energy monitoring or strategic planning to optimise its use and ability for it to be an instrument of connectivity. In a smart city, there is a smart planning of the energy management structure that could be a whole lot more going on than meets the eye. A smart city could use a smart lamppost infrastructure that will not only incorporate things like Internet of Things "IOT" LED light bulbs to reduce energy usage, but could also have sensors installed that could tell if there is any damage in the lamp-post and communicate in real time to the city energy control systems.

Smart cities have as a  default a policy focused on smart sustainability, this includes the emerging concept of "green cities" that encompasses thousands of urban areas around the world all striving to lessen their environmental impacts by creating a balanced circular economic policies and strategy that focus on reducing waste, expanding recycling, lowering emissions, increasing housing density whilst expanding .

cities abc smart cities matrix by Dinis Guarda for citiesabc.com

What are the features that make a city 'smart' - smart cities?

We looked at 10 features that make a city 'smart':
1. Smart Strategic digital transformation policies that aggregate the different stakeholders of the city: government, policies, education, research, industry, business and environment all together;
2. Smart Inclusivity, technology-driven development of a tech data driven set up and foundation that includes all citizens and tackles fundamental problems like discrimination, poverty, and homelessness;
3. E-governance and public participation in government and using real time data and P2P participation to better create governance, manage and optimise the city policies day to day.
4. Smart Mobility based on the real needs of the citizens and understanding of the issues and tackling it quickly, with efficient urban mobility and public transport;
5. Smart Security, creating more liveable neighbourhoods with security of data and people and reducing rates of criminality;
6. Smart Sustainability 360 focus on creating a good foundation for the city to have as much as possible, a circular economic structure and strategy;
7. Smart Healthcare and Wellness centric city foundations with a focus on integration of happiness indices and wellness factors focus that includes sanitation and a solid waste management, but also making sure that the city has cycles lanes, parks per inhabitant ratio, with a focus on basic health and wellness infrastructure.
8. Smart Energy infrastructure that includes adequate water supply, assured electricity supply and localised green energy integration
9. Smart planning,  property and construction policies with affordable and sustainable green housing, especially for the subsidised and social sector, and integration with all levels of social and economic classes;
10. Smart Tech infrastructure with robust IT, transparent connectivity and digitalisation that empowers and does not take liberties and invade privacy, including a solid data management, IOT strategy between sensors and social media, gathering of data and cloud computing with AI, Blockchain driven strategies in place.

A smart city goes beyond the use of technologies, information and communication technologies (ICT) for better utility, built on  a smart ecosystem that increases the city’s sustainability and social inclusion, manages mobility, social welfare, education, pollution and reduces emissions. This  means smarter infrastructure that combines networks for social, urban transport systems, upgraded water supply, waste disposal facilities and more efficient ways to use energy, green infrastructure, light and the heating buildings.

Smart cities include a focus on green infrastructure and an alignment of efforts to make the entire city holistic and connected. It should make the management of public streets, squares, parks, urban spaces, buildings efficient with modern irrigation and waste management practices so that their energy supply and carbon footprint is optimised and developed in ways that don't easily break down or create issues for their citizens. These are  vital aspects for cities and sustainable living. They help preserve the social balance, socio-cultural heritage and identity of a city through continued and if possible real time monitoring for renovation and restoration. Ideally, smart cities should offer urban renewal in a completely integrated way.

Smart cities also means having a strategy that offers a more data driven intelligent digital transformation that uses interactive and responsive city administration, safer public spaces, optimised balance between government, policies, education, research and industry (the so called quadruple helix of innovation) and meeting the 360 needs of its social inhabitants from young people to the ageing population.

Smart Cities are now the Heartbeat of the 21st Century Covid Driven New Age where agility, is at its core. But we are in its inception where much needs to be done and cities have the obligation to start now and we and citiesabc are all are part of this. The citiesabc platform is the core of a smart city strategy and its evolution, by providing cities authorities, citizens, with the resources, knowledge, technolgy access and collaboration to achieve the nascent growth required to achive smart city status.

cities abc - smart cities ecosystem architecture, by Dinis Guarda for citiesbac.com

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