The living, thinking city

The smart city is the answer to increasing urbanisation across the globe. By using a wide range of networked technologies and processes, it aims to consume fewer resources, get citizens more involved, andmitigate the negative consequences of growing urban populations.

According to forecasts from The World Bank, about 70 per cent of the global population will live in cities by 2050. In emerging and developing countries, the city of the future requires an intelligent, efficient and cost-effective infrastructure. In industrialised nations, on the other hand, citizens’ demands relate primarily to quality of life, sustainability and attractive infrastructures for the economy. This is where Smart Cities aim to provide a solution.

Information is the start of everything

“Thanks to data collected from sensors, Smart Cities can interact and engage with residents and businesses, creating a collaborative environment,” said Bettina Tratz-­Ryan, Research Vice-President at Gartner. In Singapore, for example, sensors in bus stops can identify people with different needs – buses are announced early to allow enough time for elderly people to be ready to board. In Malaga or Madrid, environmental sensor-mounted bikes or mail carts register air pollution, with the data uploaded onto a web portal accessible by the public. “Citizens can actively contribute to the development and strategic direction of their city,” adds Ms Tratz-Ryan. “At the same time, businesses become more empowered to utilise the sensor data to create their value proposition.”

A range of different approaches

There is no single definition that precisely describes what a Smart City is. Some people see it as a city with an extensive infrastructure of information and communications technologies. Yet for others, the focus is on decentralised, renewable energy generation. And for others still, “smartness” is driverless travel in a car-sharing programme with an app-controlled parking management system. The European Union takes an all-inclusive approach: it defines a Smart City as one that is able to use digitalisation and telecommunications to make its networks and services more efficient, thereby helping to create a sustainable and environmentally friendly future for its citizens and businesses.

A stronger city

The aims of a Smart City are very similar for all of the definitions – the quality of life of citizens and the way they interact in society should be improved. An important aim is also to reduce the use of finite resources and to establish renewable energy sources. The concept of Smart Cities also involves the creation of a transparent decision-making structure for communal processes. And last but not least, the economic competitiveness of the location should be safeguarded for the long term or even enhanced. The main overarching aim, however, is to strengthen the city’s ability to survive, adapt and endure, and to mitigate or prevent the negative consequences of urbanisation.

An adaptable organism

The range of definitions reflects the range of challenges: “What is clear is that existing, seemingly independent fields of life and technology are set to become ever more closely linked in future,” explained Joachim Lonien, a project manager at the German Institute for Standardization (DIN). His institute has developed a standardisation roadmap which aims to ensure complete interoperability between all the individual systems involved in a Smart City at international level. Whether existing cities that have evolved historically, such as in Europe, or booming, new cities in developing and emerging nations, they are all faced with similar technological challenges. Nevertheless, the way in which the solutions are implemented can and must always be individually tailored, on the one hand to be efficient, and on the other to preserve the character of the cities, the individuality and the quality of life of the people who live in them. After all, a Smart City is one that adapts to its inhabitants and their needs. It is a living, thinking organism that takes on the role of both the stage and the actor. Street lamps that light up when someone walks or drives down the street; benches with WLAN in parks that enable everyone to do their shopping or reply to e-mails in the fresh air; driverless cars that safely take their passengers from A to B; the smart home that adapts the heating system and shutters to the needs of its inhabitants, helping to save resources. This isn’t all pie in the sky. Thanks to the huge technological developments of recent years, much of this is already a reality.

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