Getting Smart with Urban Living
“A truly ‘smart city’ should also possess other dimensions – it should be a palimpsest of creative, bottom-up civic engagement.” – Professor Carlo Ratti, MIT, Department of Urban Studies and Planning
It is anticipated that as we enter a new era of urbanization, cities will be home to half of the world’s population by 2050. The challenge for these future cities will be to maintain a quality of life for their citizens while mitigating such problems as disorganization and urban sprawl related to subsequent population growth.
The concept of urbanization, in its most primitive form, can best be described as the human desire to live in collective groups or societies. The development of societies is a reflection of a human’s need to socialize, to create a web of social interaction and interdependence. This interaction meets not only basic needs such as food, clothing and shelter, but fulfills the intellectual and social development of the human race while enabling the sharing of culture and traditions.
Cities are evolving at an unprecedented rate as those living in underdeveloped societies move in to the urban realm in search of a better way of life, to maximize their quality of life. Herein lies the challenge for these growing metropolises and the subsequent recent concept of the “smart” city to meet the demands of expanding and burgeoning social centres.
The smart city is a fuzzy concept in that one solution will not be representative of an ideal solution for all cities. By definition it can be said that the smart city is a developed urban area offering a high quality of life created through economic development that is both sustainable and excels in key areas: government; environment; economy; mobility; people and standards of living; infrastructure; and technology. Incorporating these key components into an integrated framework will enable governments to apply initiatives toward the vision of a smart city.
A recent report indicates that by 2020, the smart cities industry will be valued at over $400 billion globally. A huge impact for the management and service offerings of the smart city will come in the form of information and communications technologies (ICT) – this will act as a medium to enhance urban living. Investments in ICT will allow the smart city to manage and control physical infrastructure such as energy efficient buildings and transportation systems. Already, cities worldwide use this technology to manage such things as traffic congestion, to enhance public security, and even to educate citizens through remote learning. The implementation of new technologies will enable the economic growth of cities that most often are operating on limited budgets.
This all of course requires diligent planning, an economic vision for what and where cities hope to be in the future, and a careful examination of challenges, strengths and projected opportunities. The technological medium – the arena that will enable “connectedness” – will perhaps be the realization of such a vision, and many cities worldwide are embracing the smart city/ICT connection, including Seattle, Boston and Toronto, to name but a few.
Taking Toronto as an example, Fast Company, a leading business magazine focusing on technology and design, rated Toronto as one of the ten smartest cities in North America. In fact, Toronto is the highest rated smart city in Canada. Here is one reason why.
Waterfront Toronto, formerly known as the Toronto Waterfront Revitalization Corporation, has recently laid the groundwork toward the implementation of technological foundations to support its initiative of being recognized as an intelligent community. Created by Toronto and the provincial and federal governments in 2001, Waterfront Toronto will not only contribute to the city’s social and economic fabric through sustainable development and efficient public services, but will implement advanced ICT infrastructure.
Smart cities rely on broadband connectivity and the Waterfront Toronto organization plans to introduce a Wi-Fi network to enable communication for businesses, residents and public administrators. This will support connection to the city’s high speed broadband network. This new Wi-Fi solution will be provided by Cisco Systems and Beanfield Metroconnect, which is providing the fibre-optic network with speeds up to 500 times faster than other North American networks.
“Ubiquitous Wi-Fi access will help transform Toronto’s waterfront neighbourhoods into connected and intelligent communities. Cisco’s Wi-Fi solution adds a vital layer of connectivity to our ultra-high-speed community network. The new services it enables – including personal, community, business, education and health care – will make it easy for residents to empower themselves and achieve new levels of collaboration,” John Campbell, President and CEO, Waterfront Toronto, was noted as saying in Information Builders, November 2013.
For smart cities to evolve, at least as related to technological infrastructure, they must evolve in stages, incorporating a means to translate data into insight so that challenges may be addressed. And certainly, ICT infrastructure can’t stand alone. It may play a pivotal role in a smart city’s development but will still need to be incorporated into a city’s physical, social and business infrastructure such that a complete picture of a city’s “intelligence” can be realized.
Smart cities incorporate ICT into every facet of operation, and it is essential that city governments possess the skills, budget and vision to adopt new technologies. This isn’t always the case and can leave a city at a disadvantage. However, most smart cities have developed strong relationships with numerous service providers and experienced local and regional consultants ready to assist and solidify ICT solutions. In the past, ICT solutions relied on the isolated siloed approach (dividing city functions into different departments), making sharing of data time consuming and expensive. Smart cities require an integrated approach so that city investments and functions are not replicated. Having a master ICT framework can drastically reduce the cost of a communication network, sometimes as much as 25 percent.
Smart city residents want easy access to the information and services that they need including real time alerts and monitoring for air quality issues, snowstorms, fires and floods, for example. Providing these services through ICT builds confidence and satisfaction for smart city living.
Many have heard of the smart city concept but can’t readily discern what it can actually do for citizens. It’s important that citizens be made aware of smart city initiatives that will make their quality of life better, will make urbanites content with a sense of place. The same holds true for businesses that hope to encourage investment and subsequent growth. Here communication is key in encouraging citizen engagement. Explaining why new technologies are being put in place and how they will benefit the citizen is a representation of good customer relations. The more citizens know about what’s being implemented and why, the better they can act accordingly and adapt to new information sharing.
To be sure, cities aren’t standalone entities. The sharing of best practices and information through partnerships with other cities opens up doors to creativity, innovation and the embracing of new technologies. Cities are always in a state of evolution and transition; smart cities are no different, except for the pace with which this evolution will occur. What’s left to be seen is where these smart cities will take us, and if and how we learn to adapt.