Smart city, connected communities
Leading cities across the globe, including Seattle, are exploring ways to make their communities smarter and more connected. Motivated by the concept of pervasive smart services, systems and infrastructures, many cities and communities view progress in information and communication technology (ICT) as a way to increase efficiency, reduce costs and improve quality of life for residents. Many seek to become smarter, more connected communities by introducing new digital technologies. These technologies help enhance existing services and develop new city resources.
But what exactly is a smart city? It’s a popular buzzword, but what does it really mean? And how does it help create smarter, safer, and better connected communities? How do residents really benefit? iSoftStone’s Greta Knappenberger recently had the opportunity to give a smart cities overview where she laid out what a smart city is and why it matters.
General Assembly primer on smart cities
iSoftStone recently collaborated with City of Seattle, Verizon Smart Cities & Communities and Local Brainstorm to provide a primer on Smart Cities. Hosted by Smart City Hub at General Assembly, this event focused on global trends, lessons learned and best practices for smart cities and included presentations from local leaders including:
- Smart Cities 101: Overview, Benefits and Challenges, presented by Greta Knappenberger, Director of Smart Cities for iSoftStone North America
- City of Monsters: Towards a People-Centered Smart City Approach, by Jim Loter, Director of Digital Engagement at City of Seattle
- Driving the Smart, Connected Community – by Jimmy Kim & Sunil Khanal, Smart Communities, Campuses, and Venues at Verizon Enterprise Solutions
- Citizen Engagement & Social Impact: Involving the community in planning and decision-making processes, by Mathias Burton, Local Brainstorm
There was also time for discussions and Q&A during the event. Discussion focused on topics ranging from population growth to rapid urbanization. The Q&A addressed how cities and communities face new challenges to maintain high standards of livability, equity and sustainability. Other topics included community engagement and new ways to bring human-centered design methods into government to accelerate civic innovation.
Urbanization is a global and local trend
A common theme across presenters centered around urbanization as a key driver for Smart Cities. By 2050, the global population is expected to grow to over nine billion. At the same time, 80 percent of that population will reside in cities. Today, cities are home to just over half of the global population of seven billion. Yet, cities comprise just two percent of the Earth’s land mass. In addition, they are responsible for the consumption of 80 percent of the Earth’s resources. This accelerating growth of cities and their disproportionate consumption of physical and social resources is clearly unsustainable, as are the traditional systems cities rely upon to deliver resources.
Here in Seattle, the population has grown by 70,000 people in the past five years and will grow by 120,000 more by 2035. This equals a 31 percent population increase. Local city and government staff will likely not increase at a proportionate rate, even though the city needs will continue to grow.
Defining smart cities
Smart. Green. Sustainable. Eco-friendly. While there are many variations and interpretations, there is currently no universally accepted definition of a “smart city” as every city is unique. Approaches vary as widely as the culture, priorities and histories of cities themselves.
However, in general, a smart city is a model of urban design that integrates approaches in ICT and IoT. Their goal is to build cities that run more sustainably and efficiently. For example, cities are using technology to help local communities tackle key challenges. Solutions include reducing traffic congestion, fighting crime, fostering economic growth, managing the effects of climate change and improving delivery of city services. Sensors installed in parking spaces help monitor availability, while Bluetooth helps drivers navigate back to their parking spots. Smart highways use sensors and video data to monitor traffic and weather, alerting drivers to warning signals and incidents.
While technology is a key part of the answer, it is not the only element. The concept of a smart city or community is really a framework, or a way to fulfill a vision of modern urban development that varies from place to place. No two smart cities are bound to be exactly the same — just as no two traditional cities are the same. Culture, economy, geography and history all shape the vision of what ‘smart’ means in any particular context. What’s common, however, is the notion that ‘smartness’ enhances virtually every aspect of city life. From transportation to healthcare and education to the economy and environmental sustainability. The challenge for governments, private industry, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and other stakeholders is to collectively establish a smart city vision that both meets their needs and is in line with their values.
A citizen focused approach
“What is a city, but the people; True the people are the city.” – Coriolanus III, Shakespeare
Overall, smart cities serve as a tool for greater equity. However, it is critical to put “people first” and stress technology as a tool to use only in service of citizens.
Even in Shakespeare’s day, they understood that cities are about the people, not the buildings, infrastructure or devices. When envisioning the future of cities, the primary focus should be on the citizens needs not just new technology. Planning without consideration of people and quality of living can be seen in deserted, futuristic “ghost towns”, such as Songdo or Masdar City. These were designed on the basis of connectivity and competitiveness rather than livability factors.
In his presentation, Jim Loter, the Director of Digital Engagement for The City of Seattle, highlighted some passages from the article, A City Is Not a Computer, by Shannon Mattern. It states that the city as computer model conditions urban design, planning, policy, and administration — even residents’ everyday experience — in ways that hinder the development of healthy, just and resilient cities.
“One can’t “process” the local cultural effects of long-term weather patterns or derive insights from the generational evolution of a neighborhood without a degree of sensitivity that exceeds mere computation. Urban intelligence of this kind involves site-based experience, participant observation and sensory engagement.”
Jim works with his team to support technology that connects the public with their government and helps educate departments across the City on the latest technology tools that facilitate engagement. In Seattle, a key focus includes developing and supporting technology-enabled solutions to achieve greater digital equity, educational outcomes, community engagement, and civic participation.
It’s important to always keep the focus on citizens and not just the technology. For example, Local Brainstorm is a startup nonprofit working with government departments seeking authentic connections with communities. They began as a project to imagine a city creating policies and making decisions based on input coming directly from their communities. They now use technology to amplify reach to representative samples of a city’s population. Then, they turn community input into functional insights that policy analysts can use in zoning changes, local laws, public initiatives and more.
The challenges ahead
Although information technology promises enormous public benefits, it also introduces new challenges. These challenges range from technical to ethical, legal and social. Examples include cybersecurity, data sharing, privacy, public health and well-being, workforce and education needs, and cultural and socioeconomic considerations. Addressing these challenges requires new forms of cross-sector and cross-government collaboration, experimentation, knowledge sharing and alignment.
Jim Loter noted examples where increased use of sensors and data collection in urban settings could raise privacy concerns. Security cameras installed along the city’s shoreline, a wireless mesh network for SPD, and a cellphone tracking system that helps the city monitor downtown traffic are just a few examples.
Smart cities are key to improving quality of life for citizens
Challenges aside, smart cities and communities may hold the key to the prosperous, sustainable future of the world’s urban centers.
Smart cities promise to bring wide-ranging improvements to citizens’ quality of life. By using technology as a platform to develop and deliver services, smart cities help increase public safety, expedite governance and enable economic opportunities.
For example, Verizon is helping drive smart, connected communities, within cities, counties, sports venues, college campuses and corporate facilities. These locations are embedded with new technologies to better engage with citizens. Through strategic partnerships, Verizon’s suite of smart city solutions help public and private sector planners increase economic development, drive citizen engagement and promote sustainability. During his presentation, Jimmy Kim mentioned that in addition to the IoT and M2M technologies Verizon has developed, they’ve also acquired companies like Sensity, an IoT-based platform that supports intelligent LED sensors and other smart city solutions, and LQD WiFi, which makes interactive kiosks that promote interactive community engagement.
According to Sunil Khanal, Verizon is also developing smart platforms that help unify disparate systems. These platforms use resources more efficiently and address an array of community challenges. Moreover, with Verizon Smart Cities and Communities, you can collect critical data and gain near real-time visibility into vital operations. This helps cities to streamline the decision-making process and respond more quickly. For example, if a water pipe breaks, sensors can detect the sudden pressure change and notify public works officials. Officials could then dispatch the closest field crew for repair. In the event of flooding, residents could receive alerts, traffic lights could be adjusted to steer drivers toward safety and digital signage could be used for information sharing. These are some of the many ways in which smart cities technology can help communities become more resilient.