Smart Cities: Global developments


As rapid urbanisation forces cities globally to rethink the health of public infrastructure and services to cater for growing urban populations, ICT will play a vital role in ensuring the sustainability, safety and suitability of cities for habitation in years to come.

The Indian government has commanded international attention since the announcement of its plans to develop 100 smart cities, which would ensure robust IT connectivity and digitisation along with the provision of core infrastructure, with a view to proactively plan for the country’s forecasted population growth.

According to India’s Ministry of Urban Development, urban areas are expected to house 40% of its population and contribute 75% of India’s GDP by 2030.

Just recently, Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced the list of ninety-eight cities that the government has shortlisted for funding, as part of its Smart Cities Mission – a countrywide US$7 billion initiative which involves the radical renovation of deteriorating cities as well as constructing new municipalities from scratch.

Shortly after taking office Modi said: “Cities in the past were built on riverbanks. They are now built along highways. But in the future, they will be built based on availability of optical-fibre networks and next-generation infrastructure.”

Over the past several years, the smart cities rubric has become fashionable among global urban planners who want to use ICT and big data to create intelligent systems that control how people live, consume energy, go to work and stay healthy and safe.

India’s Ministry of Urban Development states that the conceptualisation of the smart city varies from city to city and country to country, depending on the level of development, willingness to change and reform, resources and aspirations of the city residents.1

While India’s push toward smart cities leans primarily toward addressing the ability of an urban metropolis to cater to the needs of its expanding population through improving critical services through ICT, with binding environmental targets, there tends to be a ‘green’ focus in Europe when improving existing infrastructure with smart technology.

In 2013, the European Commission set out to establish rules for using EU funding as a mechanism2 for smart cities. The European Union classifies 240 of the 468 cities in the 28-nation bloc with 100,000+ inhabitants and at least one smart city characteristic as smart cities. The European Commission identifies Amsterdam (the Netherlands), Barcelona (Spain), Copenhagen (Denmark), Helsinki (Finland), Manchester (UK) and Vienna (Austria) as “the most successful” in the EU.3

According to global market intelligence firm IHS Technology, the combined EuropeMiddle East-Africa (EMEA) region represents the largest number of smart cities at present; within a decade Asia-Pacific will take the lead. By 2025, Asia-Pacific will account for 32 smart cities, Europe will have 31, and the Americas will contribute 25.

US betting on smart cities

In September, the US government announced a new smart cities initiative that promises US$160 million in federal grants in a locally-based and technology-focused approaches to help cities deal with growth and infrastructure challenges.

The White House also announced a variety of public-private programmes that are underway to assist cities in coping with issues related to economic growth, water, energy and waste.

According to its website, the White House has over the last few years followed a “place-based approach” to working with communities, involving civic leaders, data scientists, technologists and companies in creating smart communities – “building an infrastructure to continuously improve the collection, aggregation, and use of data to improve the life of their residents – by harnessing the growing data revolution, low-cost sensors, and research collaborations, and doing so securely to protect safety and privacy.”4

Cisco Systems, the US-based technology company, voted amongst the top 10 smart city providers, highlights the role of the Internet of Things in the creation of networked communities and cities. It states that cities present “fertile ground” to benefit from connecting people, process, data, and things – the Internet of Everything (IoE). 5 The company estimates that IoT will save the public sector US$4.6 trillion between now and 2023.

Necessary to any smart city development is the availability of sufficient network infrastructure. The smart cities concept has paved the way for IT and telco convergence – as a result of IoT, big data and the cloud are coming together to produce an endless stream of new information.

In August 2015, US telecoms company AT&T partnered with technology giant IBM to implement water sensors in Las Vegas, Atlanta and Los Angeles. The US government also selected AT&T as a lead member of the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and will help the government agency set up smart city projects across the country.

In its paper, “The Internet of Everything for Cities – Connecting People, Process, Data, and Things To Improve the ‘Livability’ of Cities and Communities,” Cisco asserted that smart city development is a collaborative effort, bringing together the public and private sector.

It said: “City leadership must understand how the components of IoE – people, process, data, and things – play specific roles, and work together, to enable our future cities and communities.” Resource efficiency is a role player in any smart city initiative. In an address to a Smart Cities Council forum held earlier this year, Itron CEO Philip Mezey told participants that ‘the total annual cost of wasted energy and water resources is $39 billion in the United States alone.’ In a country where water loss is a protracted challenge (30% distribution loss rate), technology to pinpoint that waste is a necessity.

Mezey said: “Resource savings are really investment engines for investing in our urban communities to make them more vibrant and safer.”

Promoting sustainability

The Smart Cities Council notes that technology is only one component of the entire smart city ecosystem. However, according to the Global e-Sustainability Initiative (GeSI), smart city technology has the potential to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 9.1 gigatons in the next five years.6

A recently published report by Navigant Research states that smart grid and advanced energy technology for the smart cities market will reach US$20.9 billion by 2024.

The report ‘Smart Energy for Smart Cities’ adds that many synergies exist within the technology frameworks that make up the
backbone of the smart grid, advanced energy, and other smart cities applications.

It adds: “In the next decade, cities, utilities and third-party vendors are expected to increasingly pursue opportunities to bridge complementary technologies, enabling the optimal use of citizen and city-owned energy resources and reducing redundant investments in infrastructure.”

Lauren Callaway, research analyst with Navigant Research, said: “Energy is the lifeblood of a city.

“Developing an integrated and sustainable energy strategy within the smart city framework is one of the most effective ways cities can contribute to their larger goals of addressing climate change, supporting citizen well-being, and fostering economic development.”

The City of Seattle is recognised as one of the leading US ‘smart’ cities for initiatives through its Sustainable Seattle and Climate Solutions organisations – committed to the promotion of clean energy and sustainable development. Electric power utility Seattle City Light is also reported to be working in conjunction with government to deploy advanced meter infrastructure for more accurate consumption data and customer energy management.

In New York City, ICT platforms such as City 24/7 gives citizens access to information on government programs, local businesses, and the city’s citizens to provide knowledge to anyone, anywhere, anytime, and on any device.

The city’s ‘Hudson Yards’, the largest private real estate development, is also considered to be one of its most ambitious smart city initiatives. According to Forbes, the US$20 billion, 28 acre development is designed with the ability “to digitally track environmental and lifestyle factors – like traffic, energy consumption, and air quality – and will include a trash-disposal system to remove waste via underground pneumatic tubes.”

San Francisco, Boston and San Jose are also touted to be on the forefront of ‘urban digitization’. Transportation is high on the agenda, with all three cities using smart city technology to better manage traffic and track real-time data on traffic flow and noise pollution; as well as promote hybrid and electric cars and reduce automobile-related pollution and greenhouse gas emissions.

As a priority area for the US government, part of its federal smart city initiatives will include work with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the National Institute of Standards and Technology in a bid to leverage smart cities data, analytics and predictive modelling as part of a fiveyear, US$50 million DHS effort to develop emergency response technologies. MI