Smart Cities: The new ‘Art of Living’

Smart Cities: The new ‘Art of Living’
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by Sanjeev Kapoor 11 Feb 2017

Urbanization, depletion of resources and citizens’ changing lifestyles are some of the most important pressures faced by modern cities. In response to these pressures, cities focus on devising and implementing policies that boost environmental performance and sustainable economic growth. Moreover, they increasingly take advantage of leading edge ICT (Information and Communication Technologies) systems as part of the implementation of their urban development plans.  The extensive use of ICT technologies, along with the exploitation of a city’s human and innovation capital are the pillars of the smart city vision for urban development.


Living in a Smart city

Smart city projects will provide citizens with simple solutions to everyday problems in the urban environment. In the near future, from the time we wake up to when we retire for the day, each one of us will continuously interact with the various features of a smart city. Winter mornings will be made warm by our ‘smart’ homes maintaining an ambient temperature, while breakfast would include infotainment controlled through a spoken command auditory interface.

We will be saved from maneuvering the rush hour traffic as an autonomous car will be waiting to drive us to work. We can use this time to activate a range of smart home apps which will make sure that the energy consumption of our house is optimized and renewable energy is accumulated and available for our use later.

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Keep surprising the boss by always being on time as the autonomous car will not only select the best route through the city, but also identify a free parking place, thanks to the intelligent parking systems of a Smart City(such as Santander in Spain).

Office would no longer mean work and seclusion as we will stay informed about the status of our house, while staying connected to our friends and family in-line with their availability and schedule. The working conditions would be customized as per our needs, including lighting, temperature, desktop environments, smart touch screens, chairs and offices as these will be tuned according to our profile (e.g., age, health conditions) and task schedule (e.g., planned meetings, conference calls. Evenings will be pre-planned as we will use our smart phones to make one-click purchase of concert tickets, send invites and updates on app to our friends and sync our plans.

Our homes will wait for us in ideal conditions for us to relax and prepare for the next day while it will monitor our well-being, tracking our heart rate, blood pressure, glucose levels etc signaling the need of a doctor visit or just a good night’s sleep.

Smart cities will ensure that we enjoy a better quality of life, in a more sustainable city, while gaining the most precious commodity i.e. more time to spend with friends and family.


Realizing the vision

This smart living vision is not so far away. It however requires planning and integration of interventions at different spatial scale (e.g., home, neighborhood, city) and time scales (e.g., strategic planning, management planning, real-time intervention) in line with a coherent urban development plan. The latter should ensure achievement of KPIs (Key Performance Indicators) about sustainability, environmental performance, compliance to regulations and economic growth. Much can be said about urban development, but the following five guidelines would be useful for city CIOs (Chief Information Officers) and their technology advisors.


Guideline #1: Staged Development

Smart city is not a single or a few ICT projects in the urban environment. Rather, it is a strategic long-term vision, which requires commitment of all city stakeholders and continuous design and implementation of projects in-line with the city’s urban development plan. Therefore, CIOs need to have a roadmap of the series of projects and infrastructures that will realize the smart city vision. These projects can be classified in the following categories:

  • Digital infrastructures development, which deals with the deployment of sensors, broadband networks and other types of internet-connected devices in the city. Infrastructure development projects are a prerequisite for the deployment of other smart city projects and do not usually have a positive ROI (Return-on-Investment). This is the reason they are usually financed through public funding or public-private partnerships.
  • Vertical services development and deployment, which refer to services focused on a given functional area such as smart energy, smart transport, smart water management and more.
  • Integration and interoperability projects, which entail the integration of multiple vertical functionalities (e.g., transport and energy) with a view to improving city operations or using information from multiple projects for urban planning purposes.
  • Citizen engagement projects, which emphasize the engagement of citizens, both as users of smart infrastructure and services, and in several cases as content and services providers as well (e.g., in incident reporting or management).

CIOs should identify the types of projects needed to implement their smart city development plans, along with their timelines and interdependencies. At the same time, they should secure financing for these projects. Moreover, they should be aware that the number and types of smart city projects will be constantly evolving in-line with the evolution of their urban development strategy.


Guideline #2: Pilot deployment and testing

The number, the diversity and the scale of smart city projects render the implementation of a smart city strategy risky. Some of the envisaged projects will be bound to fail as a result of limited acceptance by the citizens, technical problems or even the lack of financial viability and sustainability. Failing projects incur losses in time and costs, while having an impact on the city’s overall strategy and brand.  In order to reduce relevant risks, CIOs should start small even when thinking big: they should plan pilot deployments for validating the viability of services in operational environments. A smart city pilot deployment shall involve deployment and usage of an ICT system (e.g., a smart parking system or a traffic management system) in a specified area, based on the involvement of a subset of citizens (closed user group). CIOs may have to select and prepare a relevant (pilot) area in the city, which is characterized as “reference zone”.  The evaluation of a pilot deployment will provide valuable insights for extending and upscaling the deployment, in a way that reduces risk.


Guideline #3: Alignment to Standards

Smart city investments should be sustainable in the long-term. A key element of this sustainability is the technological longevity of smart city systems, which shall ensure that these systems will not become obsolete during the implementation of the city’s smart strategy. Therefore, CIOs should look for alignment to existing standards, such as the oneM2M standard for devices’ interactions in the city, ISO standards specifying city related data models and indicators, WiFi/LoRa/ZigBee and other standards for ensuring devices connectivity and more.


Guideline #4: Engage Stakeholders with Co-Creation

Citizens, business and organizations of the city are at the heart of smart city services. The smart city services must be appealing and acceptable to their users and beneficiaries. One of the means to achieve this is to enable participatory design and development of smart city services and apps. As part of participatory design activities a sample of the target end-users engage in the design of interfaces, interaction mechanisms and information flows of smart city applications. The selection of the “representative” sample takes into account age, sex, computer literacy and other parameters.  Nowadays, several cities are employing co-creation, a discipline for participatory design of services, which brings together all stakeholders in the scope of appropriately organized co-creation workshops. Co-creation sessions are usually supported by crowd-sourcing platforms and services, which enable end-users to provide collective knowledge about optimal service features and interfaces. Co-creation for cities is not anymore a theoretical concept, as it is already employed in cities, as is the case of London in the UK, Arhus in Denmark and Santander in Spain, which are employing co-creation as part of the Organicity initiative. Overall, CIOs should employ mechanisms for engaging stakeholders across all the phases of the smart city services development and deployment lifecycle.


Guideline #5: Future technologies outlook

The landscape of ICT technologies is very rich and very dynamic. As new technologies emerge on a regular basis, smart cities should constantly look for technology opportunities that could help them improve their infrastructures and build new added-value services. CIOs should therefore look for emerging trends in smart cities, along with ways for migrating to them in a smooth fashion. As we speak, there is a trend towards exploiting Big Data technologies in cities in the direction of deep learning and artificial intelligence as we outlined in our recent post about the era of analytics. Cities will leverage AI-based Big Data methods for applications such as connected and self-driving cars. Likewise, the emerging fifth generation of mobile communications (5G) is in the near future expected to provide a unifying framework for networked communications in smart cities, which will enable interworking and interoperability across devices connecting to the smart city networks based on different protocols.  5G will also support high bandwidth applications even in densely populated areas such as stadiums, theaters and shopping malls, which will significantly improve the quality of smart city services. 5G will be commercially available after 2020, but pilots in smart cities (such as Verizon’s pilot in the city of Boston) have already started.


There are certainly many more things CIOs would have to explore in order to appropriately shape and implement their smart city strategy. Nevertheless, the above five tips provide a good starting point for understanding challenges, solutions and benefits associated with smart city deployments.


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