Smart Cities

With resources like water, space, and energy becoming scare in rapidly urbanizing areas, cities across the world are integrating smarter technology to monitor consumption and improve efficiency.  A recent Economist article, Living on a Platform, examined a handful of “smart-city” projects around the world.    Although “smart-cities” are hard to define the Economist suggests that they all have one thing in common:

they aim to integrate the recent efforts to introduce smart features in a variety of sectors and use this “system of systems”, as IBM calls it, to manage the urban environment better.

A view of Singapore's skyline from Marina Barrage

The rest of the article examines projects from brand new cities in Abu Dhuabi, South Korea and Portugal.  It also looks at new projects in existing cities like Singapore’s Marina Barrage project that I had an opportunity to visit this summer. Marina Barrage is actually a dam that also functions as learning center and park. The dam is located at the mouth of the Marina Chanel and creates a freshwater reservoir in the heart of the city. The green roof of the main building also provided a very popular site for family picnics and kite flying on the Sunday I visited.

Aerial view of Marina Barrage

But the most fascinating aspect of the “smart city” concept for me, as student of planning in developing countries, is how to retrofitted older cities to have “smart” projects.  This article profiles Amsterdam as a great example of an older city that instead of launching a “smart” master plan has created dozens of projects, including

installing smart meters in some households to connecting ships to the electricity grid so that they no longer have to use diesel generators when berthed in the city’s port. The most ambitious effort so far is something called “Climate Street”, which aims to reduce the energy use of an entire shopping street.

The lingering question after reading this piece however is how can we replicate and scale these projects to be applied in the cities in developing countries that are in desperate need of new infrastructure projects?   Do slum upgrading projects need to have “control systems” that collect data from various meters and sensors to improve efficiency or should they just focus on resources for basic housing?  Smart city projects seem to be inevitable, however cities should also be sure to consider how equitable such projects are.  Additionally academics and professionals designing “smart city” projects should consider those cities with little planning and technical capacity at the local government level, and help develop “smart city” projects that actually improve efficiency without requiring more staff. These technologies have great potential to improve cities across the world, and it is my hope that they will help provide basic services and safe construction for the world’s many urban poor communities, while simultaneously increasing efficiency for those that already have clean water, electricity, sewage systems and comfortable housing.



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