WHEN CITIES GET SMART

When cities get smart

The Pullman Magazine - - Contents - TEXT MARIE VARANDAT

IT WAS BACK IN 2005, WHEN BILL CLIN­TON AND HIS FOUN­DA­TION IS­SUED A CHAL­LENGE TO IT GI­ANT CISCO, THAT THE “SMART CITY” CON­CEPT WAS BORN. SHANG­HAI, SEOUL, SIN­GA­PORE, BARCELONA, LON­DON, NICE, LYON… ENERGYGUZZLING, POL­LU­TION-SPEW­ING, CITIES ARE BE­ING REDESIGNED WITH A VIEW TO BE­COM­ING "SMARTER”. IT’S A WORLD WIDE PHE­NOM­E­NON THAT’S SWEEP­ING THROUGH UR­BAN AR­EAS RIGHT ACROSS THE GLOBE, FROM THE MOST OP­U­LENT TO THE MOST DE­PRIVED, THE MOST AN­CIENT TO THE MOST RE­CENTLY BUILT.

Although cities only cover a mere 2% of the planet’s sur­face, they are al­ready home to 50% of the world’s pop­u­la­tion. By 2050, when that per­cent­age will have risen still fur­ther to 70%, our cities will be us­ing 75% of all en­ergy gen­er­ated as well as be­ing re­spon­si­ble for 80% of all CO² emis­sions. En­ergy and pol­lu­tion aren’t the only ar­eas de­mand­ing at­ten­tion – the lengthy list also in­cludes health sys­tems, trans­port, waste man­age­ment, prop­erty, so­cial co­he­sion and liv­ing to­gether… There’s no doubt about it, man­ag­ing ur­ban ar­eas has be­come one of the ma­jor devel­op­ment chal­lenges of the XXIst cen­tury!

It was back in 2005, when Bill Clin­ton and his foun­da­tion is­sued a chal­lenge to IT gi­ant Cisco, that the “Smart City” con­cept was born. Things have come a long way since then, and today there is not a sin­gle city that can af­ford to ig­nore the chal­lenges posed by ram­pant ur­ban­iza­tion, the in­creas­ing short­age of fos­sil fu­els, global warm­ing and so­cial di­vi­sions, not to men­tion the bud­getary con­straints forc­ing lo­cal au­thor­i­ties to con­stantly do more with less.

Unique cities, unique chal­lenges

There is no spe­cific blue­print, no magic recipe for be­com­ing a Smart City. It is up to each in­di­vid­ual city to iden­tify its own pri­or­i­ties based on its cur­rent sit­u­a­tion and goals. Scan­di­na­vian coun­tries, for ex­am­ple, have cho­sen to fo­cus on so­cial and en­vi­ron­men­tal is­sues, rolling-out am­bi­tious plans tar­get­ing car­bon neu­tral­ity. Ber­lin has placed the em­pha­sis on well-be­ing: in the space of just a few years, the Ger­man cap­i­tal has be­come a cul­tural me­trop­o­lis, at­tract­ing peo­ple from all over Europe by cham­pi­oning ur­ban cre­ativ­ity and qual­ity of life. In Ja­pan and Eng­land, at­tempts are be­ing made to re­solve the de­mo­graphic prob­lem by build­ing in­no­va­tive un­der­wa­ter cities or cre­at­ing en­tire float­ing dis­tricts like the one on the Thames. Smart traf­fic lights that change to green or red depend­ing on the den­sity of traf­fic have been in­tro­duced in the Chi­nese city of Wuxi, whilst Lon­don and Stock­holm have both rolled out a con­ges­tion charge sys­tem to re­duce both traf­fic and pol­lu­tion. Barcelona, mean­while, has in­tro­duced smart refuse bins to op­ti­mize refuse col­lec­tion, whilst Nice and Sin­ga­pore both have smart street lights that au­to­mat­i­cally ad­just their bright­ness depend­ing on how dark it is. Then there are the green roofs that have started to ap­pear all over New York and Mon­treal … Projects are pop­ping up wher­ever you look all around the world.

IN CER­TAIN CHINA'S CITIES, TRAF­FIC LIGHTS NOW WORK DEPEND­ING TRAF­FIC AND POL­LU­TION

The need for rein­ven­tion

The pri­or­i­ties may vary from one city to the next, but sus­tain­able mo­bil­ity and en­ergy ef­fi­ciency al­ways re­main core is­sues. Trans­port sys­tems are be­ing redesigned to serve dis­ad­van­taged neigh­bour­hoods and gen­er­ate less air and noise pol­lu­tion. Elec­tric ve­hi­cles and cy­cle lanes are be­ing in­tro­duced, cities are be­ing den­si­fied to curb the kind of ur­ban sprawl that trig­gers an in­crease in the num­ber of cars and the dis­tances needed to be cov­ered, lo­cal shops are be­ing re­opened, ef­forts are be­ing made to bring the work­place and home closer to­gether to put an end to the prin­ci­ple of di­vi­sion by busi­ness sec­tor thereby tack­ling ghet­toiza­tion… All these ini­tia­tives are small pieces in a much big­ger pic­ture, un­der­pinned by a series of mea­sures that pro­foundly trans­form the city.

An in­creas­ing num­ber of ini­tia­tives are also be­ing in­tro­duced to tar­get en­ergy use, but as is the case with trans­port, the real rev­o­lu­tion will come in the form of real-time data pro­cess­ing.

In­ter­ac­tive cities

Smart Cities are, in­deed, of­ten associated with dig­i­tal tech­nol­ogy, and with good rea­son. Pave­ments, cam­eras, street lights, streets, homes… the city of the fu­ture is pep­pered with sen­sors col­lect­ing an avalanche of in­for­ma­tion that is an­a­lysed in real-time by the kind of IT sys­tems we as­so­ci­ate with the Big Data phe­nom­e­non. It con­se­quently be­comes far eas­ier to an­tic­i­pate and pre­vent the for­ma­tion of a traf­fic jam by ad­just­ing the traf­fic lights, in­di­cat­ing al­ter­na­tive routes or mak­ing changes to public trans­port – some­thing that al­ready hap­pens in both Lon­don and Sin­ga­pore, for ex­am­ple. Sim­i­larly, in­stalling smart elec­tric me­ters, ca­pa­ble of pro­vid­ing real-time en­ergy-use read­ings for ev­ery sin­gle house­hold, should help en­ergy op­er­a­tors fine-tune their elec­tric­ity pro­duc­tion, a con­cept known as the “Smart Grid”.

Rid­dled with sen­sors to pro­vide a brand new range of ur­ban ser­vices geared to­wards pro­mot­ing well-be­ing, to­mor­row’s cities also run the risk of be­com­ing Big Brother-like sur­veil­lance sys­tems. This is a key demo­cratic is­sue, with the Smart City rais­ing ques­tions about cit­i­zens’ right to pri­vacy. Ques­tions that cur­rently re­main largely unan­swered.

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