What are smart cities?

2021-07-05

 |  Technology/Innovation

What makes a city Smart?

Today, more than half of the world’s population lives in cities. It’s likely this won’t change anytime soon. With this in mind,many people have started to research new ways to drive forward city solutions to make them more sustainable and safe. One such concept is Smart Cities. Smart Cities entails the use of advanced technology to address challenges and inefficiencies in the urban model. It focuses on data collection, which will be used to optimize electricity and fuel usage among other things.  

Technologies that make up Smart Cities

The technology in Smart Cities would collect data for multiple uses, from reducing carbon emissions to educating citizens on environmental issues. Technologies provide sustainable means of transportations, such as rentable bikes for use around the city, ride-sharing, and autonomous vehicles that will use less fuel. 

Aside from this, Smart Cities make it possible for the supply of energy to be on a needs-use basis. For example, street lights can be dimmed depending on the time of the day or location and could be equipped with motion sensors, only turning on if activity is detected in the street. Through sensors and cameras, city governments would be able to acquire information on air pollution levels and water use levels, which citizens can use to educate themselves to make environmentally conscious decisions.

Data challenges to keep in mind

The world seems to be becoming more technological everyday. However, it is important not to lose sight of problems that could arise since technology is never a one-size-fits-all solution. Canada has already started to implement area-specific solutions by prompting a Smart Cities challenge. Participants came up with ideas to improve the life of their community through the use of technology. The winners of the $50M prize were a group from Montreal, Quebec who designed efficient ways to improve the public transportation system and access to local and fresh food with a participative approach targeted at neighbourhoods. You can learn more about it and the other winners here.

The sharing of data can strike much needed debates like what does it mean to be a human in a modern urban city? What do we need to do to make this work? Platforms like Future Cities Canada provide a space for people to get involved in and stay connected to changes already in progress in cities.

A lot of the solutions that Smart Cities provide revolve around implementing sensors and cameras to collect data, like air pollution levels, water usage and renewable energy performance. This would require a lot of energy and money for added infrastructure.

An example of the possible problems that can arise from Smart Cities is from a city being developed on the slopes of Gelang Patah, in Johor, Malaysia. In a CBC dispatch, Canadian professor Sarah Moser learns about a project called Forest City. Forest City is a private, gated city being built on four artificial islands, two kilometres from Singapore. This city is being built to be clean and to address environmental issues that current cities have, like excessive pollution of air, water and soil. While the design seemed like a utopian plan that would be very sustainable, Moser finds that it would not be accessible for everyone, leaving low income families and Seletar communities that live in the area suffering from the implementation of the project. The city’s expensive design increased the gap between upper and lower classes. 

Moving beyond Smart Cities 

A vision that I find interesting and is also trying to improve urban living is a project called ecovillages. It does not follow traditional Western models of development and instead focuses on what communities need and their natural resources to facilitate and strengthen their region through their own model of development. It aims to grow and enrich the four areas of sustainability: social, culture, ecology and economy. By not focusing on the technology itself and instead on specific needs of a place to improve the lives of everyone, we can use technology in a wiser manner. It promotes “an intentional, traditional or urban community that is consciously designed through locally owned participatory processes” ensuring that ecovillages are not aiming for one utopian model, but is instead an ongoing process to benefit the community. 

Overall, Smart Cities provide a way to come up with solutions for the inefficiencies of the modern city that causes issues to the environment, such as transportation and water use. These solutions revolve around the use of technology and collecting data. However, it is important to remember that technological developments and solutions are not one-size-fits-all. If you are interested in learning more I suggested checking out the City of Vancouver website.