Smart cities: expectation vs reality
We are used to smartphones, smart cars, smart TVs, and even smart meters, but are we ready for whole smart cities? We already have Alexa and Google Home increasing our connectivity behind closed doors, but what about when we step outside?
By 2050, more than 7 billion people will live in urban areas. That’s a lot of people enjoying city living! One thing is for sure, these cities of tomorrow will not look like the cities of today.
For a few years now, as the prevalence of the Internet of Things (IoT) has increased, the chatter around smart cities has grown louder. Whether talking about climate change, booming populations, the changing face of retail, or urban growth, smart cities are touted as the future.
From Milton Keynes to Madrid, examples of smart city technologies and programs have been popping up all over the world, which asks the question: is it really the future, or is it today’s reality?
What makes a city smart?
Defining smart cities presents a challenge. It is a broad concept, and one that seems to evolve as fast as the technology itself.
Check out this short video that helps explain ‘smart cities’:
Ultimately, a smart city leverages the technology we have to be ultra-efficient and ‘connected’. Whether it’s monitoring water usage and emergency response, to finding a parking spot and sharing information with the public, the aim is to make it faster, more effective, and save money.
As with everything in life, one size doesn’t fit all. Urbanists suggest that each city needs to decide what is smart for it, rather than looking to include everything. There is no doubt that in our lifetimes we will see some smart city features become part of our everyday lives.
Beacons at bus stops that will send push notifications of scheduled arrival times, drone deliveries, and data sensors everywhere collecting information on the flow of water, energy, traffic, and more through a city, are all expected to feature strongly.
Reality is harsh
Smart city plans can be spectacular, but the reality has yet to live up to the expectations. Take Masdar City in Abu Dhabi. Given a clean slate and the possibility of building a fully smart city from the ground up, the £18bn planned project had ambitious plans to contain a personal rapid transit system, energy use to be centrally monitored and adjusted, and to be fully carbon neutral.
However, the global financial crisis, and slowed construction has meant that only 5% of the original planned smart city stands in the desert today.
If we are to build truly smart cities, budget remains to be of big concern when it comes to making the imagined a reality. One of the major criticisms raised is the increasing feeling that these smart cities of the future will be mainly for the rich – especially when it comes to developing countries and regions.
Planned towns and cities in areas such as India, Africa, and Asia are being increasingly built for the wealthy, causing many to take issues with the Governments in charge. With the basis of these cities to be connectivity, it looks like they are actually driving people apart.
Say hello to the hi-tech cities of tomorrow
However, it is not all doom and gloom. In identifying these issues early, there is hope for the hi-tech cities of tomorrow. With so many smart city initiatives popping up all over the world, they can be seen to be popping up in the unlikeliest of places.
When trying to name the most technologically advanced cities in the world, you would not be alone for immediately gravitating towards cities like San Francisco due to the tech epicentre of Silicon Valley.
However, it may surprise you to hear that the emerging “Chilean Valley” of Santiago has been earmarked as one of the most hi-tech cities of tomorrow.
And have you heard of Songdo? Based about 40 miles outside the South Korean capital of Seoul, this $40billion price tag has been turning a barren mudflat into one of the most technologically advanced city of the future.
Apparently, there will be no wheelie bins to take outside once a week, or even rubbish disposal trucks. In their place will be a vast network of underground tunnels sucking rubbish directly from kitchens to waste processing centres. Here, the rubbish will be automatically sorted, deodorised and treated.
Sounds good to us!
Are we smart enough?
Cities are evolving, and their growth has reached a pivotal point, as technology takes charge. The time has come for Governments, developers, and businesses to take notice of what a smart city will really mean for the people who have to exist in them.
As our everyday lives become more and more connected, we have to hope that we are ready for it. To be honest, the population is more tech-savvy than ever before, and we are living a smarter life.
In fact, one of the issues with creating smart cities is that IoT and the technology we use develops faster than governmental policy. By the time those in charge have made the final decisions, the tech has already moved on – and so have the people using it.
Smart cities might be the future, but instead of asking are we ready for smart cities, maybe we should be asking if smart cities can keep up with us?
Catch us if you can!