What Makes a City Smart?

Several emerging cities have claimed the title of ‘smartest city’: Masdar in the United Arab Emirates; New Songdo City in South Korea; or PlanIT Valley in Portugal. Each is pre-planned and (will be) purpose built to be efficient, high-tech cities of the future.

One strategy proposed by the PlanIT Valley smart city in Portugal, for example, will be the installation of high tech sensors to optimise energy efficiency and reduce urban congestion. These sensors will track everything from traffic flows to climate control trends in private homes.

By contrast, several cities elsewhere in the world have taken a philosophically different ‘bottom-up’ approach, opting to open up access to city data to the public and encourage crowd-sourced solutions. Chicago is one of eight US cities that have made data collected through Open311 available to community app developers. One such developer is 311 Labs who’s app, the Daily Brief, uses Open311 data to allow citizens of participating cities to get real time updates on municipal service requests. Jay Nath, director of a similar program in San Francisco told Time Magazine, “We are opening ourselves up to the community to co-create. It represents something fundamental that is changing in government.”

Regardless of how it is harnessed, the Economist predicts the data revolution could shape our cities as dramatically as the advent of electricity in the 20th century. That innovation spurred new technology such as elevators to climb skyscrapers and pumps to pressurize water and sewer systems, greatly altering the physical form of urban buildings and infrastructure.

The data revolution is also expected to be an expensive proposition - IBM predicts that the data management industry for optimizing city systems – water, waste, transportation, etc. – will be a $10 billion dollar industry by 2015 in the US alone.

Time will tell if these new high-tech solutions really make cities “smarter” or just more scrutinized.

Further Reading

Against the Smart City, by Adam Greenfield

January 15, 2014 | No Comments (yet!)

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