What Is a Smart City?
A smart city is a city that optimizes the management of resources and the quality of life of its citizens with data. These cities use technology to collect, process, and analyze data and apply insights to improving city processes and functionality. For example, using traffic data to improve public transportation schedules or temperature data to reduce water waste.
How Does a City Become a Smart City?
To become a smart city, cities need to adopt a variety of technologies and tools. They also need to implement policies and infrastructures to support the application of these technologies.
In general, smart cities are based on the following foundational technologies:
Information and communication technology (ICT)—platforms that enable governments and citizens to communicate. For example, mobile applications. ICT assists citizens in providing feedback to government authorities. It also allows government bodies to gather and analyze feedback used to improve systems and to provide insights to citizens. For example, broadcasting air quality information.
Internet of things (IoT) devices—devices and sensors that are used to collect, share, and apply data. These devices are typically connected to a central management center and may include built-in AI capabilities. For example, lights that turn on when movement is detected.
Smart City Technology
When smart technologies are adopted and implemented, cities can apply insights and automation to a wide range of services. Below are a few common examples.
Smart mobility applies smart city systems to transportation and travel. It can include traffic management systems, smart cards for public transit, navigation applications, and transportation devices, such as scooters. Smart mobility can help cities optimize public transportation schedules, reduce congestion, encourage greener travel, and respond to accidents more efficiently.
When applied to resource management, smart technologies can help cities reduce resource waste, predict shortages, and regulate usage. For example, smart energy meters can help track when citizens are using power and to what degree in real-time. It can also help cities more effectively distribute resources, such as sending more water to areas experiencing drought.
Smart city technologies can be applied to help cities monitor and protect the overall health of citizens. For example, air or water quality sensors can help officials inform citizens to take proper precautions to avoid impact. Or, data from health centers can be used to identify spikes in sickness rates and help limit the spread of disease.
Best Practices for Creating and Implementing a Smart City Plan
While developing a smart city is not a one size fits all process, several best practices can be applied to any initiative to ensure more successful adoption.
1. Determine your goals
While the idea of a smart utopia is nice, it does not match what many citizens and cities actually want. To ensure that your smart city creation is successful you need to first determine what your goals are. For example, if your city just upgraded its water treatment system, you probably don’t need to focus on developing for that resource.
To develop meaningful goals, you should start by taking an inventory of your cities current systems and issues. Polling citizens and holding community meetings can be a good source of information for this. It can also help officials engage citizens, growing the support that is needed to add smart initiatives to a city’s budget.
2. Develop a measurable plan
As with all great undertakings, starting with a clear and well thought out plan is essential. Adopting smart city technologies can be expensive, time-consuming, and inconvenient for citizens. Before implementing any changes, you need to be sure that you fully understand the implications of adopting the technology. You also need to ensure that the technologies you’re adopting align with your goals.
Ideally, when creating your plans you should identify the areas of greatest potential impact at the lowest cost. You should also set solutions in place to help you measure the real cost and impact of your changes. Starting small can help you test your infrastructure and resources. Small changes and measurable feedback make it easier to adjust your plan and refine your processes for later, larger rollouts.
3. Don’t forget digital security
When you are planning and implementing your smart city, you need to take care not to forget about security. The connected nature of smart cities and the massive amounts of, frequently sensitive, data that is collected are a prime target for criminals. If this data is breached the privacy of all of your citizens may be compromised. Or, if sensors are hijacked attackers could manipulate systems, causing accidents or taking out utilities.
In particular, you need to account for the gaps between old and new technologies. When new and old systems are combined misconfigurations and incompatibilities can create vulnerabilities. Ensuring that you have centralized and continuous visibility of all of your systems can help you identify and eliminate these vulnerabilities. You should also plan to have a dedicated security team with expertise in smart city technologies.
To help ensure that you are as protected as possible, you can use the resources provided by third-parties. For example, Securing Smart Cities is an international non-profit that offers guides for identifying and managing risks.
4. Look at the bigger picture
There is nothing wrong with starting small when implementing smart city plans. However, for the adoption of smart city technologies to be most successful you need to consider broader implications. Ideally, smart city initiatives should complement existing strategies and processes.
If you see opportunities for technologies to be shared or expanded organically, you should take advantage. It does not make financial or strategic sense to try and implement multiple smart initiatives in isolation. It also doesn’t make sense to plan initiatives in direct conflict with existing practices. Keeping the bigger city plan in mind can help you avoid these issues and maximize your efforts.
Smart cities can help improve the quality of life, especially in urban areas. However, smart city architecture is a complex undertaking that should be wisely planned and implemented. When creating your plan, you should start by honestly assessing your current situation, and then determine your goals.
You should develop a measurable plan that can help you adjust goals according to milestones. Look at the bigger picture, and remember that you’re dealing with a distributed network. Enforce security practices throughout the entire perimeter, and ensure that connected endpoints are properly monitored.