Human Hearts of Smart Cities

Smart Cities

The modern world is moving to cities. Urban population is predicted to reach 66 % from total by 2050. As a result, the cities themselves are evolving trying to meet the new challenges: traffic density, ecological issues, and social unsustainability. The application of innovative technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI) and the internet of things (IoT) makes them ‘smart’. And the demands of contemporaneity make the time we live in the age of smart cities. Open and Agile Smart Cities network counts up to 100 smart cities in 23 countries so far, and China is planning 290 by 2040. So, what are they like — those cities of the future?

What Is a Smart City?

A smart city is a framework composed of information and communication technologies. These technologies include:

  • surveillance and video analytics;
  • photo- and video-fixation;
  • security operation centers;
  • unified emergency management;
  • smart transport systems;
  • public transport safety systems;
  • LTE, 5G;
  • IoT;
  • driverless cars;
  • biometrics;
  • unstructured data processing;
  • digital advisors;
  • augmented and virtual reality;
  • geoinformation technologies;
  • machine learning;
  • cloud and fog computing;
  • LED-based street lighting.
  • These services instantly analyze data and help to enhance infrastructure. It includes energy distribution, utilities, air and water quality, transportation, education and healthcare, public safety, and real estate.

    Theoretically, any area of city management can be turned into a smart initiative. For example, in Chicago, a WindyGrid technological project helps to fight rodents and in Yinchuan, you can use your own face to pay for goods and services.

    Smart cities improve quality of life of the citizens, save money and resources. Thus, IoT application in Barcelona annually saves up to 35 mln dollars for the city budget. And not only resources are saved, but time as well. According to Intel data, wisely implemented city tech can save every resident up to 125 hours annually.

    Smart City Infrastructure

    Three Kinds of Smart Cities

    There are different ways cities become smart. Some of them are built from scratch, the others undergo modernization in their own pace and manner. Let’s look at some fascinating examples.

    1. Smart from the Start

    These are totally new purpose-built cities. Implementation of IT systems is included into their master plan. The designs of some of them look really futuristic, like Japanese x-Seed 4000 or Russian Crystal Island. And though we shall probably not see such tower cities in reality for the nearest future, the projects which have already been brought to life look impressive as well.

    For example, Masdar City in the outskirts of Abu Dhabi. The main purpose of this project is to minimize carbon dioxide emission, so, all city systems use renewable energy, and non-electric transport is prohibited even to approach the city. The city has its own transport system called Personal rapid transit. So far, Masdar is a city of scientists. The first residential areas are planned to be populated in 2018.

    2. Old Cities Implementing New Technologies

    These are already existing cities applying different aspects of the smart municipality into their present-day life. Thus, in New-York, a unified database is used to detect vibrations from shots. The police get the signal immediately and react quickly. Big data in Big Apple are also used to prevent fires and get rid of the garbage in the streets. And Watson Health project helps to track information about citizens’ health with the help of smartwatches and sensors.

    Barcelona has more than 20 smart program areas and more than 100 active projects: from Wi-Fi access in public spaces to intelligent lighting and the promotion of an electric transport. So far, it is the only city where the unified system — Sentilo — collecting data from all sensors placed anywhere is gathered. All the data are at free access. Technologization is to bring the city about 47 thousand new workplaces.

    There is no one unified model of a smart city development. The research, conducted by Nokia in 2016 defined three main ways for the development of cities’ “intellectual abilities”:

    • anchor — when the main city problem is defined (for example, traffic overload), the app is built to cope with this problem, and then other apps are continuously added;
    • platform — when the basic infrastructure necessary for the support of a wide range of smart apps and services is created;
    • beta-approach, when several apps are implemented first on an experimental site in order to evaluate their effectiveness. This approach is close to the third type of retrofitted cities, that is, living labs.

    3. Living Labs

    The term ‘living lab’ refers to a variety of local experimental projects of a participatory nature. iving labs can be campuses, company towns, and even entertainment parks. They originate from a university, a nonprofit or a for-profit company. Such labs enable experimentation and co-creation with real users in real life environments, where users together with researchers, firms and public institutions look together for new solutions, new products, new services or new business models.

    For example, in 2017, Alphabet Holding won a competition for the upgrading of the territory on the bank of Ontario Lake not far from Toronto. The project includes the introduction of driverless transport, adaptive streetlights, courier robots and energy-efficient smart homes. The plan was developed for 10 years, and in case of a successful launch, all the initiatives will be introduced in many other cities of Canada.

    Smart Toronto

    But these are not only technologies that make all these cities efficient. A lot depends on how technologies interact with people, for the city is not only about infrastructure and convenience. It’s about citizens who shape its ambiance. That’s why it is important to keep in mind the people such city initiatives aim to help. And it’s not only raising awareness of benefits brought by technologies but promoting residents’ active participation.

    Smart City Concepts: from Technologized to Humane Approach

    Well-thought smart solutions can improve citizen participation and co-determination. Urban strategist Boyd Cohen defines three stages cities go through in manifesting the smart concept — from the tech company-driven to city government-driven, and finally, citizen-driven.

    The first, technology-centric vision of smart cities is empowered by technological companies encouraging the adoption of their technical solutions. These days, Bill Gates is said to invest 80 mln dollars to build such a smart city in Arizona. 25,000 acres of land outside Phoenix were bought by Gate’s controlled investment firm Cascade Investment. The city is planned as a futuristic community with high-speed networks, autonomous vehicles, digital networks, data centers, new manufacturing technologies and autonomous logistics hubs. The plans are really ambitious. Though, critics doubt whether it all will not turn into a next ghost city like Songdo in South Korea where high technologies didn’t manage to attract enough citizens.

    On the second stage, the development of the city is pioneered by the municipality, forward-thinking mayors, and city administrators. Municipalities use technologies to improve infrastructure, efficiency, convenience, and quality of life for citizens.

    Read What scientists do to improve Human-AI interaction.

    Here belongs Rio’s municipality decision to use sensor network to mitigate the role of landslides or shared use of data for enhancing traffic surveillance, security, and weather forecasting (the city heavily suffers from downpours).

    But a thorough analysis of Rio’s smart initiatives found out that, in many ways, it failed to help people living in the city. The lessons for the city presented in Journal of Urban Technology include the need for improving human experience by enlarging the city’s government real and virtual accessibility and shift of technologization priorities from rich to poor districts, thus bridging the digital divide.

    The 3rd stage is represented by the leading smart cities which embrace citizen co-creation models. They contribute to increasing knowledge-based citizen participation and create public policies.

    A wonderful example of such participatory urbanism is Boston. The city municipality has set out a goal to develop a people-centered strategy of sensor technology implementation. In a Github-placed ‘playbook’ it calls technology companies, scientists, researchers, journalists, and activists to concentrate on the real needs of the citizens. “Talk to people in the street, talk to local businesses, artists, architects, and planners, talk to advocacy groups — and show us you’ve met them, thought about their interaction with the city, and designed your suggestions around their needs and experiences”, that is the city government call-up to those wanting to contribute to Boston smart city project.

    Smart Boston

    The city has introduced a set of mobile apps for Bostoners. Through them, people can report problems to the local government, participate in recycling, road repairs, track school buses etc. Other initiatives include online community educational platforms Community PlanIt and Participatory Chinatown teaching residents to take part in community meetings and discussions.

    In Latin America, Medellin is worth attention and admiration. The city concentrates efforts on the most vulnerable neighborhoods. Back in the 1990s, Medellin was considered the most violent city in the world: in 1991 it logged a record 390 homicides per 100,000 residents. Today, Medellin can boast of having slashed its murder rate by 95% and the number of residents living in extreme poverty reduced from 8% to 3% . Such radical transformation is the result of smart city strategies implementation taking place since 2004. These include the creation of free Internet access zones, open government, Smart Mobility System, and Mi-Medellin and co-creation portals which enable citizens to participate and co-create solutions for the city. 5% of Medellin’s annual budget is allocated to citizens who decide how it will be used to meet local community needs.

    Future Outlook

    There are different opinions concerning the effects which AI and IoT may have on our lives. Some people warn about privacy threats which universal data processing and sensor application can bring to our lives — and not without reason. The others concentrate on opportunities new technologies bring into our lives. In fact, any technical solution can be used for good and bad purposes, can limit personal freedom or increase it. And it largely depends upon everybody’s personal engagement in the construction of the future we all are to live in. Let’s build this future together! Yours,