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Smart cities? It’s all about the smart citizens

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We need to take a human-centred approach to smart cities, writes Christopher Clements of PwC.

Smart cities often come with an intake of breath. The very mention can get some nervous people thinking Big Brother state and all actions and movements will be monitored, data will be wide open, and robots will roam the street – some may be genuine concerns.

Some cities, such as Amsterdam, have made reducing traffic and street light usage as some of their main initiatives. The concept of ‘smart traffic management’ monitors traffic in real time, and travel time on roads is broadcast to allow motorists to decide the most efficient routes to take. Other cities, such as Barcelona, have also implemented traffic-reducing concepts.

Another example is Santa Cruz, where local authorities analyse crime data to predict law-and-order requirements, ensuring police presence is available where it is required at any point. Analytical tools generate lists of places where property crimes are more likely to occur and place police officers in these locations when there are no emergency calls.

‘For a smart city to flourish, there needs to be innovation and creativity’

Probably most major cities are terming themselves as ‘smart cities’ or involved in a ‘smart city’ initiative.

The key concept of all existing successful smart city initiatives is that they appear human-driven. For a smart city to flourish, there needs to be innovation and creativity. There needs to be problems identified to solve, problems that are affecting the citizens’ lives, real issues.

The resulting technology and solutions that prevail are the outcomes – they don’t make that city smart, they enable the city to better serve its citizens.

In essence, the smart city concept is a misnomer; what it really is, is smart citizens.

Inclusion of humans is integral to the outcomes a smart city realises. In Amsterdam, the residents are encouraged to promote ideas and initiatives through annually run competitions. An example is Mobypark, which allows owners of parking spaces to rent them out to people for a fee. The data generated from this app can then be used by the city to determine the parking demand and traffic flows in the city mentioned above.

On attending the 4IRC meet-up on ‘IoT: Smart City or Surveillance City?’, I was struck by two things:

  • the volume of ideas and concepts from the speakers was wide-ranging
  • they were just that: ideas

That may sound harsh but the concept of smart cities has been knocking about for a while now, under various guises and having differing conditions.

On listening to the talks at the meet-up, the Belfast Council initiative on smart cities is far-reaching and it has the potential to be fantastic, as long as it’s a human-centred approach to a smart city; in other words, letting the citizens outline the issues and be the beneficiaries of the outcomes.

Belfast as a smart city has to be more than a better internet connection, ‘smart bikes’ or a rapid transport system. It has to aim for more.

If we look at the example of e-Estonia: a true beacon of a country, not just a city, that has embraced not just the resultant technical outcomes, but engaged in the problems that needed to be solved. 99pc of public services are now available online to Estonian citizens.

Belfast has a challenge ahead of it. Can it take a human-centred approach to creating a smart city and solve real problems affecting people’s lives?

Maybe the outcomes won’t be technical or anchored in technology at all; maybe some of the solutions will make Belfast a unique smart city in that it solves real problems but not via technology.

Smart City

The idea of a SC: Smart City and its growing impact Strength, Performance

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smart city growing

The idea of a smart city has become extremely important when it comes to the context of defining the strength, performance, facility, demography and urban economy. How a smart city would perform? In what ways we can identify a smart city?

When it comes to understanding a city in terms of scientific growth and implementing important policies with the right quotient of strategies, it has a tremendous impact on the socio-economic growth of the place and worldwide. Several reports and research studies indicated there will be a continuous rise in the population living in the urban city. Under this circumstance, the present Government needs to tighten the loose ends. The first important aspects are to make all the resources easily available for the people to utilize. Not just basic resources, but when it comes to luxurious resources, the people living in the urban city have first access to it. A person’s mind is extremely inquisitive; they search for the technology that makes their life extremely easy and convenient. In a way, this contributes to the economic and social growth in a city but gives their poor environmental sustainability.

How does the scientist look into this growth?

Growth in technology is so widespread that some of the issues and problems that need immediate attention are often overlooked. The rise in population means deterioration of air quality, transportation, and economic risks. Not just this they are open to major health consequences. When the population density in a city is lesser, the lesser will be the energy consumed for electricity and transportation, which will certainly help in the dropping of carbon-dioxide. But there is no way that all these can be controlled. The situation indicates that the cities are in need of smarter ways to control and combat the new challenges.

The rate of metabolism in cities consists of consuming essential products and excreting waste. This is a common phenomenon and is unavoidable. This gives rise to socio-economic issues. Promoting any goods for sustainability has been taken through the growth and marketing of natural capital stocks. Also, if we consider and take into account city sustainability, this also promotes an anthropocentric approach.  According to this, a city responds to people’s requirements for sustainability solutions or socio-economic growth.

If we have to consider that the cities with the high urban population depend on transportation facilities, land uses and other facilities, then we could be certain that this will also have an impact on technological growth. Public transport will be more efficient and will be of the highest quality to be able to respond to the economic needs of the city as well. It gives a better meaning of labor with employment, thus increasing the productivity of the firm.

As we take a new approach towards urban service provision, there is growth in technology, including ICT. The concept of a smart city is not limited to technological aspects alone. With the growing relevance of the smart city concept, the definition and meaning are also changing, giving rise to greater confusion and challenges for the policy-makers. In the next sections, we would take look at the deeper impact and implications of technology towards building a smart city.

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Smart City

The concept of the SC: The first pillar of a smart city – Institutional development

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smart city institutional development

The concept of the smart city differs from person to person. For some, a city flourishes with its institutional growth, and for some, an excellent infrastructural development is a definition of a progressive city. To understand the sustainability and transition of a smart city, we must first trace the organic growth in its socio-technical system, which means that there is a need for a noticeable change in the institutional-material structures of the smart city.

– “Regulative, normative and cultural-cognitive elements that, together with associated activities and resources, provide stability and meaning to social life” (Scott, 1995)

The three prominent dimensions that need to be carefully considered to order to determine the development of a city as a smart city are as follows:

Regulative – A city requires explicit regulatory processes, such as formal rules, laws, policies, protocols, and standards to constitute a developed city. In case if a city fails to comply with these rules, there may have more profound implications in terms of legal sanctions. When we try and analyze how a city can develop based on the above points, we have a fair idea and understanding that the institutional analysis of smart city initiatives would elaborate on the formal dimensions of these initiatives. This should be done in such a way in which they are deep-rooted in urban, regional, national, or even international policy initiatives for urban development.

Normative – A city should have rules that introduce a prescriptive, evaluative, and obligatory dimension. This should also refer to changes like values, role expectations, social norms, duties, and responsibilities. Just in case if a city fails to comply with these rules, it may result in strong emotional responses for those who show active behavior of following the rules, which can lead to a sense of shame or disgrace. On the contrary, it would raise a feeling of pride and honor, if all rules are diligently followed. As the debate of what makes a city smart continues, it has increased the scope and needs for more inclusive development. It may also be noted that the economic, social, and ecological challenges may have a far-reaching impact and ideally should also be prioritized in order to consider a city to be smart. However, it should be a significant point of discussion for the policymakers to prioritize the smart city initiatives and form the goals.

Cognitive – To understand the cognitive dimension, we should understand the cognitive behavior of the people. The world is interpreted based on shared conceptions and frames through which the social-structure gains meaning. Comprehensively, they form implicit ‘cultural reservoirs’ or ‘cognitive logics’ for action. These schemes can lead to confusion if not conformed at the earliest stage of policy formation. Symbols, discourse, and cultural categories, and how they are ‘brought to life’ in social interactions, are essential elements of the cultural-cognitive pillar in forming a smart city. For example, in the analysis of how smart cities are framed as solutions to contemporary urban challenges and such conversational approaches have received relatively much interest in this field, in forming a critical perspective of a smart city.

The study of a smart city is framed propositions for comparison as highlighted below:

  1. Prevailing institutional pillars can be regulative, normative as well as cognitive. It configures the form of new smart city institutional arrangements (or governance arrangements).
  2. These pillars are place-specific and multi-scalar. And hence, institutional arrangements across urban contexts will differ.
  3. The study of a smart city will be based on specific facts and data. It will vary from places to places based on different features and outcomes across the urban contexts.
  4. The cities that are elected as smart cities in each country should be explored based on certain socio-cultural, institutional, technologies, and other engagements.

A smart city is not as perceived to be but as explored to be one.

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The second pillar of a smart city – Development of physical infrastructure

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smart city development

When all focus is on building your smart city, how can we negate the role of the development of physical infrastructure? The purpose of physical infrastructure towards the development of a smart city is essential and critical. It provides the base foundation upon which a smart city is developed. Due to an increase in population and pollution, our Earth is going through a series of environmental changes. Our world is open to countless challenges every day.

To have a smart city, developing smart physical infrastructure is vital. It is fundamentally essential because technology should be intelligently used. Today, some of the critical information technology (IT) companies have provided solutions for a sustainable planet and city, and by far the technology plays an important role in achieving this. Smart physical infrastructure is making our world a better place to live. An excellent physical infrastructure integrated with intelligent technology provides a strong resistance to certain environmental imbalance and shock. When your city is equipped with the latest and modern technology, your strong infrastructure can withstand natural calamities or environmental changes. You take a step ahead to set an example for the people who haven’t thought of the solution before.

How smart technology integrated with physical infrastructure to develop a smart city?

Smart technology creates specific opportunities for people. In order to build outstanding physical infrastructure with smart technology and solutions, we need to understand the requirements. A smart city can never be built in a day. It requires planning, serious decision making, and implementation in a real way. All sectors involved in planning the physical infrastructure need to put together all important aspects to bring it to a visible result.

To consider our environment, one must understand the economic possibilities. New businesses and services are offered in the developing city when the costs are reduced. Innovation and cutting-edge technology are merged with the existing physical infrastructure of a city that works best for all the sectors of physical infrastructure required to the lives of people in a smart city. It is a perfect source for developing the city. The successful development of a smart city requires technology integration, as advanced technologies are used in many areas to build a smart physical infrastructure.

Some of these leading technology services include:

  • Sensors
  • Low-cost communications
  • Real-time analysis and control
  • Technology integration of isolated pre-existing services

Smart City Development

As a smart city requires a smart physical infrastructure, sustainable urban development, or the city that is heading towards development also requires a smart infrastructure. There are many challenges that a city faces on its way towards a developed city. Being well-equipped with smart technology can over-power any challenges that come on its way towards development. Integrating buildings, building infrastructure, taking care of basic needs, and providing services with real-time information technology constitutes a smart city. Towards urban development, today, the cities have created a strong base of smart physical infrastructure.

There are some smart principles like data collection and analysis, which have made it possible to manage and take care of the necessities of the cities and the residents. Water system management, energy and utility grids, transportation, and all services that a smart city resident requires to maintain a decent lifestyle, wouldn’t have been possible without proper research of people’s basic requirements. As for these objectives of the data assessment to build the perfect the development of the smart city has become a reality.

When you have a smart physical infrastructure, society can progress. The integration of energy, utilities, and telecommunications are important parts of physical infrastructure. Thankfully, the smart city development has become a global phenomenon with the use of smart devices. Smart energy, smart buildings, smart water, smart transportation, and other sectors have made our life so easy. There is a rise in energy-efficient buildings, which is an integral part of smart physical infrastructure. These are great contributions to developing a smart city. And it also plays a crucial role in building a sustainable planet.

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