EIT Stock ImageSmart cities are much more than solar-powered street lights triggered when pedestrians walk beneath them.

Smart cities refer to cities that use the latest in technological innovation in infrastructure and IT systems, and the Internet of Things, interspersed with environmentally-friendly nature-inspired elements.

 However, to design a smart city, a sizeable redesign to old infrastructure is usually required. Architecture needs rethinking and reforming, the traditional disciplines of engineering are stretched and smart technology is at the crux of it all. This is all in pursuit of a better quality of life for the humans who live in these bustling cities.

In the book ‘Human Smart Cities: Rethinking the Interplay between Design and Planning’, Louis Albrecht, a Professor in the Department of Architecture, Urbanism and Planning, at the Catholic University of Leuven writes:

“There is a growing awareness that a number of planning concepts (compact cities, livable cities, creative cities, multicultural cities, fair cities, just cities, smart cities) cannot be achievable solely through physical hard planning.”

Albrecht argues that the transformation of cities into smart cities has historically been overrun by the forces of free-market capitalism; by private companies seeing market opportunities that can be exploited. Instead governments, he suggests, should properly implement a move toward smart cities that benefit the humans that live and work in them. He writes:

“There is also awareness of the fact that (in addition to traditional land use regulation, urban maintenance, production and management of services) governments are being called upon to respond to new demands and to adopt a more entrepreneurial style of planning in order to enhance city and regional competitiveness.”

Governments are noticing that the technology-literate demand that everything, from electricity to water metering, become smart, efficient and data-analysis-friendly, so that they know where their money is going to when to pay their utilities.

Moreover, as smart cities pop-up, with more people gaining access to education and job opportunities (thanks to the smart-city benefit of a city-wide internet), new challenges arise. And most of these challenges are usually infrastructural.

More Cities, More Traffic

Engineers are called upon to rethink transportation because once a city becomes a hub of middle-income activity, it equates to an overcrowding of cars.

The congestion of city roads is unsustainable and is projected to worsen. The BBC reports that 70% of the world’s population “will live in urban areas by 2050”.

How do we cut congestion?

EIT Stock ImageAuto Manufacturers Ford has recommended that cities address mobility challenges with a “fully integrated transportation operating system”. Their goals for the future of smart cities - or as they call it ‘The City of Tomorrow - are: No accidents, no emissions, no congestion and universal access to mobility - a fully automated approach to a city and its mobility.

The BBC spoke to Peter Coker, vice-president of innovation at KuangChi Science; he is quite certain that jetpacking around town will become a social norm. He said: “Jetpacks will be part of future cities. I see it as being the Uber of the sky.”  Pigs might fly too, but if this futuristic innovation does eventuate, fewer drivers will remain on the roads and ease congestion there!

What about the more realistic driverless car, will they ease congestion? Perhaps. They will have the capacity to work out optimal routes and departure times and fewer accidents will certainly prevent resultant traffic jams. The Department of Transport in the United Kingdom says that once the technology is fully adopted, it could reduce congestion by 40%. However, experts believe the driverless vehicles could increase congestion in the short-term as the technology is interwoven with cars with drivers.

While the concept of a smart city is not a new concept, finding a clear definition that can be applied cross-continentally is the bigger challenge, as is applicability. Futurologists might get carried away with their vision of a unified, smart city future, but the emergence of these cities is likely to be impeded by practicalities including decision-makers seeing eye-to-eye and budget constraint.

Works Cited

Concilio, Grazia, and Francesca Rizzo. Human Smart Cities: Rethinking the Interplay between Design and Planning. Cham: Springer International, 2016. Print.

"Driverless Cars 'to Increase Congestion' Says Government." BBC News. BBC, 06 Jan. 2017. Web. 12 Jan. 2017.

"Media Log In." Ford Partnering with Global Cities on New Transportation; Chariot Shuttle to Be Acquired, Ford GoBike to Launch in San Francisco | Ford Media Center. Web. 13 Jan. 2017.

Wakefield, Jane. "Tomorrow's Cities: What It Feels like to Fly a Jetpack." BBC News. BBC, 11 Jan. 2017. Web. 12 Jan. 2017.