Smart cities use emerging technologies to benefit their citizens, but require cooperation between stakeholders to develop successfully.
wo-thirds of the world’s population is expected to be living in urban areas by 2050, according to estimates from the United Nations1. Projections show that the gradual shift of people from rural to urban areas, combined with the overall growth of the world’s population, could add another 2.5 billion people to our cities by 2050. Close to 90% of this increase is expected to take place in Asia and Africa.
This dramatic pace of urbanization presents a unique set of challenges in the areas of governance, organization, and technological advancement. Although emerging technologies are bringing benefits to urban citizens, cooperation and long-term investment are needed to create smart cities that implement these technologies on a wider scale.
What makes a city “smart” and what benefits does it bring?
Broadly speaking, a smart city is one in which data and technology are put to work to improve the lives of citizens and visitors. There is no universal definition of smart city while the concept varies by city and country, depending on the level of development. At the same time, it is also determined by the willingness and aspiration of citizens and governments to implement change and reform.
At the forefront of a smart city’s development is the adoption of advanced technologies to improve urban efficiency. Artificial intelligence (AI), big data, and 5G are examples of technologies that can bring about large improvements to the quality of life.
The Chinese government is a keen supporter of smart city initiatives. In additional to significant technological advancements in recent years, in November 2019, Chinese President Xi Jinping endorsed blockchain and the opportunities the technology presents. The endorsement from the top is expected to drive China’s public and private sectors to speed up setting the standards for the application development and adoption of blockchain technologies.
Emerging technologies are being used to power smart cities across the globe while their applications are already being put into practice in real-world scenarios. In Amsterdam, a GPS data platform was developed to help traffic controllers use real-time data to improve the flow of vehicles around the city2. This is an example of smart mobility that benefits citizens and facilitates the flow of people.
Another benefit of smart cities is the use of data to run city operations on a larger scale and more efficient than ever. By utilizing 5G and data, and by installing smart infrastructure, cities can build a network that supplies useful urban information, such as energy readings and weather data. For example, Barcelona has installed nearly 20,000 smart meters to measure energy consumption and improve efficiency.
In South Korea, mobile operator KT has offered augmented reality glasses to help first responders connect directly with doctors and assist them with providing emergency treatment at a disaster scene. However, digital divide is an issue that becomes more pressing alongside a faster rate of urbanization. Narrowing that divide is about ensuring all citizens have access to the services the city provides, while building digital capacity to open up more opportunities for people. The good news is 5G can bridge the gap by connecting people with the city.