Smart Cities: Who Wins and Who Loses?
Smart Cities: Who Wins and Who Loses?
As smart city development continues in fits and starts, let's explore the challenges and potential paths to success and solid ROI.
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Since the development of the public internet, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, sensor technology, and the Internet of Things, we have seen smart cities around the world develop and flourish from Austria, to Zagreb, and everywhere in between. The evolution of smart cities is based on the concept that connected technology can not only make a city more progressive, but also generate data to create insights that can improve the safety, quality of life, and economic opportunities for those that live, work, or visit a city.
There are certain characteristics that seem synonymous with smart cities and it’s worth taking a step back from the hype to consider why and how we are building them. What can we blueprint from earlier developments, how can we learn from mistakes, and how can we build better smart cities?
Intersections Within City Sectors
One of the keys underpinning smart cities is intersection. Smart cities don’t (and can’t) work when projects and data are siloed. One example is city transport, where a variety of solutions can provide the means for people to travel around the city more efficiently, safely, and sustainably.
Smart traffic management can be used to monitor and analyze traffic flows to optimize streetlights to prevent roadways from becoming too congested during typical rush hours. Connected parking hubs can connect with public transport to enable park and ride customers to find free parking spots on the way to the morning train. Solar lights can be utilized in parking meters and smart streetlights will dim when there aren't cars or pedestrians on the roadways to save energy. In public spaces such as sports stadiums, smart surveillance can also be utilized to provide safety evacuation information such as instructions and directions in the case of emergency, and analytics can be coordinated with weather and traffic information outside of the stadium.
This means fans can leave happy, with the knowledge of their fastest route home. Each of these initiatives, whilst impressive as a stand-alone project, would not really succeed without the others.
Malleable, Adaptable Technological Infrastructure That Can Evolve as Technology Advances
The UK City of Bristol was recently awarded the Judges’ Choice Smart City Award at the GSMA’s 2018 Global Mobile Awards. They were commended for Bristol is Open, a joint venture between the University of Bristol and Bristol City Council. Three networks are integrated through
software-defined control: fiber in the ground; a wireless heterogeneous network along the Brunel Mile area of Bristol with Wi-Fi, 3G, and 4G; and a radio frequency mesh network deployed on 2,000 of the city’s lamp posts.
The University is also carrying out 5G research and delivering the UK’s first 5G urban deployment. This platform is allowing companies of all sizes to come and test new technology in a real-world environment rather than just inside a laboratory and demonstrates the value of an underlying structure that thoughtfully considers future tech, cross-discipline collaboration, open test grounds, and meaningful connections.
Funding Needs to Consider ROI
At present, many smart cities are funded through grants such as the Horizon 2020 EU fund, University research funding, or in-kind benefits from telcos or utilities. To succeed beyond these 3-5-year funding rounds, a combination of public and private funding is necessary. For example, Cisco announced $1b in grant funding for Smart City investment in November last year, bringing private funding to a number of US municipal councils. But what happens when private funders want ROI?
Some projects have the advantage of cost savings to a city that outweigh the price of infrastructural investment — such as a connected utility system. For example, in Melbourne, Australia, South East water use digital metering technology to take regular readings of network flows received through data transmissions. This enables the company to improve network efficiency by accounting for water loss, and to better detect service failures and repair them the damage spreads.
Yet this is saving money rather than earning money. Who pays the extra costs? Some smart cities, such as in India, have begun applying parking fees, water and sewage surcharges, telecom fees, and utility (gas/electric power) surcharges to help pay for the available Smart City technologies to provide stronger ROI and a viable approach to paying back secured funds.
Open Data Is Key
Open data is one of the keys to successful smart city execution. It can help identify and solve civic problems, ensure accountability of city officials, and create new business opportunities. Data about education, healthcare, transport, and tourism can be a catalyst for new app development, research projects, and targeted local campaigns. Amsterdam has had open city data since 2012, including census data, neighborhood growth, electricity usage, and roadworks.
Further, for many companies – both in the software and creative sector – it is typically difficult to develop smart city applications and applications because there is a lack of good testing environments.
You require the consent of all parties (municipality, companies, etc.) to create an effective test environment. As the Amsterdam data and platform are open, it means developers can use the data to develop new applications and concepts.
Smart Cities Need to Be by the People, Not Simply for the People
Traditionally, urban problems have been solved through policy generated by municipal officials and urban planners in collaboration with the private sector. One of the great benefits of smart cities is that information and communications technologies like predictive algorithmic software,
Big Data and IoT can be utilized to streamline local government, transportation infrastructure, and the local environment to make it more sustainable and livable. At a local level, this means creating local solutions for local problems rather than just a top-down approach.
There’s a certain irony that often upon attending pretty much any smart city event, the audience is comprised largely if not solely of stakeholders who have a vested financial or employment interest in smart cities: town planners, tech companies, energy companies, university academics, and the like without representation of local citizens whose daily lives are purported to improve by their creation. Most events require payment to attend and are held during business hours, making them prohibitive to those who are working or studying during such times.
Cities need to be creative in their efforts to engage citizens and ensure those less tech-savvy are not left behind.
A Real Understanding of Data Privacy, Citizen Data, and Citizen ROI
The issue of CCTV and facial recognition show that smart city technology can be used for good and bad, depending on your opinion. For example, Moscow’s smart city efforts were boosted last year with the implementation of 160,000 outdoor cameras focused on traffic and areas of possible crime. This is part of the Moscow Traffic Control Center, the headquarters of an elaborate monitoring and control system that also includes 40,000 traffic lights and a vast data storage facility that contains all the video data transmitted from the streets. The data has been used to fine citizens for violating road signs and signals with cameras recording license plates on cars.
China is already in the news for its Black Mirroresque Social Credit system. It’s reported that by 2020, China will have completed a nationwide facial recognition and surveillance network that achieves near-total surveillance of urban residents, including in their homes via smart TVs and smartphones.
The capabilities of connected technology are expanding rapidly with the trajectory of the Internet of Things moving at a rapid pace bringing monumental benefits to the industry. If this isn’t disturbing enough, there’s another layer to consider: monetization.
It's well-known that data is the new oil, a particularly interesting idea driving the monetization of the Internet of Things and the creation of a "Machine Economy," where devices will trade everything from storage, computation, and analytics to electricity and sensor data.
The trading of anonymized data from sensors may seem like a straightforward enough way to generate income, but what does it mean for residents already paying taxes to the city? Should they be reaping some of the rewards from data sold to third parties, particularly since they can’t opt out? What does it mean for the concept of open data, one of the pinnacles of smart city development? It shows that if anything, smart cities are only going to get more complex as they mature and their technology advances. It’s not all doom and gloom, I have high hopes for many aspects of smart cities, but we can expect some challenges along the way.
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