The only thing that keeps things under control is technology, helping us build what we call smart cities.

But what is a smart city?

The ultimate purpose of a smart city is to make everyday living in urban areas better and more comfortable. Keep reading to learn more about this incredible phenomenon.

How does it really function?

Technology has always been changing the way people live and work, but now we exploit it more than ever due to the unstoppable growth of the urban population. Today, 55% of the global population lives in urban areas, while cities use up to 80% of the world’s annual energy needs.

The only thing that keeps things under control is technology, helping us build what we call smart cities. Although it sounds like a vague and futuristic concept, smart cities already exist and grow bigger thanks to the state of the art digital technologies.

But what is a smart city? How does it really function? Keep reading to learn more about this incredible phenomenon.

First of all, smart cities require building a brand new infrastructure to ensure the overall functionality of the system.

Smart Cities: Definition and Practical Implications

A smart city is a designation given to a city that incorporates information and communication technologies (ICT) to enhance the quality and performance of urban services such as energy, transportation, and utilities in order to reduce resource consumption, wastage and overall costs.

The ultimate purpose of a smart city is to make everyday living in urban areas better and more comfortable. Besides ICT, smart cities use the Internet of Things (IoT) and Geographical Information Systems to acquire and process huge data volumes and to derive practical conclusions from seemingly unrelated datasets.

The system works on several levels:

  • Traffic management: A network of tools (sensors, smartphones, and others) can easily monitor traffic conditions in a city to ensure faster mobility. For instance, the city of Amsterdam operates a modern digital road manager which helps optimizing traffic flow within the whole region.
  • Parking: This is one of the major issues in urban zones, but smart cities can eliminate it by installing ground sensors. Such a system recognizes empty parking spaces, so drivers don’t need to circle around wasting time and energy.
  • Energy: Technology also helps us reduce energy waste in a number of different ways. One of those mechanisms is building smart street lighting that turns on only when someone is really driving by. In all other cases, the light remains dim.
  • Waste management: Using sensors, smart cities can also control waste levels in garbage bins. That way, collection trucks don’t have to go the full route but rather empty full bins only. Once again, this type of technology saves time, costs, and energy.
  • Water: Being a fundamental but scarce resource, water deserves special treatment. Smart cities keep an eye on water supplies, warning the authorities in charge of possible leaks, floods, or shortages.
  • Buildings: IoT creates a network of building devices (air conditioning, cameras, lighting, etc.) to analyze energy consumption. Smart devices exchange information, so the central system can turn down the lights or heating in order to minimize energy waste.

Challenges Smart Cities Have to Deal With

So far, we only discussed the advantages of smart cities, but the coin always has two sides. Smart cities are facing a lot of challenges, some of which may not be so easy to overcome so soon.

First of all, smart cities require building a brand new infrastructure to ensure the overall functionality of the system. This is by no means a cheap project. Investments can reach billions of dollars, but they cannot start paying off instantly. In such circumstances, it’s hard to imagine local authorities giving the green light to every part of the project.

Secondly, it takes time to build a fully functional smart city, especially because there is no one way or plan on how to complete the process. Cities in different regions of the world demand a totally different approach, which means planning and implementation might take decades.

At the same time, we must not forget security concerns. Smart cities need data to work with and it all comes from end-users, also known as the real people who live in those cities. The threat comes from two sides: corrupt governments can jeopardize citizens’ privacy, while hackers might steal digital information and use it for fraudulent activities.

The Bottom Line

Smart cities seem to be the only path toward sustainable development in urban areas, but this road is very long and challenging. The process requires a joint effort across all levels of the governmental hierarchy as well as the implementation of state of the art technologies. However, the good thing is that the process has already begun and it’s hard to imagine anything stopping it now. The only real question is how long it will take before every major city becomes a smart city.


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