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Smart city: A collective responsibility

Urban change is advancing

Around the year 1800, only 2% of the global population lived in towns and cities. By the turn of the millennium, this figure had risen to just under half the global population, and UN estimates are predicting that three-quarters of us will be living in urban spaces by 2050. Anyone who has ever been caught in rush-hour traffic – be it on the street or on the underground – knows just how difficult it is to accommodate huge crowds of people in limited spaces. But there are problems that aren’t always obvious for city dwellers to notice at first glance, such as high consumption of resources, waste, emissions, and water pollution among others.

The vision: A sustainable digital society

The search for this vision has become known as the "Smart Cities" concept. Some German cities and councils are already collecting waste charges calculated by weight – with barcodes or RFID chips allocating bins to particular households. Before they are emptied, the bins are weighed by a sensor integrated in the bin lorry’s lift. This year’s global estimate for the number of these and similar sensors installed in traffic lights, electricity meters, water meters, ticket machines, and other relevant devices stands at 1.1 billion. There are plans to more than double the number of results-recording sensors in 2017.

Smart cities are now rapidly developing in Asia.

Smart cities as a solution against urban change challenges

The goal: Higher and sustainable living standards

By analysing this data, authorities intend to improve traffic flow, for example, which leads to less stress and fewer emissions. Energy requirements should be reduced as a result, and where possible, waste should be recycled or even converted into energy. These and additional measures should help minimise the negative impact on the environment and improve living standards, despite the growing number of city dwellers. Obviously, the intention to tackle problems such as these isn’t new – but the integration of information and communication technology is. The networked approach that promotes the idea of ‘making a real difference’ is equally new. After all, it is of little value to citizens if the electric cars they use to carpool are stuck in traffic. While local emissions may well have dropped, the quality of life hasn’t improved yet.

A no ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach

Now, it is clear that there can’t be a “one-size-fits-all” solution.
What works well in Cologne might be doomed to fail in Kuala Lumpur or never be in demand in Kansas City. It also stands to reason that smart city principles are best implemented during the initial building of a city. Conversely, the costs for upgrading existing infrastructures are far higher. In India, there are plans to build 100 smart cities, the first of which are to be constructed in an area in Delhi. Now, that is all well and good, but what will happen to the rest of Delhi? Will it remain “dumb”? What is more, it will mainly impact cities in developing countries that experience the growth mentioned at the beginning of this article, cities where most of the population is bound to live in kilometre upon kilometre of ghettos made up of paltry shacks, partially due to the indifference of the city leaders. It will be interesting to see how the smart city concept will be brought to life in these areas. Cities everywhere must rise to the challenges of urban change. And no social class should be left behind. Sustainable resource management only works if all the city’s communities join forces.

What’s your position on the topic of smart cities? We would keen to hear your experience and comments.

Smart City Sustainability

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