What is a Smart City? Features & Limitations

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What is a smart city?

People have struggled to agree on one set definition of the “smart city”, however, what most definitions have in common is the process of a city using new technologies and data to solve its economic, environmental and social challenges.


Definitions of the smart city

  • The British Standards Institute (BSI) defines the smart city as “the effective integration of physical, digital and human systems in the built environment to deliver a sustainable, prosperous and inclusive future for its citizens”.
  • The UK Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) sees the smart city as more of a process than a finished entity. The process sees a hard infrastructure, digital technologies work with social capital and increased citizen engagement; the outcome of this process is a more liveable, resilient city, better-equipped to respond to varying challenges.
  • Cisco defines smart cities as those who adopt “scalable solutions that take advantage of information and communications technology (ICT) to increase efficiencies, reduce costs, and enhance quality of life”
  • IBM defines the term as “one that makes optimal use of all the interconnected information available today to better understand and control its operations and optimize the use of limited resources”.
  • Taking a more citizen-focused approach, the Manchester Digital Development agency believes “a ‘smart city’ means ‘smart citizens’ – where citizens have all the information they need to make informed choices about their lifestyle, work and travel options”.

Smart city examples

Smart cities can be found all over the world, with some just beginning initiatives to implement smart technology, and other leading the way in smart city innovation. There are some great examples of smart cities out there, but some of the best are:

Singapore: Considered by many to be the “world’s smartest city”, Singapore is rich with smart technology innovations. Notably, the city’s approach to transportation is revolutionary, perhaps unsurprisingly given the city’s history of using information technology to improve traffic. The city is also renowned for its smartphone connectivity; the company Singtel recently announced that it was rolling out a 10-Gbps fibre broadband service that would enable residents to download a two-hour HD movie in 90 seconds.

Barcelona: One of the things that makes Barcelona special as a smart city is its focus on sustainability. From smart meters to smart grid pilot projects, the city continues to implement technology to achieve its comprehensive plan for reducing carbon emissions. Barcelona has also taken an innovative approach to drought, developing a smart city sensors system for irrigation. Sensors in the ground analyze rain alongside the predicted level of rain forecasted to occur and will modify the city’s sprinklers accordingly to help conserve water.


What are the features of a smart city?

The focus of any smart city should be its people and improving their quality of life, all whilst looking to drive sustainability and enhance the city’s economic competitiveness. These goals are achieved through a number of common features, including:

  • Traffic management: Monitoring road systems will inform drivers about which route is best at any given time. Also, it will automatically manage the traffic lights in order to reduce congestion to the minimum taking into account the traffic volume at certain times of the day.
  • Smart parking: There will be systems that will alert drivers when there is a free parking spot. Citizens will no longer waste their time looking for a place to park and the city will be less polluted.
  • Smart grids: They will provide the necessary amount of electricity depending on the demand. This way the power efficiency will be maximized.
  • Applications: Many smart cities utilise mobile applications, which citizens or visitors can download and use to connect to various services throughout the city.
  • Smart urban lighting: Why waste energy if nobody is on the street? Smart urban lighting will adjust the intensity of the light depending on the people who are around. Smart Street Lighting
  • Waste management: Not all places generate the same kind or the same amount of waste. With smart containers and a good fleet management system, the routes can be tailored to any situation. Thanks to this kind of solution, the efforts in the waste collection will be much more efficient.


What’s holding smart cities back?

Privacy fears: With the vast amount of data required to operate and improve smart cities, there come concerns over how personal data is accessed, used and stored. The issue of realising the benefits of smart cities without sacrificing privacy will continue to be contested, as data security is becoming the top priority for many smart city developers.

Lack of data: Whilst many have concerns with data usage, others believe there is still not enough data to further drive smart city innovations. More specifically, some believe new types of data are key to moving smart cities before.

5G implementation: One key aspect to many smart cities is connectivity, however with this comes the pressure to meet demands for faster connections and city-wide 5G coverage, something which is both difficult and expensive to implement.

Funding: Smart cities are considered long-term projects, which will continue to benefit cities and their residents for years to come. However, as with many long-term ROI projects, initial costs are high and difficult to fund.

Data storage: Storing the huge amounts of data needed for a smart city to run properly is no simple, or cheap, task. Moreover, ensuring the security of municipal data will entail even more costs, yet is of paramount importance to smart city developers.


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