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Smart Cities: What They Are and Why They Matter

A “smart city” is the concept of a community, such as a town or city, that uses technology—specifically the Internet of Things—to improve its services.

It may sound at first like something out of science-fiction. But smart city technology is exactly the same technology people are already using in daily life.  Smart city companies have just repurposed it for upgrading a community’s infrastructure. When implemented, smart city projects allow a community to run more smoothly and efficiently.


What is the Internet of Things?

The key to understanding smart city technology is knowing about the Internet of Things (IoT). This is an umbrella term for any physical object that is connected to the internet, often through a mobile app. For example, an IoT door lock would be a lock that one could access even when away from the door in question.

The advantage of IoT in this situation would be the ability to see on a mobile app that you had forgotten to lock the front door of your house.

Instead of going home to remedy the situation, you could use an internet connection to lock the door remotely. It is easy to see how the convenience that IoT provides is already becoming a part of life for many individuals.

Of course, accessing the things you need from a remote location is one advantage of the Internet of Things, but there are many others.  Some IoT devices are also connected to motion sensors.

A smart light, for example, could detect the motion of someone walking into a room. A smart garbage can could send an alert to its owner when it’s time to take out the trash.


What does this have to do with cities?

Smart city companies create these same technologies in a way that improves a city’s government-run services. Here are a few examples of how this might work:


PARKING

It’s a pain to drive around looking for a parking spot. Instead, a driver with access to smart city technology could access a mobile app that would show them available spaces. This smart service would make life a lot easier for drivers in a smart city project by eliminating all the extra traffic created by people driving around looking for a parking spot and help them save on gas. And, of course, cutting out that traffic is good for the environment as well. Columbus, Ohio takes its smart parking services further by partnering with smart city companies to provide charging stations for electric vehicles next to certain spaces.

TRAFFIC

A mobile app that provides information on the specific location of bad traffic would also help cities and their citizens in the same ways. It could even suggest alternate, low-traffic routes. This would become a two-way service if the app allowed citizens to report problems like potholes.

WASTE

Instead of picking up trash on routine rounds, a smart dumpster would send an alert to the sanitation department in a smart city project. Notice how this is the same concept as the personal trash can above, only repurposed to serve a city.

WATER USAGE

A mobile app can send alerts to citizens when they have used a certain amount of water in the month. This is an especially innovative example of partnership with a smart city company. It allows the app user to determine their own custom settings and monitor their own water use. And this example is not hypothetical, either; Cary, North Carolina uses this system to send water-usage alerts to their citizens.

POLICE SURVEILLANCE

Smart video surveillance could help the police department keep the community safe. Many cities already use cameras to record traffic violations and criminal activity. A smart camera provided by smart city companies would be equipped with technology to recognize license plates or faces. It could even send an alert to police if there is any suspicious activity.


Bill Gates’s Smart City and GOogle’s Smart CIty

Some of the most famous tech companies in the world are working on their own smart city projects. For example, Bill Gates’ investment firm, Cascade Investment LLC, announced plans in November 2017 to build an entirely new city close to Buckeye, Arizona.

The future “Bill Gates smart city,” has been named Belmont.  It will utilize solar energy and Arizona’s lenient policies on self-driving cars to implement smart city technology in this new community. Similarly, Google, (or, more precisely, its sibling company Sidewalk Labs) has ambitious plans to build a “Google smart city” in Toronto called Quayside.

This neighborhood will feature smart city technology like raincoats for buildings, heated sidewalks for melting snow in cold weather, and self-driving taxis.


Microsoft Smart City

More relevant to already-existing cities, Microsoft smart city technologies are helping governments meet their citizens’ needs. The government of Aukland, New Zealand has partnered with Microsoft to develop software and apps to improve transportation and parking services and keep track of the feedback citizens provide on social media.

Microsoft has also partnered with Tel Aviv to make the government more accessible to its citizens and features a two-way system, where citizens can send the government a picture of a problem that needs to be addressed on a “DigiTel Mobile App” while the “Digitel Residents Club” app keeps citizens informed about local businesses and community events. Parents even register their children for school through the app.

ANY TOWN CAN BE A SMARt CITY

This short list of examples alone shows how a “smart city project” can take on a variety of forms. On the one hand, this variety can make the term “smart city technology” difficult because it isn’t very specific. Two places that use different smart technologies for unrelated purposes (traffic surveillance and water usage, for example) are both smart cities. A place is “smart” if it applies all of the above examples or just one.

On the other hand, this ambiguity is what makes the idea work so well. Every city is different: a smart city project that could be useful in New Orleans or Dallas would not be practical for our home base in Shreveport, Louisiana. There is a lot of freedom wrapped up in this idea for each city to decide what smart services would best meet the needs of its citizens.


Coming Up Next…

In our next article, we’ll discuss some of the “smartest” cities in the world, what makes them unique, and what we can learn from them, even in rural areas.

By looking at what these governments have done with smart city technology, we’ll discover simple solutions that small towns can implement to provide services that are more efficient, convenient, and environmentally-conscious.  Subscribe to our newsletter and stay tuned for more.


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