The advent of the “smart” phone has transformed the world, putting the processing power of yesterday’s supercomputers in the palm of our hands. Much more than a convenient route to the Internet, these tools have bridged the realms of the personal and the digital—they know to whom we speak, where we go, which websites we visit, and even our basic health information.
Now, the basic concepts of this technology are being taken to the macro level with “smart city” planning. Also referred to as “intelligent infrastructure”, outfitting formerly low-tech aspects of a city (such as water, waste, energy, and transportation) with the technological capability to connect to the Internet and “communicate” information related to their efficiency and performance, will enhance sustainability efforts as well as residents’ overall quality of life.
The implementation of the smart city model relates directly to the growth of Big Data and the rise of increasingly “self-aware” digital systems. We’ve already seen a proliferation of trends in the home automation sector; everything from one’s refrigerator to their lights, blinds, locks, and garage doors can be connected to a remote smart phone application. Improvements in healthcare have also been driven by data, detecting early warning signs of illness in individual patients and predicting larger health trends for the general population. Further, the push for cleaner, more efficient energy sources (as well as modern, technologically-sound energy infrastructure) has encouraged the use of so-called “smart” meters to better monitor and plan for the energy needs of civilians.
Climate change has been a major force in the development of smart city technology; projected growth rates coupled with shifting climate patterns have led to urban centers across the world recalibrating their approach to energy consumption. Completed in 2015, Songdo, South Korea was the world’s first master-planned “smart city”, while Singapore just recently announced plans to become the world’s first “smart nation.” Several other cities have also already implemented smart networks to aid in various urban services, including Seoul, South Korea; LaGrange, Georgia; Glasgow, Scotland; and Stockholm, Sweden.
By adding “smart” services that operate under one cohesive canopy—such as air quality and environmental data sensors, park-n-ride bike kiosks, and smart traffic signals and parking—cities can gradually build a system that will support future public health, safety, and sustainability. New greenhouse gas reduction commitments established at the Paris Climate Conference this past December have put additional pressure on municipal utilities to implement “smart” tools and integrate more renewable energy resources as they modernize. According to Dominion Power, investor-owned utilities will be spending approximately $60 billion through the year 2017 to improve current power grid capabilities in the United States.
The prospect of blending technology and fundamental city infrastructure is exciting for many urban planners, but there are still those who highlight the security issues associated with “smart” city models. Citing the egregious collection of personal data by national intelligence agencies and large corporations, there are concerns that cities could also overstep their bounds. Unfortunately, it’s true that the potential for harm exists anytime anyone acts over the Internet. Already, customers are targeted with mailings and other advertising based on their purchasing habits, and the spectre of computer malware and viruses looms large as long as there are computer hackers interested in such activities.
With “smart” cities, we may have a more detailed view of our societal habits than ever before—redeveloping the entire business of both planning and living inside a bustling, successful urban area. The idea has already gone global, and today it is just a matter of time before the technology is deployed in such a way that it touches all of our lives. Balancing the risk of data breaches with the benefits of constant connectivity will be a challenge going forward, but just the right approach could mean a safer, healthier, and greener world for us all.
Amsterdam – Wikimedia Creative Commons
Hong Kong Cyberport Buildings – Wikimedia Public Domain
Guest Author Bio
Kate Lindsay is a writer and blogger based in the Windy City. Fueled by coffee and chocolate, she’s an MSU alum with a passion for recycling and refurbishing old furniture. Her favorite Girl Scout Cookie is the trefoil.