How data-driven solutions are improving urban livability

Urban infrastructure has been upended by the twin challenges of COVID and sustainability – as such, cities around the world are using digital technology to create smarter, more innovative cities.  

City authorities around the world are facing renewed pressures as urbanization continues to spread globally. In fact, two-thirds of the world’s population is expected to live in cities by 2050, up from 55 per cent in 2018. As such, city authorities are under increasing pressure to find solutions to the challenges posed by this growth, such as transport and energy systems, infrastructure, and water management. In order to ensure that the benefits of urbanization are widely distributed and are inclusive, equitable, and sustainable, many cities are turning to smart city technology.

Smart cities integrate existing infrastructure with information and communication technologies (ICT) to collect data, communicate across disparate data sources, and develop actionable insights or predictions. This enables city leaders to better serve residents and businesses by making changes that improve asset and resource management, efficiency of service delivery, and communication with citizens. For example, the recently passed Infrastructure Bill in the United States, with allocations for projects involving connected vehicles, autonomous transportation and “smart” traffic sensors, among other technologies,  is just the first step in an investment toward a smart city future. The smart electric grid will become more and more important as EV’s play an increasing role in transportation and states like California already have a plan to ban all non electric vehicle sales starting in 2035.

What smart cities means for leaders

Smart cities enable city leaders to better serve residents and businesses by integrating existing infrastructure with information and communication technologies (ICT) to collect data, communicate across disparate data sources, and develop actionable insights or predictions.

As the world’s population grows and the focus on sustainability increases, many civic authorities are looking to innovative software that gathers, visualizes and analyzes data to identify trends and provide stakeholders with the information they need to make impactful decisions. This enables civic authorities to make changes that improve asset and resource management, efficiency of service delivery, and communications with citizens.

Why smart cities are important

Some cities have had to impose water restrictions, while others face power and energy supply difficulties. At the same time, safety considerations continue to require adapting to hybrid work.

Going forward, prevention assumes far greater importance than any possible cure. The density of urban areas means they are poised to experience the harshest toll on lives and livelihoods.

Some city officials have already figured out that digital technologies can serve as a kind of insurance against future disasters. Internet of Things (IOT) devices such as connected lights, meters and sensors can collect and analyze data from infrastructure and public utilities. Similarly, machine learning can identify anomalies that deviate from the normal pattern of events. And artificial intelligence (AI) can automate operations, reduce human error, support urban efficiency and lead to more effective decisions. 

Smart cities are already improving life in other countries

As India’s first greenfield smart city, Nava Raipur deploys the latest and most advanced technology. The new capital of Chhattisgarh state will host an expected 600,000 residents by 2031 and support the broad administrative needs of a further 29 million people across the region.

To meet their needs while achieving high livability through civic operational efficiency, city officials have connected eight individual operational systems into an integrated command and control center (ICCC) offering real-time 3D insight into the city’s critical infrastructure.

Since its launch, the system has curtailed service disruptions and reduced critical response time by 60% on average. The ICCC, together with the smart city portal and app, proved particularly valuable over the coronavirus lockdowns. Municipal authorities could easily communicate with the general population and respond to the needs of affected citizens, while supporting containment measures. Nava Raipur is now considered a beacon for India’s 100 Smart Cities mission.

How smart technology can improve lives in US Cities

In addition to sustainability and COVID driven challenges, other crises like motor vehicle crashes and polluted water stand to be mitigated with the help of smart city technology. In the U.S., motor vehicle-related crashes are happening at the highest rate since 2005. Leveraging cloud-based software can reduce operational silos between traffic systems and emergency personnel. Integrate centralized command centers with smart sensors that will allow quicker emergency response times, which could be the difference between life and death.

The city of Jackson, Mississippi has had an ongoing water crisis for years. Earlier this past summer, the city’s water system reached its breaking point when flooding overwhelmed the city’s water facility and the city will most likely need to invest billions of dollars in repairs. If the city had a connected network of sensors in place, it would have prevented this critical infrastructure failure from ever happening.

Innovating for challenging times

As cities expand and develop, their infrastructure will need to keep pace with burgeoning demand while protecting and shielding residents from the impact of adverse events – whether these are climate-related or otherwise. Normal approaches are no longer adequate. City authorities urgently need innovative solutions to create livable environments that are also reliable and sustainable.

About the Author

Gary Wong is the Global Industry Principal of Infrastructure and Water at AVEVA. He leads their global data centers, facilities, smart cities, and water businesses, and has 25 years of extensive international experience providing sustainable, strategic, and cost-effective digital solutions. Prior to joining AVEVA, he held positions with OSIsoft, Metro Vancouver, and as a consultant directing both public and private sectors on operations, digital transformation, planning, sustainability, and engineering. Mr. Wong is also the Chairman of the Smart Water Networks Forum (SWAN) Americas Alliance and holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Chemical Engineering, is registered as a Professional Engineer in Computer Engineering, holds an M.B.A. from the Queen’s School of Business and is also a Chartered Professional Accountant.

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