The smart city has moved in recent years from a worthy idea in principle to a rapidly happening reality.
Cities across the world are now using information and communication technology (ICT) extensively to improve overall operational efficiency of the urban area, make information readily accessible to citizens, provide a better quality of government services, and improve the overall welfare of city-dwellers.
But there’s a problem. The approach to making a city ‘smart’ has often happened with fragmented, isolated initiatives that don’t always connect with each other and optimize city planning as a whole. These initiatives also have a tendency to impact a small areas of the city, and not the city in its entirety.
The consequence of this lack of holistic planning is that while some citizens are reaping the benefits, and are able to consider digital services as the norm, large swathes of urban populations are being left behind.
Here are just a few examples of how this disjointed approach is slowing the advancement of the smart city:
Exclusion of differently abled people: many services are not accessible for elderly people and disabled people, including the blind and deaf. Modern cities also have a huge number of inhabitants who do not necessarily speak the local language, and are being excluded from smart services
Disjointed services: take the example of the smart parking application that allows you to find parking and pay with your smartphone automatically, but is not linked to any electric bikes stations or public transport that would help you continue your journey inside the city
Under-utilised environmental awareness: electricity and water metres use smart billing, but in most cases they are not linked to either the citizen’s global carbon footprint monitoring, or tracking of waste usage
A more joined-up vision
Against this backdrop, what’s needed is a grander, more joined-up vision of how a smart city can work for its people. It’s a vision of how smart cities can be holistically planned by connecting the different city domains and addressing Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) globally. In this way, mobility, energy, the environment, health, education, security and the economy are not treated separately, but rather as a whole consistent continuity of human-centric services.
Smart cities need to be much better at creating an open platform of dialogue that is accessible to all citizens. They need to be transparent and available to all via open data portals or mobile apps. These allow residents to engage with a wide array of data, as well as completing personal tasks like paying bills, finding efficient transportation and assessing energy consumption in the home.
A city that feels like home
Smart cities also need to account for social infrastructure that provides a cultural fabric, making the city attractive to residents and offering a sense of local identity. It is often the social and cultural aspects of a city that citizens find makes it most attractive to live in – aspects such as green open spaces, a wide choice of retail outlets, and bustling nightlife. This is particularly important for cities that are being created ‘from scratch’ (rather than already existing) and need to find effective ways to attract residents.
Private and public – a vital partnership
All too often, and particularly in the areas of real estate, transport and businesses, private infrastructure is left to grow organically, disconnected from public planning. Compactness – the density of services and amenities available – is crucial in city environments, and can only be achieved with careful, collaborative planning between public and private sectors. This includes the regeneration of disused land.
Forward-thinking cities, in their bid to become smarter, need to foster a culture of planning that directly engages with the private sector. It’s essential that greater efforts are made to connect these two different components of a city, and ensure that they can co-exist and deliver an optimal blend of services (as well as employment) for citizens.
Overall, smart cities should place citizens at the centre of all activity. Disjointed or sporadic smart city services are not fulfilling this goal which is why intelligent planning and the partnership of public and private sectors needs to take place imminently to make everything connect for truly smart cities.
About the Author
Xavier Mongin is Global Director for Government, Defence, and Smart Cities at Alcatel-Lucent Enterprise. We are Alcatel-Lucent Enterprise. Our mission is to make everything connect with digital age networking, communications and cloud solutions. Our solutions are tailored to our customers’ industries providing built-in security and limited environmental impact. We offer flexible business models: in the Cloud, on premises, and hybrid. Over 100 years of innovation has made us a trusted adviser to more than 830,000 customers around the world.
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