Smart Cities: How They’ll Make Us Healthier

The economic and social benefits of smart cities are clear, and as cities become smarter, society stands to benefit tremendously

However, smart cities have another potential benefit: they can make residents healthier. Here are some of the ways the technologies powering smart cities can improve our health in the years to come.

Disease Tracking

Although those who live in modern cities face far fewer outbreaks of disease than in the past, outbreaks of various diseases still happen on a regular basis. When it comes to stopping the spread of disease, nothing is more important than data about who is infected and where infections are spreading. Smart cities can provide better centralization of data and other resources, and offer experts the information they need to make informed decisions and mitigate harm. Artificial intelligence, a cornerstone of smart cities, can provide excellent information about how a disease is likely to spread, enabling experts to take a proactive approach and provide preventative services. AI and machine learning even have the potential to notice outbreaks before humans would be able to detect them, which has the potential to stop outbreaks before they truly take hold on a population.

Better Energy Usage

As more and more people move to cities, the amount of energy people use per capita is expected to fall in wealthier nations due to efficiency improvements in power generation and distribution. Improved energy efficiency reduces pollution from power plants, leading to better air quality. This can lead to a dramatic increase a city’s energy efficiency by creating real-time data about where energy is being used a part of the energy infrastructure itself. Smart technology also makes it easier to install solar panels and other green energy technology in a targeted manner, reducing the amount of energy generated from fossil fuels and creating more sustainable power infrastructure. Information about energy usage can also help smart cities find the right places to install lights. In addition to cutting back on energy use, smart lighting can also reduce the amount of light pollution in cities, which has been shown to improve quality of sleep and lead to better health outcomes.

©Hans Engbers

Public Health Education

Smart technology is transforming advertising, enabling companies to provide more effective ads to individuals. However, this technology can also be used to improve public health education. Experts can rely on smart data to find out which parts of a city are more affected by specific health issues and provide more targeted public health information. If cases of influenza, for example, are more common in a particular neighborhood, public information about vaccinations can help reduce the disease’s spread. If obesity rates are higher in a particular location, experts can share information about exercise. Studies have consistently shown that public awareness of diseases and other potential health issues improves overall public health, and smart cities provide the data and infrastructure needed to maximize public health outreach efforts.

Pedestrian-Friendly Infrastructure

Ever since the introduction of affordable automobiles, cities have, by and large, focused primarily on drivers and passengers. In recent decades, however, this trend has started to reverse, and smart technology can go a long way toward allowing pedestrians to reclaim space by shutting down streets and converting them into parks and spaces for people travel by foot safely. Park space gives people a space to spend some time outdoors, which can lead to improved health. Furthermore, they offer a venue for exercise, which can help cut back on obesity and its associated health problems. Finding out where to shut down streets and provide pedestrian-friendly infrastructure is challenging, but the data provided by sensors in smart cities can be invaluable for reducing automobile-focused infrastructure and reclaiming space for healthy activities.


Improved Public Transportation

When given the choice, many people enjoy walking to work or while running errands. However, public transportation infrastructure in many cities, especially in the United States, is often not up to the task. By relying on data from smart cities, public transportation providers can offer better routes and more convenient services to residents of a city, encouraging them to avoid traveling by car. Although the walk to a bus stop or train station might not be particularly long, even a few minutes of walking per day can have a significant health impact and reduce the likelihood of heart disease and other health issues exacerbated by a sedentary lifestyle. Public transportation can also lead to cleaner air, improving the health of everyone regardless of whether they use public transportation or not. Furthermore, public transportation is safer for travelers, and encouraging people to avoid traveling by car frees up streets and leads to better safety for drivers and pedestrians alike.

Fighting Pollution

Pollution is inevitable in large cities. However, smart cities will be better equipped to detect pollution and enable experts to reduce it. Already, cities are installing air quality sensors to find out where air quality can be improved, enabling cities to detect sources of pollution that might have gone undetected in the past. Sensors have already revealed that pollution hot spots can occur in unexpected places, and steps taken to reduce air pollution will improve the health of all residents. Smart cities are also better able to tackle water pollution. Sensors can detect where water is being polluted, letting planners uncover where pollution is entering nearby bodies of water. Furthermore, sensors can be installed to detect lead and other pollutants in drinking water on a more fine-grained basis, enabling health officials to act more promptly and prevent infections and poisoning.

Pushing Alerts

Television and radio are often used by cities to provide health information to residents. However, people are increasingly turning to the internet for information, and they might miss out on local health alerts. Properly equipped smart cities can send information to a device that’s become ubiquitous: The smartphone. Sending out a notice to boil water if it’s infected can help slow the spread of water-born illnesses, and information about disease outbreaks in a particular location can encourage residents to be more vigilant about washing their hands. Again, artificial intelligence can play a major role in improving these systems. Sending out an alert warning the influenza is expected to affect one part of a city more than others, for example, can encourage residents to receive their flu shots before the outbreak hits and avoid contracting and spreading the disease.


In-Person Health Services

Prevention goes a long way toward improving health, but many people skip out on visits with doctors and other health experts due to the inconvenience of traveling to a clinic. Armed with smart data, planners in smart cities can find out where residents are less likely to seek out medical care and offer more localized services. In some cases, opening a temporary clinic for a day or two can help health experts reach out to populations that are otherwise underserved and help residents get on the path to a healthier future. Smart cities will provide services that don’t need human interaction, but they can also help connect service providers with those in need.

Around the world, the smart city revolution is well underway. Projections show more and more individuals are moving to cities, and they’re expecting their governments and other organizations to invest in smart technology and use it to provide better services for residents. Urban living can pose certain health risks, but their centralized nature also means they’re valuable resources for improving the health of residents. Thanks to the smart city revolution, cities will be better able to serve their inhabitants and create better health outcomes.