By now, intelligent machines and devices have arrived in all sectors of society. Watches, mobile phones, cars, houses – the future is smart. And even the city as a whole has become a focal point of the digital transformation: Smart cities. The city of the future isn’t just digital and intelligent. It’s connected, more efficient, greener, and more climate-neutral than its current counterparts.
But that doesn’t just sound utopic, it also appears to be extremely vague. What does smart city actually mean? How do you make a city smart? How can a smart city be characterized? After all, a city is an immensely heterogenous construct. It is its own urban ecosystem, a sea of steel and concrete, inhabited by thousands of different individuals, and they all have their different demands and needs.
How to Design a Smart City?
One thing has to be said in advance: There’s no smart city without its inhabitants. The digital transformation of the city will encroach on various aspects of their lives. The people living in the city don’t just need to live with these changes, they need to accept them. And they’ll only accept them if they’re included in the development process, where they can bring in their own ideas and demands. This will create trust – a top-down-approach won’t. A fitting example of the inclusion of the city’s inhabitants into the design and development process is the German city Cologne. The metropolis close to the Rhine river ranked first in a PricewaterhouseCoopers study (covered in the FAZ). In Cologne, the residents were able to suggest ideas for projects online directly to the city council. Afterwards, the politicians responsible for fiscal and budgetary policies voted on the given suggestions. The results of this vote and the start of the implementation were also shared online by the city administration.
Smart City Switzerland describes an intelligent city as follows: “A smart city offers its residents a high life quality at a low consumption of resources, thanks to an intelligent connection of infrastructural systems (transportation, energy, communication, etc.) on different hierarchical levels (building, quarter, city)”.
Intelligent cities shall make the city life easier and more efficient. Core elements are for example the conservation of resources and environmental protection within the cities, mobility and infrastructure, energy efficiency, administration, and economic attractiveness.
The goal of the connected metropolis isn’t just the digital transformation. But instead, the integration of ecological and social improvements into the daily life.
Urbanization Fuels the Development of Smart Cities
But not only do the desires for ecological and social advancements fuel the digital transformation of cities. The proceeding worldwide urbanization does as well.
If the infrastructure of many cities would be a boxer, he would be staggering for quite a bit. By now, he would hang in the ropes. Traffic jams, ailing streets, traffic noise and overcrowded public transportation systems are common sights in many places. The delivery traffic on the last mile is yet another liver punch which takes the cities to the breaking point. The proceeding urbanization would be, as matters stand now, the knockout punch.
More and more people are moving from rural areas into the cities. There’s no difference between Asia, Africa or Europe; the urban population grows worldwide. According to the UN’s World Urbanization Prospects, 68% of the world population will live in urban areas until 2050. For comparison: It’s 55% today and it was at 30% in the 1950s. The consumption of resources and exhaustion of emissions in the world are the highest within the cities. The European Union even announced to sue several of its member states because of the high air pollution in their cities, just mere days ago. And the more people are moving into the cities, the more intense this problems are going to be.
Ina Schieferdecker, head of Fraunhofer Fokus, emphasizes in the FAZ: “Cities are the largest consumers of resources, but they also have the greatest potential for optimization.” The potential for optimization which could be used by smart cities. After all, efficiency, conservation of resources and social as well as ecological improvements belong to the fundamental ideas of the intelligent city concept. That’s why the digital transformation of urban areas is one of the most important tools to overcome the obstacle called urbanization. – which affects the resource consumption, infrastructure and ecological situation within the cities.
Copenhagen, the Smart City-Pioneer
But what exactly makes a city smart? It is an explicit question, which has to be answered pretty vaguely. There’s no such thing as a clear-cut definition of what a smart city has to look like. In Asia digital cities are being built out of thin air – European cities, on the other hand, focus more on the optimization of existing processes. That’s why intelligent cities can best be explained with practical examples, one of which is the pioneering Copenhagen.
As a first mover, the Danish capital has been driving its digital transformation forward for quite a bit now. And Copenhagen has ambitious goals: The city wants to be the first climate neutral capital in the world until 2025. And ambitious goals encourage innovations. These innovations are the reason why Copenhagen has been reigning supreme in many smart city rankings for years.
What makes Copenhagen smart? The internet of things belongs to the foundations. The IoT-approach was implemented through various smaller steps. A broad arrangement of small sensors collects data all over the city. They are placed in bins, ducts, streetlamps and collect information about the air pollution, the amount of rubbish and more. Smart traffic lights allow the traffic to run smoother. Intelligent buildings increase the energy efficiency. Copenhagen sponsors various projects to make the region more intelligent.
The sensors are only a small part of it. Another large project is Copenhagen Connecting, which already won the World Smart Cities Award in 2014. A citywide WiFi network is provided via various access points in street lamps. The WiFi network collects various data of the connected machines and devices. This provides the city with comprehensive knowledge with (anonymized) movement data. Examples for the usage of such information are the management of the traffic flow, the reduction overloaded streets, and, as a result, the reduction of carbon dioxide emissions. This example explains how the smart city Copenhagen helps to achieve the ambitious goals of a climate neutral capital until 2025.