In 2010, I was asked to write an overview of Smart Cities. 10 years on, this piece seems to hold up.
A Smart City is not a marketing campaign, a slick sales technique nor an amusing political catch phrase. It is a series of solutions to a serious and urgent situation the world faces today. Smart Cities are emerging as a civic action due to a “perfect storm” of the convergence of market conditions, technology innovation, social wants and government needs and the migration to urban environments that has accelerated on a global scale that dwarfs any previous mass movement of people in history.
One striking example is found in a report by McKinsey & Co. in 2009 that stated 350 million people in China would move to cities throughout China by 2025. In the three years since that report was published, the numbers of migrating Chinese to cities within China is proving this prediction correct. Existing Chinese cities, already overpopulated and struggling to maintain public services, are bracing for this onslaught of humanity by preparing, planning and implementing large scale urban projects, designed to transform from industrial urban environments to Smart Cities. Not because they want to, because they have to.
A Smart City has many emerging definitions. The flexibility of this definition provides cities the opportunity to define its programs, policies and procedures according to its own local set of priorities and needs. Smart City definition frameworks are being designed and marketed by academics, companies, urban associations and the media. Through this cacophony of frameworks, a foundation has emerged that help define areas of Smart City interest, action and measures. Most frameworks use the word SMART as an acronym to mean Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-based goals. These same frameworks provide the definition of 10 Smart City elements:
• Public Safety
• Green Buildings
• Citizen Services
The interesting thing about Smart City initiatives is the closely integrated way that seemingly disparate elements work together. As cities begin their transformative process into Smart Cities, it helps to consider the manner in which cities will need to address the social, economic, engineering and environmental challenges. And this manner will center on Knowledge.
As we identify the challenges of living in a highly connected, Information Age world, it is comforting to relate to our cities as organisms. If the city is a body, then we have seen its evolution from the agrarian society to the Information Age through the development of systems. Each city has its own cardiovascular system (traffic, mass transit), skeletal system (infrastructure), respiratory and digestive systems (energy, waste) and even a primitive nervous system (telecommunications). In order for a city to provide access to its intelligence behind the knowledge and become a Smart City, the development of the Intelligence System that connects the central nervous system to a brain is required.
Due to the implementation of vast information technology (IT) solutions over the past few decades by cities, the world has created a cornucopia of data. This data comes in all shapes and sizes and enables an enormous amount of tasks to be conducted more effectively and efficiently. The issue is not if the city has the proper data to become a Smart City, the issue is how. The media and marketing people are calling this emancipation of data being freed from their silos, Big Data. This means that an enormous body of data has the ability to enter your city’s body and freely circulate. The job of today’s cities IT department is not to just secure people from getting into a city’s system, but how to control and manage the glut of data that will be trying to get out. A major issue for a city’s IT department is how to manage Big Data, now that it can be set free so easily. The City’s that solve this issue will be on the correct path to being a Smart City. Those that don’t may experience what other organisms experience when there is too much blockage in its nervous system, a breakdown.
The focus on Big Data and your City’s behavior towards its data’s management is a critical element towards being a truly Smart City. A smarter, efficient city that would encompass aspects of intelligent transportation, security, energy management, CO2 emissions, and sustainability is contingent on the implementation of a Big Data strategic plan to enable decision makers and authorities to perform their jobs. In response, some cities have taken an Open Data approach to assist in making its data available to the general public, which has spawned an emerging market for the development and sale of “Apps” to enable this Open Data to come alive and provide value to a user.
There is a proactive approach of identifying and managing your city’s digital DNA. The building blocks to effectively and efficiently use city data will ultimately reside in a city’s ability to repurpose its existing data and documents associated with the Built Environment, which is the authenticated digital DNA of all cities. Built Environment data is already captured by city’s in various formats and processes; Building Departments, Engineering Departments, Land Departments, Planning Departments, Tax Departments, Postal Services, they all collect and manage vast amounts of data that when viewed as a whole, create the virtual representation of your physical city. The accuracy, authentication and integration of this city data is the key to a proactive approach to entering a path to becoming a Smart City. Without proper digital DNA structure and management, the connectivity from your city’s nervous system to the brain will be problematic, inhibiting performance and the evolution of your city to a Smart City.
A path to enabling your city’s digital DNA comes from the use of Building Information Modeling (BIM) and the data captured by Smart Buildings. BIM and Smart Buildings provide the digital DNA that when put into the context of a neighborhood, district and City, provides a city relevant, authenticated data. Architecture, Engineering and Construction (AEC) firms that look beyond the individual building project and begin to position for capturing value (and alternative revenues) at the data transaction level in a Smart City environment will capture greater market share and open up new opportunities for growth than their competition. This revaluation of digital DNA dwarfs any previous notion of the value given to Built Environment data.
Think of your city as a network, with each building acting as a server. Each building has data, like BIM for design & construction and Smart Building data in the form of Facility Management & Building Automation. When this individual building data is connected to the City Network, potentially through an Open Data policy, interesting things begin to happen. The captured AEC data that a city already possesses becomes the digital DNA of Smart Cities.
Cities are a mirror to the values of our civilization. At the core, Smart City solutions, both large and small, have an opportunity to assist in creating an environment for people to prosper in a welcoming, inclusive and open manner. A Smart City’s success will only be measured by how well its inhabitant’s quality of life improves. It is our generation’s greatest challenge and the best legacy we can leave to our children.
© Paul Doherty, AIA 2010