If you think cities are crowded now, just wait. Within just 15 years, more than 5 billion people will live in urban environments. Urban growth boundaries are increasingly limiting sprawl, forcing even more growth to go vertical, increasing urban density.
By 2020, the Philippines and Thailand could each have middle classes as large as in the United Kingdom, France or Italy. Today, some 3 billion people comprise the global middle class, accounting for two thirds of the world’s consumer spending. The middle class demands public services, and live lifestyles – urban lifestyle – that consume more water, energy and other resources than those who live in poverty.
To manage this broad population growth, increased population density and growing middle class, we will need to evolve and optimize our cities, becoming more efficient at service delivery and better managing our resources. We need, of course, to make our cities smarter.
We now routinely hear announcements from the next city “going green” through smart city and Internet of Things (IoT) technology. The number of municipal Chief Innovation Officers across the United States is growing. Consumer IoT tech enjoys a lot of press and high visibility, but there are Industrial IoT smart city plays – think water treatment plants, electrical grid and water supply management – that are just as, if not more so, important, but aren’t as sexy.
What makes a smart city? Is it city services apps for consumers, like SeeClickFix? Parking garages that count empty spaces? Automated management of the electric grid? Integrated operations of city departments? Any or all of the above?
Internet of Things Technology as a Key Enabler
One thing is certain. Technology is going to be the enabler of this massive transition. Singapore’s electronic road pricing program – the descendent of a traffic congestion management program first introduced in 1975 – has significantly reduced traffic volumes, collisions, and automobile sourced pollution emissions. In California, the state department of transportation launched in 2016 a technology heavy SMART corridor project for the oversubscribed eight-mile stretch of Interstate 80 leading into San Francisco, anticipating a reduction in collisions and commuter travel time.
Tech giants such as Google, IBM, Cisco and Intel have all launched smart city initiatives or platforms, designed to aggregate, process and make sense of the data that municipal devices and physical plant generate. Grand View Research has predicted a global smart cities market of $1.4 trillion by 2020. McKinsey estimates that just 600 cities account for 60 percent of global GDP.
The smart city industry is projected to be a $400 billion market by 2020, with 600 cities worldwide. These cities are expected to generate 60 percent of the world’s GDP by 2025, according to McKinsey research.
Critics have suggested that the proliferation of electronic Internet of Things devices will increase energy demands, further stressing the environment. But the overwhelming evidence is that smart cities will more than pay for themselves environmentally through better management of resources such as energy and water and reduced pollutants emissions.
Singapore has realized significant reductions in CO2 and particulate matter emissions through congestion management. (Reduced traffic congestion translates directly to lower emissions.)
Gartner, Inc. research vice president Bettina Tratz-Ryan has gone on record estimating that, particularly for large sites such as airports, seaports and shopping malls, IoT technology can reduce the cost of energy, spatial management and building maintenance by up to 30 percent. (Lower energy costs the product of lower energy consumption.) Further, Gartner has predicted that smart city and IoT technologies will halve urban environmental footprints by 2030.
Smart City Activation is Multidimensional
Smart city deployment is multidimensional. In any major urban center, there are several use cases, and they can vary depending on the size of the city and local jurisdictional control. For example, roughly 8 percent of U.S. electricity providers are municipally owned. (Nonetheless, “smart city” benefits accrue to regional service providers as well.) Here’s a rundown on some of the more interesting and exciting applications of smart city technology and thinking that are being deployed now, or close on the horizon. Some will provide substantial benefits on their own, the impact of others will be incremental. Nonetheless, all have merit.
Smart Cities and the Consumer
• Municipal rebate programs for energy and water saving devices in the home, such as IoT thermostats
• Smart water and energy meters for billing (reduce truck rolls and accompanying emissions to read meters) and surfacing consumption data to residents
• Parking apps to route drivers directly to the nearest available parking, or even deter them from driving in low-capacity situations, thereby minimizing emissions
• All-electronic parking payment systems reduce energy consumption associated with collecting and sorting coins
• Smart streetlights that dim in the absence of people and brighten in their presence
• Smartphone apps that enable residents to report calls for repairs in-the-moment, including for issues such as water leaks from public sources
The Industrial Smart City
• Electronic traffic congestion management as in Singapore or like the Bay area SMART corridor
• Public transit operations management, as seen with the Seoul Metropolitan Subway, which manages rolling stock, tracks and public safety through an IoT deployment. When trains and buses run on time, providing safe, reliable, transit, public transit is a more viable alternative
• Improved operations management for water treatment plants for efficiencies, and transparency to residents with regards to their water supply and constraints
• Infrastructure and operational monitoring for the electrical grid, including computing resources, to protect against cyber attacks, for safety and security
• Adaptive timing for traffic lights to minimize congestion and optimize flow situationally, e.g. morning v. evening commutes, holidays v. normal workdays
• Highly localized air quality monitoring and data collection, allowing correlation to traffic congestion and public health trends
Initiatives such as these enjoy government support and backing from the federal to municipal level. For example, in 2006, the U.S. Department of Energy announced the multi-year, $220 million Grid Modernization Initiative intended to improve the resiliency, reliability and security of the United States electric system.
The energy secretary made the announcement at the end of a tour of Florida Power & Light (FPL) facilities. The utility has been steadily investing some $2 billion over the past 10 years in smart technology for its grid, hardening it in defense of severe weather, such as hurricanes. Data from the grid flows to the 188-foot wide big board video wall in FPL’s system control center, including from water monitors, to protect against flooding, in over 600 substations.
And, just recently, AT&T announced the launch of its first Smart Cities Operations Center in Miami-Dade County, providing local leadership with a single big board display surfacing key metrics of community conditions in near-real time.
In Miami-Dade County, officials are using smart city technology for remote monitoring and more efficient public safety operations, traffic congestion mitigation and for surfacing reliable data to inform urban transportation planning decisions.
The national Ministry of Urban Development in India is sponsoring the 100-city Smart Cities Mission, aimed at promoting “cities that provide core infrastructure and give a decent quality of life to its citizens, a clean and sustainable environment and application of “smart” solutions.”
The city of Jaipur, in Rajasthan province, is the most recent to deploy, consolidating parking systems, streetlight management and public safety surveillance to a single big board presentation. The operations center integrates data from different municipal departments and better facilitates cross-departmental collaboration.
Leslie Katz, a San Francisco-based attorney with Greenberg Traurig, practicing in public policy, and a former Member of the Board of Supervisors for the City and County of San Francisco noted that, “increasingly, municipal leaders are turning to advanced technology to enable sustainable urban growth and promote greater transparency on operations for residents.”
The United Nations has estimated that world population will reach 9.7 billion by 2050, and 11.2 billion in 2100. India’s population is expected to exceed that of China, currently the largest country, around 2022; Nigeria’s population could exceed that of the United States by 2050. There is no question that this growth will demand more efficient management of resources, and improved operations of urban services. (The population density of Nigeria is currently around 191 people per square kilometer, compared to 32 for the United States, a roughly six-times multiple.)
Smart city and Internet of Things technologies are much-needed facilitators enabling government officials and operational staff to respond to the societal changes commensurate with this growth. A growing middle class will further compound the challenges. However, the reference models for exploiting the technology are real, global and compelling. Government leaders no longer have excuses for the smart city imperative.