The Future City in a Smart World

Cities are becoming a magnet for people aspiring to urban lifestyles. However, this mass migration into cities is putting immense pressure on infrastructure and facilities.

City mayors are constantly trying to balance the challenge of resource constraints against environmental sustainability concerns. In the following Q&A, Bettina Tratz-Ryan, research vice president at Gartner, addresses three key developments that characterize the city of the future which urban management boards and city technology leaders should take notice of. Ms. Tratz-Ryan presented her insight at the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) for the United Nations’ Internet of Things discussion, held on Monday May 18 in Geneva.

Q. How can the city of the future become an economic knowledge center?
A: The ability to identify city demographics allows their leaders to tailor services to citizens — business and residential.

Cities are the natural beneficiary of the new economy comprising baby boomers and an “aging population,” with a higher disposable income than the young (0 to 19 years old). The city of Grenoble in France, for example, has understood the economics of this blended environment. Grenoble is building new neighborhoods with mixed demographics and income levels and small business. This creates a multifaceted community that fuels job creation and knowledge building, and offers a vibrant business opportunity.

The estimate by Gartner that 1.1 billion connected things will be in use by smart cities in 2015 will allow citizens to gain more transparency and awareness about their cities. They will be able to use connected city operations by casting their vote or opinion when using prepaid parking systems, green spaces, or bike sharing. They could also become city managers in their own right by reporting via their smartphones’ GPS the locations of potholes, overflowing bins and sewers or malfunctioning streetlights. Intelligent cities enable citizens and people to be more creative — and creative citizens develop cities — they don’t desert them.

Q. What opportunities does the city of the future bring to its citizens?
A: The use of new technologies, such as the Internet of Things (IoT), 3D printing, augmented reality and artificial intelligence, will allow individuals or businesses to identify if the city moment or the business moment that we are living in, is what we are expecting. The improvement in the quality of lives and businesses will be measured through the analysis and application of digital information.

Open public data collected from connected things can create infrastructure benefits, such as energy or water network efficiency, relief of traffic congestion and improvements to city facilities. It can also identify how people move and live in the cities. Jawbone, for example, has found that among its wristband users, people in Tokyo live with the least average amount of sleep, at around five hours 44 minutes, while Stockholm is the city where people walk the most, with over 8,800 steps each day.

In smarter buildings, sensors detect and identify the employees that come in and the information is fed into building management systems, which adjust, for example, the temperature settings for desk areas and conference rooms. Smart data can also dispense the right drink order at the coffee machine. These efforts could lead to an increase in work productivity, better customer service, less downtime and sick time, and an increase in resource efficiency overall.

Q. How will smart technologies improve air quality and reduce carbon levels in cities?
A: Through the reduction of urban management, cities will become environmental centers of excellence. The trigger to this is the staggering number of sensors (in various form factors) in connected things that can identify wastefulness and resource inefficiencies. They could drive change behavior in real time through analytics and new communications and social media apps.

Gartner estimates that by 2030, smart technologies supported by augmented reality, the IoT, autonomous vehicles and virtual spaces, will reduce the environmental footprint of cities by 50 percent.

Connecting people into communities empowers and encourages a more locally sourced economy. Car sharing, for example, is allowing citizens to play a role in reducing carbon emissions and road traffic, among other benefits. It is also transforming the revenue streams of automobile manufacturers as purchasers move to sharing, rather than buying cars.

Smart information can also lead to social transparency. It creates peer connection and peer pressures, which will lead to environmental efficiency because nobody wants to be out of step. We can reward each other for good behavior, or use community memberships to commercial programs, such as Recyclebank and the city of Philadelphia, to get rewards for recycling residential waste, and gain knowledge of the best practices on how to avoid waste to begin with.

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