What is a smart city? How to define a smart city

‘Smart city’ has become more than just a buzzword in recent years. In fact, with the increase in Internet of Things (IoT) and connected devices, more cities around the world are becoming smarter than ever before.

However, it’s important to note that a smart city can be defined in different ways depending on the level of development, resources and aspirations of its residents.

This means that a smart city in Europe may have different connotations to a smart city in India.

Despite the location, a smart city is often developed using data and digital technology to improve the quality of life. The adoption of smart applications can provide a range of benefits for residents, from public safety to health and transportation.

In fact, according to a report from McKinsey Global Institute (MGI), smart city applications can improve some key quality-of-life indicators like health and safety, by 10 to 30 percent.

What is a smart city?

Essentially, a smart city is the re-development of an area or city using information and communication technologies (ICT) to enhance the performance and quality of urban services such as energy, connectivity, transportation, utilities and others.

A smart city is developed when ‘smart’ technologies are deployed to change the nature and economics of the surrounding infrastructure.

According to Gemalto, a smart city is best described as a framework and a big part of the ICT is an intelligent network of connected objects and machines that transmit data using wireless technology and the cloud.

In essence, cloud-based IoT applications receive and manage data in real-time to help enterprises and residents make better decisions that improve the quality of life.

These decisions can lead to the improvement of traffic congestion, energy disruption, internet connectivity and other services while cutting costs.

The most popular example of a smart city application is connected cars, otherwise known as autonomous vehicles, which can be built to communicate with parking meters and EV charging docks to direct drivers to the nearest spot available.

Car manufacturers have begun working towards the development of connected cars, with manufacturers like Tesla already ahead of the game in autonomous driving within the US.

Gartner estimates that a total of 250 million connected cars will be on the roads by 2020, this means an expected one in five vehicles will have some form of wireless network connection by 2020.

Why do we need smart cities?

The world’s population is continually growing, and urbanisation is expected to add another 2.5 billion people to cities over the next three decades, according to Gemalto.

Already, the increase in the human population is leading to overcrowding in megacities around the world such as New York, Tokyo and London.

The UK Department of Transport reported that Britain is one of the most congested countries in the world, and in London alone there were 5.4 percent more passengers than the capacity during morning rush-hour periods in 2017.

Due to reasons like this, cities are forced to find ways to remove the pressures residents and commuters face by addressing urban living and mobility with smart policies.

As population numbers rise, several countries see environmental, social and economic sustainability as a necessity to keep up with the growth. In fact, almost 200 countries say smart city technology is paramount to success.

Safety and security are two of the main concerns in any city, and with the addition of digital technologies, the concern becomes greater.

More so, with the increasing risk of cyber crimes and data thefts, so smart cities should be prepared to tackle any potential threats.

As mentioned above, technologies are expected to help citizens make better and data-informed decisions. In fact, the inclusion of smart technologies has the potential to reduce fatalities and improve emergency response times.

Figures from MGI’s smart cities report found that smart technologies could reduce fatalities by eight to 10 percent and lower crime incidents by 30 to 40 percent.

Overall, the adoption of several connected technologies comes with risks. Cities need to integrate solutions that will provide strong authentication and ID management solutions to ensure a safe and secure urban environment.


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