It’s no secret that the number of people living in cities across the globe is increasing at a rapid pace. Today, about 54 percent of the world’s population live in urban areas and consume about two-thirds of the world’s energy. And according to the United Nations, this number will increase to about 6.3 billion (66 percent of the world’s population) by 2050.
This rapid urbanization brings many challenges to the plates of city planners and leaders. They must not only meet the escalating demand of current residents, but they must also plan for the demands of future residents and figure out how a city can grow to accommodate them in a sustainable and cost-effective way.
In order to face these challenges head on, many of the world’s major metropolitan cities are getting “smarter” by using technology to help them maximize resources and improve the quality of life for citizens. According to a study by IHS Technology, there will be at least 88 of these “smart” cities across the globe by 2025—up from 21 in 2013—and annual investments in these projects will surpass $12 billion.
The report, Smart Cities: Business Models, Technologies and Existing Projects, defines a smart city as one that has “deployed—or is piloting—the integration of information, communications, and technology (ICT) solutions across three or more functional areas of a city.” These functional areas include things like transportation, energy, and safety.
Although cities in Europe and Asia are ahead in terms of implementing smart cities, there are a number of U.S. cities that are making efforts to offer smarter and more efficient city infrastructures and planning to their urban environments:
New York City: The Big Apple, one of the world’s most densely populated cities, has been in the forefront of adopting smart city technology for a number of years. The city has initiated many smart and sustainable initiatives, like City 24/7, an interactive platform that integrates information from government programs, local businesses, and the city’s citizens to provide knowledge to anyone, anywhere, anytime, and on any device. The city also has plans to build the nation’s largest city-wide WiFi network, and is in the process of slowly turning old phone booths to WiFi hotspots.
But NYC’s most ambitious “smart city” initiative is the Hudson Yards project. The project, a $20 billion, 28-acre commercial and residential area on Manhattan’s west side, is touted as being the largest development in the city since the Rockefeller center. Hudson Yards will digitally track environmental and lifestyle factors—like traffic, energy consumption, and air quality—and will include a trash-disposal system to remove waste via underground pneumatic tubes. It is being designed specifically to bring in millennials, and to provide the highest quality of life for those living, working, and visiting the area.
San Francisco: This city has a reputation for being innovative when it comes to technology, and with Silicon Valley nearby and a large number of Internet-based companies making their homes there, it’s not difficult to see why. San Francisco is a global leader in smart-city projects, with one of its claims to fame being that it provides its residents with a large number of free WiFi hotspots. In fact on Market Street, a main road downtown, there’s actually three whole miles of free WiFi.
But where the city really excels is in green and sustainability initiatives. It is a leader in recycling, mandating that its residents separate their garbage into three categories: recycling, compost, and landfill waste. They also encourage their citizens to participate in energy conservation by providing them with mobile and web access to precise, near real-time energy use data and advice on how they can save. The city also provides more than 100 charging stations in various locations to promote the use of hybrid and electric cars and reduce automobile-related pollution and greenhouse gas emissions.
Boston: A leader in urban innovation, the city of Boston is constantly trying to do what it can to improve life for its citizens through technology. The Boston Department of Innovation and Technology has helped create five city apps with a wide range of uses, from allowing citizens to report neighborhood problems to the government to helping commuters find on-street parking in the Innovation District. These apps empower Boston citizens to extend the civic-sensor network at no additional cost.
The city also employs Time to Destination message signs provided by All Traffic Solutions and Smart Parking Sensors to better manage traffic, and is using smart city technology to help get more Bostonian children walking to school, and to collect data from its Hubway city bike rental system to reduce road congestion.
But the most recent investment in smart technology by the city is its investment in Soofas, solar powered benches that not only charge gadgets, but also monitor air quality and sound levels.
Seattle: Similar to San Francisco, Seattle is very big on the green initiative, and is consistently ranked one of the greenest cities in the U.S. It offers substantial tax breaks to businesses and residents that buy and put into place environmentally friendly tech, and the city also helps residents who qualify configure their homes to become more energy efficient. It does this by offering services like weatherizing homes and other properties against the elements through the installation of insulation.
Seattle City Light is also working with the government to upgrade of the city’s electric meters so that users get more accurate readings of their electricity consumption and have the ability manage their own energy conservation, and so the utility provider can responds to outages faster.
The city also hosts a variety of local organizations, such as Sustainable Seattle, that are focused on creating more sustainable development, and in 2013 Seattle partnered with Microsoft to launch its High-Performance Building program. The program allows for real-time tracking of energy efficiency to help reduce energy costs and carbon emissions.
San Jose: Through a partnership with Intel that started in June 2014, the city will be furthering its “Green Vision” goals by tracking real-time data on things like air quality, noise pollution, and traffic flow. This is Intel’s first smart city implementation in the United States, and the project, dubbed Smart Cities USA, is expected to help the city grow economically, create 25,000 clean-tech jobs, create environmental sustainability, and enhance life for residents.
San Jose city leaders hope that the data they collect, and share, will help citizens make more informed personal decisions. For example, if a resident were to get data stating that the city was having a particularly bad air-quality day, maybe it would encourage them to take public transit, bicycle, or even carpool to get to work or school to reduce emissions.
Image courtesy of Hudson Yards New York
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