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How the Pandemic Will Spur Smart Cities in the Future
The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the way we live. You may dislike hearing talk about the new normal, but it’s true: things will never go back to the way they were. And one way the pandemic has changed the face of our world is through smart cities.
By 2050, more than half the world’s population will live in smart cities; the pandemic is only pushing that shift to occur at a faster pace.
What Is a Smart City?
You’ve heard of smart cars and smart houses, but what about smart cities? The simplest explanation is that a smart city uses information and communication technology (ICT) to create a better place in which to live. It affects everyone from the government down to the citizens and should optimize how the city works. A smart city should also increase economic value.
How does this occur? The concept is simple, but it helps to look at it in real-life terms. According to IMD, there are at least 102 smart cities globally (as of 2019), so we have plenty of examples to review. In 2019, the top cities were:
- Taipei City
These cities have all mastered the art of being smart, using the internet, software, sensors, and data collection to help them do better for their citizens.
Smart cities can collect data from sensors placed just about anywhere. You often find them in vehicles, home appliances, and even on the street. All of this information stays in the cloud, and specific people and organizations may view it. To avoid privacy issues, most smart cities use edge computing. This only uses the most relevant data, so there’s no need to go through pages and pages of worthless information to get what you need. All data requires careful safeguarding as well.
Human engineers or machines that use machine learning analyze the collected data to improve the way things work. This gives more insight into how the city functions and where operations fail or fall short.
With the information analyzed and the main issues identified, the officials in the city will need to make some decisions. They do this and then move on to taking action. This outcome may be as simple as sending repair people to take care of a leaking pipe, or it could require implementing a whole new system to ensure smoother traffic flow.
Putting the Data to Use in a Smart City
Once the city has the data it needs, city personnel store it on cloud computing services and access it via dashboards. The vast majority of these cities use artificial intelligence, or AI, and machine learning to ensure proper handling of the information.
How does it all play out in practical applications? There are so many ways for smart cities to utilize the information collected, but here are a few examples:
With sensors and machine learning, it’s possible for anyone driving in the city to be notified of parking spaces that have just become free. They can then pay digitally.
Reducing the amount of energy used is an essential part of making the world more livable for future generations. Smart cities can do things like auto-dim streetlights when no one is around, adjust power grid supply depending on demand, and manage other areas of power to reduce energy use.
Depending on the traffic flow, AI can adjust the lights to maximize efficiency at any point during the day. This can eliminate many of the traffic issues people currently face.
People often live in areas where disasters such as flooding, hurricanes and so on are likely to occur. Here, smart sensors can create early warnings that are often far more accurate than human-determined ones. This accuracy could end up saving lives.
Maintaining a city requires a lot of work, but what if you could determine when a pipe began leaking (and before it became an emergency)? With the right technology, this is possible.
Citizens can also reach officials or report potential problems before they get out of hand. The smart city design will help officials and residents come together in communication.
These examples are just the tip of the iceberg with what smart cities can achieve. With the ability to collect information and data from just about everywhere now, even supermarkets and gas stations can become more efficient.
Why the Pandemic Has an Impact
In a recent review of 167 cities worldwide, 69% said they are considering major urban planning changes because of the pandemic. Essentially, the pandemic has served as a catalyst to boost technological changes throughout the world. We have seen it on lower levels with Zoom calls becoming the norm, while telehealth is now a way of life. However, in smart cities, things are speeding up at a surprising rate.
Ideally soon, cities will look to become more citizen-centric and sustainable. The pandemic showed people just how vulnerable they are when things shut down around the world. To avoid future drops in food and essential services, most cities will look at alternatives to current norms.
Many cities determined they did not have the real-time data for everything happening globally and even in their town. This means that more cities are now looking to implement data collection to have those numbers at their fingertips, including hospital statistics, the ebb and flow of traffic within the city, morgue numbers, and crime rates. Everything should be up to date to the second, and that’s easy enough to do with the technology available.
Smart cities are here to stay. You can expect to see some major changes soon as more and more cities focus on integrating technology into their operations. Improvements will start slow, but they should pick up rapidly and lead to greater communication and social flow for smart cities in the future.