How Smart Cities are Shaking Up Today’s Urban Landscape

Living, breathing cities aren’t as far away as you might think

01 Sep 2022 - Written by   |    Data Analytics & AI, Enterprise Intelligent Asset Management, Public Sector,
Smart cities

In 2022, cities are a lot of things. For many, they’re places to work, eat, walk, and shop. But there’s always one thing that they aren’t: asleep. If you live in New York, chances are you’re pretty familiar with this idiom,  because in The City That Never Sleeps, it’s possible to do business or indulge in recreational activities at any hour of the day.

But as technology progresses and the face of the urban landscape shifts, it’s no longer just the people that aren’t asleep—the cities themselves are living, breathing, and growing smarter.

These smart cities are at the forefront of the latest urban revolution. Even though you might not know it, there’s a good chance you’re living in one right now.

So what exactly is a smart city?

Simply put, there are two main parts of any smart city: physical infrastructure and a cyber component. Citywide sensors, cameras, phones, and computers all form a network of devices that communicate with each other and serve as a smart city’s physical infrastructure. From there, data is taken online and the cyber component, the heart of the operation, kicks in.

There are three main functions that a smart city accomplishes:

  1. Collect data, analyze, and make decisions independently
  2. Manage assets and resources
  3. Provide services to the public

The first function describes the process of transforming the cityscape from a jumble of buildings into brick and metal observers that can collect and relay useful information to computers. These computers then analyze that data to optimize services to the public in functions two and three. Ultimately, this ability to make independent decisions, take action, and adapt to new trends is what makes a city smart.

Key technologies found in smart cities

The biggest difference that separates cities of the past from cities of the future is technology. The Internet of Things (IoT), artificial intelligence (AI), and blockchain are all forms of technology found in smart cities around the world. Together, they create the basis of a city’s smart infrastructure.

Smart City Technologies

Usually, smart infrastructure comes in three forms, depending on the amount of human assistance required:

  • Semi-intelligent infrastructure: Can perform data collection and analysis, but has no ability to make decisions
  • Intelligent infrastructure: Can’t make decisions on its own, but can make suggestions and help in the decision-making process
  • Smart infrastructure: Takes action completely autonomously

While smart infrastructure may be able to make decisions regarding the assets, resources, and services that it manages, it still has no direct control over the general population. For this reason, enabling individuals to take their own action via intelligent infrastructure can be an effective way to improve quality of life in areas that smart infrastructure cannot directly change on its own. In this way, a smart city makes use of all three levels of smart infrastructure to optimize its operations.

But why do we need smart cities?

Here’s the quick answer: it’s a city working to make itself better. When a city gains the ability to sustain itself and adapt to its residents, carrying out urban operations becomes much more efficient. Most importantly, this can help to improve the quality of life. Ultimately, smart cities are beneficial to everyone, no matter their job or community of residence.

However, like many other revolutionizing technologies that have been introduced over the years, spreading smart cities around the world isn’t always easy.

The main four requirements for a successful smart city are as follows:

  1. Pre-existing tech infrastructure (networks of connected devices and sensors)
  2. Smart apps capable of analyzing data (ex. apps that use AI like Waze)
  3. Widespread adoption of smart systems
  4. Cooperation of both the private and public sectors to help create a better environment for all

In places like Manila or Buenos Aires, achieving the first two prerequisites may be troublesome, as the internet is not affordable or widely available to all its citzens. For a long time, countries like Bhutan would not have been able to meet requirement three, as many people were against internet culture. Even in the cities of highly developed countries, private and public sectors are not always willing to work together, hindering the ability of a city to implement tech infrastructure and smart apps. The key takeaway is that there are sizable hurdles to jump before even considering building a smart city.

Am I living in a smart city?

Probably. If a city has sensors, cameras, or any of the smart technologies mentioned above, it’s likely that there’s some level of intelligence hiding behind the scenes. But to find out just how smart a city is, Singapore’s Institute for Management Development (IMD) created an index that stacks up cities all around the world, measuring the technological genius of each and ranking them accordingly.

Consistently sitting near the top of the list are these five cities:

  1. Singapore
  2. Oslo
  3. New York
  4. London
  5. Copenhagen

Whether it be in the form of Singapore’s remote healthcare system, or New York’s crime prediction software, each of these cities has found unique ways to take smart infrastructure to the next level.

Above all, these cities share common ground in the objectives they seek to accomplish:

  • Connectivity: Widespread, affordable digital infrastructure
  • Culture: Cultivation of a safe online environment and provision of digital services to promote widespread citizen engagement
  • Sustainability: Data collection and analysis to effectively manage resources and develop strategies for a cleaner city

In total, the IMD’s index contains 118 cities, with new ones being added on every year. As the importance of smart cities is becoming more apparent to other regions, there’s no doubt this list is set to grow in the foreseeable future.

The global market for smart cities

In 2021, the global market for smart cities was USD 1 trillion. With an ever-growing world population and an increasing need for urban sustainability, this market is expected to reach USD 7 trillion by 2030.

Out of all regions, Asia has the greatest opportunity for investment in smart cities. UBS predicts that by 2025, the Asian market for smart cities will reach USD 800 billion. On the whole, the investment opportunity for smart cities in Asia sits at USD 17.8 trillion.