Smart Cities, dream or reality?

Eng. Maritza VARGAS
MSc. Environmental Economics Applied

Twenty years ago, I watched an American Science-Fiction film. It was about two men from the late nineties, who after being cryogenically frozen for 30 years they re-encounter in "San Angeles"- a perfect planned urban city in 2032. There, citizens live happily protecting the environment, with no crime, no water spills, no material currency, and all types of futuristic inventions; such as an automatic graffiti removal system. I don't exactly remember the plot of the film, not even the ending; but I do remember that city because I thought "I wish one day I could live in a city like that". Taking a quick glance at the news, it doesn't seem to be Science-Fiction anymore, and it's likely for my wish to come true: Smart cities are sprouting from America to Asia, mostly in Europe and also promising projects in the Arab Gulf.

What exactly is a Smart City?

Some people tend to narrow the concept of Smart Cities down to describe a place that makes a great use of Information and Communication Technology (ICT), comparing it to Smart Phones, Smart Cards, Smart Homes or any Smart "thing". Almost any electronic form of improving urban life can be deemed a Smart City initiative. Equally, it is also true that modern telecommunications and IT are making cities work better, but do they really make the city smarter?

According to urban planning terminology, Smart Cities are much more than what most people may fathom, despite this, there are still some discrepancies when defining a Smart City. For example Hans Schaffers, explores four categories of cities to erase common misconceptions:

However, Rick Robinson (Executive Architect, Smarter Cities, IBM Software Group Europe) suggests, "A Smarter City systematically creates

and encourages innovations in city systems that are enabled by technology; that change the relationships between the creation of economic and social value and the consumption of resources; and that contribute in a coordinated way to achieving a vision and clear objectives that are supported by a consensus amongst city stakeholders."

A more academic concept is the one from Caragliu et al, University of Amsterdam 2011, who said: "A city can be defined as 'smart' when investments in human and social capital and traditional (transport) and modern (ICT) communication infrastructure fuel sustainable economic development and a high quality of life, with a wise management of natural resources, through participatory action, engagement and participatory governance".

The European community defines Smart cities as the ones that bring city, industry and citizens together to improve urban life through more sustainable integrated solutions. This includes applied innovation, better planning, a more participatory approach, higher energy efficiency, better transport solutions, intelligent use of Information and Communication Technology (ICT), etc. So, it is a city that performs well in all these six areas, interweaving the economic sector, governance, transport, environment and living with self-decisive, independent and conscious citizens.

The European Smart Cities is an interesting project that took 70 medium size cities in Europe in 2007 and ranked them based on the six characteristics of Smart cities. The aim of the project was to identify the strengths and weaknesses of each of these medium sized cities to be more competitive engaging an endogenous development favorable for all.

The final result of the project Smart Cities ranking of European medium sized cities revelled that Luxemburg was number one among the other 70 cities. One of the Luxemburg's Smart initiatives is the HOTCITY Walker

  1. Mobility: bus lines in real time, the closest bus stations, bicycle rent, free slots of the parking houses, info about constructions, traffic info.
  2. Find-it: Library, Restaurants, hotels, etc.
  3. Visit-it: City walking
  4. Scan-it: Free scanner
  5. Nightlife Events in the city
  6. SMS4TICKET: To buy a bus ticket
  7. Agenda: Cultural agenda in the city
  8. Stream-it: Live video of the council meeting from the City of Luxembourg.

How are Smart Apps enhancing our Cities today?

Well, if you are not feeling well in New York, you could use the iOS App "Help me, I'm Sick" to find and call the closest medical services to you with a map of their location.

Street Bump is an application that helps residents to improve their street conditions. The App runs while driving, it captures bump data against GPS location and sends it to be analysed. An inspector check out the bump and a work order is placed to fixe the bump. This App is in use in several states in North America.

Another good example is the one from San Francisco, SF Way App, that comprises more than 50 Apps with everything you need to live, move, transport, work, lay or visit in the city.

In Seatle, special for families with small children, there is Mom Maps to find fun places, children friendly locations on the go, with all the info about parks, playgrounds, restaurants, museums, and indoor play areas.

We can find thousands of Apps to make our cities friendlier, to get information about real time traffic, parking facilities, bike locators, health care and even to Stop Crime, like the one in Victoria, Australia.

Smart Apps are powerful tools to improve the daily life of the communities in our cities. Technology can definitively aid us to have smart homes, save energy and water, improve waste management, communicate better, and boost the economy. However, there are some sceptics about the resilience of the systems who question the confidence on a few private tech-industry giants, and fear about shortages of energy or failures in the whole smart structure.

Smart Cities don't have to be a dream anymore; they can be our reality. With a more holistic approach taking infrastructure, urban planning, architecture, culture and heritage, and information technology and combining it with governmental institutions, regional and local authorities and the community, we'll be able to address the social, economic and environmental problems to obtain a long-term Smart and Sustainable City

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