What are Smart Cities and How Do They Work

Jasmine Lee
Jasmine Lee  |  June 13, 2017

In the Disney Channel Original Movie “Smart House,” protagonist Ben Cooper must come to terms with the fact that his high-tech home has the ability to go rogue

However, aside from an artificial intelligence software/automated technology trying to wrest control from its maker, “Smart House” is full of amazing indications of what people in 1999 imagined future technology to be like.

What are Smart Cities

Fast forward to 2017, and the world is now privy to smart cities.

Smart cities are cities that utilize technology to make daily life more sustainable, efficient, transparent and intelligent.

Smart cities depend on smart tech, the internet of things (IoT) and the application of geographical information systems (or GIS software) to contextualize massive amounts of collected big data.

Smart Tech

Smart tech, like sensors, informs smart city infrastructure; IoT syncs together disparate systems and devices; and GIS unifies spatial information and relevant data so that users only need to sift through a single system when performing analysis. Accordingly, organizations and businesses of all types and all industries turn to GIS to increase efficiency and workflow.

The singular database is also ideal for the development and maintenance of smart cities since GIS tools inform smart city creators and planners at every stage of planning, from modeling to development to management. This makes sense considering today’s world is one that thrives on shared information.

Aside from smart cities being a kind of pinnacle in the merging of technology and consumer life, they offer long-term opportunities for sustainability and everyday innovation. Smart cities have the potential to resolve issues of rapid population growth and unplanned urbanization. Smart cities, as a rule, are self-sustaining with their resilience built on top of actionable GIS data, which pull information from tech products and services that adapt to their environment. According to GIS Lounge, a smart city functions 24/7 and is completely data-driven, aimed at “sustainability, transparency and efficiency, driven by … a seamless use of disruptive technologies.”

The Appeal of Smart Cities

Users depend on GIS tools to connect the dots when it comes to layers of data inevitably causing inaccuracies or confusion, due to the sheer amount of information. After all, the data that GIS software collects isn’t just map coordinates and building plans. It includes location, form, function and any interactions and relationships between those locations, forms and functions of buildings and structures.

Smart cities take those vast data points and inject them with a human element.

Smart cities, first and foremost, take into consideration the requirements and needs of their citizens. They take the potential of IoT-enabled devices one step further. Instead of just marveling over the potential of your refrigerator being on speaking terms with your toaster, the creators and developers of smart cities ensure those interconnected devices and systems play nicely with each other.

Take a look at smart cities like Songdo, Amsterdam and Masdar City. Their technology and success goes beyond innovating infrastructure and maintaining data. The cities are actually responsive; the businesses that operate and the people that live within those cities can take a look at how the cities are performing, identify ways that can improve their desire to live sustainably and actually incorporate their feedback to better their living and working experiences.

According to Salt, an online editorial focused on topics of sustainability and positive change in the business world, a “fundamental” element of a smart city is its “ubiquitous deployment of technology to citizens and businesses. The challenge is identifying and integrating those technologies…. It is critical that city residents not only feel empowered but actually are empowered by these systems.”

The Fix for Smart Cities

And therein lies the reason for why smart cities have evolved into existence. (They offer a resolution to [rising] weaknesses in regular, non-smart cities.)

Let’s again take a look at Songdo and Masdar City. Esri India wrote a sprawling article outlining the specific GIS applications in the context of smart cities, which you can read at your leisure. But it’s more fun to take a close look at functioning smart cities like Songdo and Masdar City and pinpoint the things they’ve “fixed,” such as key areas crucial for building more sustainable, resilient and responsive cities: smart transportation, public administration, governance and public services including utilities, as well as health systems and education.

Built-from-scratch Songdo is equipped with data sensors that are always on, “continually [collecting] information on the city’s flows of water, energy and traffic for ongoing optimisation,” reported The Guardian. Songdo is a fully working city: people live, work and play there. The city has partnered up with tech companies, service providers and government organizations to plan for potential disasters and manage the citizens’ everyday safety and security. Masdar City runs on renewable energy and aims to emit virtually zero waste — its plan is to become the world’s most sustainable eco-city. The city takes what’s naturally there — prevailing winds and the beating sun — to accelerate technology that will ultimately accommodate rapid urbanization.

Final Thoughts on Smart Cities

“Work smarter, not harder” is a mantra known by any professional in any setting. The same thing applies to cities, especially when cities all over the world are investing in greener initiatives like LED street lights, fossil fuel reduction, plastic bag bans and solar-powered utilities.

City planners are hard at work revamping existing cities into ones that leverage technology to smart-ify their infrastructure, if not creating smart cities from scratch. These cities are the epitome of wrangling technology to work for the greater good. On the heels of malicious and mysterious technology like malware and cryptocurrency, respectively, smart cities are a breath of fresh air. After all, maybe the “Smart House” AI persona, Pat, would’ve been less inclined to wreak havoc and exert rigid control over the household if she had been involved in a back-and-forth discussion about the family’s wants and needs.

Ready to learn more about sustainable programs in 2019? Learn about the impact of green marketing programs, led by environmentally-friendly companies.

Jasmine Lee
Author

Jasmine Lee

Jasmine is a Senior Research Specialist at G2 Crowd. She used to own the e-commerce and team collaboration spaces, but now she avidly researches as much as she can about the rapidly evolving and head-spinningly varied vertical industry spaces. She's passionate and hyperbolic about most things, but especially regarding the things that have anything to do with pop culture, fandom, gifs, and the wining and dining scene of Chicago.