In the Chinese city of Hangzhou, an AI-based smart technology called “City Brain” has helped reduce traffic jams by 15%. During the pandemic, New York City analyzed data related to spending pattern changes in specific neighborhoods to better allocate aid disbursement and investment priorities. And San Diego was lauded for approaching city-building with a “citizen-centric focus”, thanks in part to its use of mobile apps, and expansion of open data, along with its Get It Done citizen reporting tool.
Smart cities are sprouting up around the globe at an increasing rate, and they are quickly becoming model frameworks for future-ready urban centers seeking to level up how they collect and parse citizen data. What they all have in common is how they invest resources and time into developing city-centric solutions to address the wide swath of city challenges: waste and water management, public safety, transportation, air quality monitoring, traffic and parking, public works, municipal Wi-Fi, and more.
What the future of cities relies on, especially as they all recover from a devastating pandemic, is the innovation brimming across hundreds of projects built to answer a critical question: how can we leverage the data from smart city technologies to digitally empower cities to adapt and thrive?
When cities smarten up, everyone wins
For cities considering the pros and cons of adopting new technologies, it’s hard to argue with the data: By 2025, cities that deploy smart-mobility applications have the potential to cut commuting times by 20% on average, with some people enjoying even larger reductions, a McKinsey report found.
Take the sprinkler your neighbors automatically ran this weekend after it rained. If cities deployed sensors and analytics to water consumption patterns, which pairs advanced metering with digital feedback messages, it can urge people toward conservation and reduce consumption by 25% in cities where residential water usage is high. While currently, much of this IoT technology and data is owned by the private sector, it’s critical to bridge this gap in order to help the public better understand their behaviors and impact through data. Additionally, access to this data will enable cities to make better decisions about public resources and amenities.
The more data a city can collect about its citizens’ habits, the more sense they can make of which resources can be allocated where. And it can save lives, too. In Nevada cities, Waycare’s predictive AI delivers an 18% reduction in primary crashes and a 43% reduction in the percentage of speeding drivers along key corridors.
Some cities haven’t caught up to the shining examples of layering data collection and real-time analysis in urban centers. More often than not, they are encumbered by bureaucratic and outdated approaches to data collection.
There’s a disconnect between the municipalities and corporations that may have IoT data and the stakeholders, including those same cities and private developers who could benefit from it, too. Same-old strategies on data gathering, such as physical surveys and endless meetings to pick at each process, should be phased out, and allow for an intermediary to help finesse the conversation between those three pillars of city development.
Also, cities have to address the unease some people may feel about surveillance technology, for example. In China, where that tech has long been the norm, they’re even anxious about how their data will be used by their government: According to a recent survey by tech firm Tencent and Chinese state broadcaster CCTV, nearly 80% of respondents said they worried about the impact of artificial intelligence on their privacy.
Pandemic’s curveball could end up being a home run
If there’s any hand wringing over the state of cities due to the havoc wrought by the pandemic, urban theorist Richard Florida offers some comforting words: “Cities have been the epicenters of infectious disease since the time of Gilgamesh, and they have always bounced back—often stronger than before.”
Some insiders believe that as much as the pandemic crippled supply chains and shut down business sectors across communities, it brought a few silver linings. Data collection strategies accelerated immensely, whether from health care departments or government agencies. The continuing trend of leveraging Internet of Things devices, which connect to each other quickly and remotely, also gave rise to intriguing pairings.
At the state and infrastructure levels, AI and machine learning will likely be matched with IoT for even closer social monitoring as pandemic warning and control systems are established, notes a report from research firm MSCI.
As broadband use skyrocketed during a year of work-from-home policies, rollouts of 5G networks continued at a brisk space, and even picked up in areas that needed high-quality connectivity as soon as possible. Building that underlying network is fundamental to enable seamless adoption of technologies at the heart of smart cities of the future.
Going forward, city planners and developers will work with datasets from businesses who layer various granular data on heat maps via an analytics platform. Understanding the correlation between income levels and access to certain retail, like grocery stores, or access to transit and parks where a neighborhood’s density is rapidly increasing, may be opportunities for cities to identify community needs and work with developers on new projects.
“Six key groups of people should be at the table to discuss where smart cities go from here,” says Chelsea Collier, founder of Digi.City, a consultant specializing in smart city technology.
Those groups should be:
-Government bodies, from local to federal
-Educational institutions, from kindergarten to post-secondary
-Startup entrepreneurs to bring subject matter expertise to the discussion
-Artists and creative who can fuel projects with outside-the-box solutions
-Social sectors such as nonprofits and advocacy groups
-and communities and their citizens
“When everyone listens to each other’s perspective, it’s more useful than just working towards someone’s agenda,” adds Collier.
The smarter the city, the more it’s open to how various sectors, private and public, can drive innovation and growth forward. The future of cities will be written by those players who look beyond their own personal missions and instead cast a wide net to strengthen neighborhoods adapting to a strange post-pandemic era fraught with challenges.
Sara Maffey is the head of industry relations at Local Logic, a location intelligence platform that digitizes the build world for consumers, investors, developers and governments. Local Logic delivers an unrivaled clarity and actionable insights capable of creating more sustainable and equitable cities.
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