29th Oct 2018

What are Smart Cities?


The Internet of Things Agenda defines a smart city as “a municipality that uses information and communication technologies to increase operational efficiency, share information with the public and improve both the quality of government services and citizen welfare.” Typically, this involves the use of IoT (Internet of Things) sensors and technology to gather data and connect components across an urban area.

It might sound a tad confusing, but essentially, a smart city uses digital technology to enhance all aspects of life, including environmental, social, and financial aspects. One source puts it well, stating that a smart city is “the catch-all moniker for a global movement to run local government more efficiently and equitably by harnessing the power of new technology.”

But what exactly does that look like? And why is it needed?

What is the Point of a Smart City?

The world is becoming increasingly urbanised. By the year 2050, it is expected that roughly two-thirds of the global population will reside in cities.

Alongside this growth in metropolitan areas, there are environmental impacts we are already having as a population. With the pressure of additional inhabitants in a given area, these impacts are likely to worsen exponentially.

Because of this, it is imperative to ensure that cities can remain sustainable and healthy places to live and that they are capable of managing an expanding population. Smart cities, and what they offer, can do both, helping to provide a good quality of life to the citizens of these modern urban centres.

Elements of Smart Cities

Smart cities are more than just places with free Wi-Fi. Here’s what else you’re likely to find in a smart city:

Smart Transportation

One of the primary focuses of smart cities is on upgraded, innovative transport and energy infrastructure systems. Many cities across the globe have been experimenting with smarter transportation methods. The right approach can help cities in a huge variety of ways, promoting better efficiency, energy savings, and safer, more affordable transport for all. In one city, hundreds of Wi-Fi access points and fiber optic cable were installed, as well as connected sensors and cameras to monitor the traffic of both vehicles and pedestrians. In Toronto, Canada, they’re toying with the idea ofdriverless cars in their smart city.

Smart Waste Management

Have you ever walked past a rubbish bin in a city with its contents overflowing? Cities are big and busy, and maintaining them is a massive job. Smart cities could ease the burden of management and create cleaner environments. Smart waste management utilises sensors attached to waste receptacles. The sensors monitor the level of rubbish and can send an automated alert to the responsible parties when the bin is ready to be emptied.

Informed Citizens

Smart cities are all about efficiency. The goal is to equip residents with the tools necessary to access this efficiency and have the proper knowledge. For instance, many smart cities have a citywide mobile app that residents can download to their smartphones. Such an app can provide vital information such as traffic updates, road closures, or open parking spaces. Having these updates at your fingertips is not only time-saving, but it is energy-saving as well, as residents can get where they’re going more quickly, without being waylaid by road construction or traffic incidents.

Smart cities equip their citizens with easy-to-access knowledge

Crowd Control

More people moving into cities means...more people! Some smart cities will respond to this by implementing methods of crowd monitoring. Using video recording devices that employ object detection technology, the number of people in a certain area can be studied. If there is a sudden increase in the number of people in one location, an alarm or notification can be triggered.

This could be important for safety. An expansion in the concentration of people in a given area could alert more police officers to patrol the area. It could also provide updates for traffic or transport changes, such as adding additional bus service to a busy area.

At the same time, the video systems could also make use of facial recognition technology. This would enable a digital watch for persons of interest, checking faces scanned against designated watch lists.

Smart Cities in Australia?

So what about smart cities in Australia? Last year, the government announced that 52 smart cities projects would be receiving funding. This was the first round, and part of the Smart Cities and Suburbs Program which intends to invest at least $50 million AUD. As of last November, $28.5 million had been earmarked for various projects, each of which was also co-funded by local governments, universities, and industry organisations. Of special note, 40% of those projects are said to be planned for Regional Australia.

Australia is not lagging behind when it comes to smart cities. In fact we're doing quite a great deal. Plenty of cities are forging ahead towards smart practises, and some cities are really nailing it. The cities of Brisbane, Adelaide, Ipswich, Sunshine Coast and Canterbury-Bankstown have all been shortlisted for an award at the first ever Australian Smart Cities Awards. The inaugural event is designed to celebrate and promote smart cities, and to provide Australians with a firsthand look at thriving smart cities---and what they’re doing right.

In Brisbane, some of the standout elements of smart city-dom include free public Wi-Fi and intelligent transport systems. Most impressive are the efforts towards digital literacy that the Council has put together. They’ve invested $5 million to establish a startup and innovation hub that will help train up the next generations of smart city leaders. In fact, they’ve already trained 3,500 school children in coding, so they are well on the way to creating a hotspot of digital talent.

The City of Ipswich has been focusing on their smart infrastructure systems, using Internet of Things technology. So far, they’ve erected an IoT network that stretches 100 square kilometers, and can work with data-gathering sensors, video analytics, remote asset management, and more. At the same time, Ipswich is thinking even bigger, partnering with Queensland’s Department of Transport and Main Roads to establish the largest cooperative intelligent transport program in the whole of Australia.

The options are nearly endless for smart tools in a city.

The Sunshine Coast Council has channelled their energy towards environmental causes. They’re using smart bins and water meters to manage their vital resources, as well as implementing systems to monitor wildlife.

Some smart cities are focusing on educating their citizens. The City of Canterbury Bankstown developed the Our Energy Future Program, which is a free program that helps citizens to lower their power bills and learn how to conserve energy. Geared towards investors and renters, the service helps to make renewable energy more accessible and approachable.

And other cities are joining in, even by taking smaller steps.

In Sydney, smart benches were trialled last year in a public park space. These smart benches offered Internet connection plus charging for users’ devices. Best of all, the benches operated on green solar energy. This initiative was a brief glimpse into the benefits of smart cities, and according to Campbelltown Mayor George Brticevic, the benches served a dual purpose. He said, “this sort of technology could provide the best of both worlds by getting people outside and keeping them connected at the same time.”

Ultimately, that encapsulates the goal for the smart city: a tool, resource or service that improves the lives of a city’s residents, while minimising energy usage and maximising efficiency.

It’s fascinating to see what innovative ideas might emerge next.

Offering free public Wi-Fi is a brilliant first step for many cities across Australia and around the world, but the possibilities are almost endless.

What do you think about living in a smart city?

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