Smarter lessons from some of the world's smartest cities

By: Information Daily Staff Writer
Published: Tuesday, October 4, 2011 - 17:30 GMT Jump to Comments

An estimated one million people will move into the world’s cities this week. And next week and so on. We’re adding the equivalent of seven New York Citys to the planet every year. How do we cope?

As hundreds of millions of country-to-city migrants recognise, many cities can and do indeed offer significant economic and social opportunities as well as providing their societies with the potential for “greener living” through effective sharing of resources and infrastructure.

However, most cities were never designed to accommodate this level of urbanisation – especially in relatively densely populated countries like the UK. In order to create a positive future for our cities, we’ll need to find new ways to manage complexity, to increase efficiency, to reduce unnecessary expenditure and to improve overall quality of life. As our planet gets more urban, our cities need to get smarter.

In cities, more than anywhere else, people, businesses, services, culture and infrastructure all come together. In cities, everything and everyone is in some way connected to everything and everyone else. Smarter Cities understand where and how these connections exist, and exploit them to deliver societal, economic and environmental value.

And this is happening today. Around the world, forward-thinking leaders are connecting core city systems, eliminating operational silos, and pinpointing which departments, agencies and communities are crucial to coordinate.

By analysing the vast quantities of data their cities generate, they can remain prosperous and sustainable in the face of unprecedented urban growth, economic and technological change, and increasing social mobility.

For example, Singapore has a traffic system designed to lower congestion and carbon emissions by recognising traffic patterns on a city-wide scale. Civic leaders are developing one of the world’s most sophisticated systems for leveraging road pricing, integrated fare management and deep analytics to help predict - and thus mitigate - traffic congestion up to an hour in advance, with accuracy as high as 85%.

San Francisco has instrumented 1,000 miles of sewer system pipes and treatment facilities - that can warn against pump failure, broken pipes and over-flowing storm drains in real-time, resulting in an 11% improvement in the ratio of preventative to corrective maintenance. The Washington DC Water Authority is extending the life of their own infrastructure through data and insight, with an ROI of 629% - and a projected average annual savings of over six million dollars.

Malta is in the process of implementing an integrated smart grid covering water and electricity supply. The scheme is designed to create a more efficient and sustainable infrastructure, replacing 250,000 utility meters with “smart” versions by 2012, offering near real-time monitoring of water consumption. This will allow water companies to develop their understanding of customer behaviour and adjust services accordingly. The system will also detect water leaks remotely and in real-time, while highlighting the cost of supply, producing a more coherent, integrated and collaborative picture against which to plan for the future.

Consider Rio de Janeiro, which is coordinating information from more than 20 city departments into one response operations centre for real-time visualisation, monitoring and orchestration of incidents across the entire city. The system uses a new high resolution weather-prediction technology to help pinpoint where a tropical storm will strike, while pro-actively addressing such questions as which hills are most likely to suffer mud slides. The fatal consequences of mud slides and challenging meteorological conditions are something that has challenged this city for many years. Predicting and responding to incidents caused by these events requires coordination across many services including police and fire departments, traffic management, healthcare services and hospitals. As Rio prepares for the FIFA World Cup in 2014 and Olympics in 2016, effective planning for, and response to, adverse weather conditions will be more critical than ever.

Earlier this month and much closer to home, the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) announced that it is using analytics software to help officers more quickly identify and respond to crime trends, reduce incidents and improve data sharing across its 29 policing areas. The improved insight has helped PSNI to identify and manage crime spots and assisted them with reducing overall recorded crime rates in Northern Ireland which are now at their lowest level in more than a decade.

Smaller scale, smarter solutions deployed within cities can help with tourism too. Venice has suffered from overcrowding for many years along the pavements that border its many canals. The city implemented a smart tagging pilot project called ‘TagMyLagoon’ that enabled tourists to use their smart phones to read various signs around the city to work out where to go next. The suggestions were based not only on proximity, but on predicting how crowded these locations were likely to be at any point in time. The solution made the visitors' experience more pleasurable, and therefore increased the chances of their return or extending their visit and the consequent increases in spending with local businesses.

The innovations described here exemplify what can be achieved in Smarter Cities. Success depends on having accurate and up-to-date information across urban infrastructure; the right level of intelligence to optimise resources; and the ability to integrate information from all departments to anticipate and respond to events.

As technological advances help make the world 'smaller and flatter', the insights from today’s pioneers can now be adapted to the next several thousand smarter cities across the world - providing good lessons for all of us to learn.

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