Getting Smarter About Our Cities

Against the backdrop of National Transportation Week, let's explore the driving forces behind smart cities.

More people. More cars. More congestion.

City planners and dwellers are gearing up for the 70 percent of the world’s population projected to live in urban areas by 2050.

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It will require commitment, consistency, community and collaboration.

The solution to unlocking gridlock and making cities more livable is as complex as the infrastructures they seek to improve, according to new UPS research co-sponsored by the Consumer Technology Association.

It will require commitment, consistency, community and collaboration between all public and private stakeholders.

Smart cities – where data and infrastructure combine for ultimate efficiency and better living – impact our business, our customers and almost every aspect of our lives.

In The Evolution of Smart Cities and Connected Communities, we sought to understand the driving forces behind smart cities and where we are in the journey toward a new day in urban living.

We examined stakeholders, the changes they’re driving and what lies ahead for cities around the world.

Here’s what we learned:

Meet the stakeholders

A smart city needs to have a data-based infrastructure system, but to be truly smart, it must also integrate numerous city functions such as energy, buildings, mobility, government services, citizen involvement, healthcare and infrastructure.

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A smart city must also integrate numerous city functions.

Governments worldwide are supporting urbanization to enable economic growth, but they need to change the concept of urban planning and functioning.

So government agencies are teaming up with private companies to develop smart cities, which enable the seamless management of energy, water, transportation, health and education.

Telecommunications providers are primary players – telecom companies are working at a high level to make integration tools more available.

A big step toward the success of smart cities will revolve around the implementation of 5G.

Information and communication technologies (ICT), the proliferation of sensors through the Internet of Things and converging data standards are combining to provide new possibilities for the physical management and socioeconomic development of cities.

Watch: Seoul develops first wireless electric bus that recharges on route.

Digital and mobile technologies are also making connections between service providers and users tighter, faster, more personal and more comprehensive.

Additionally, transportation providers are aiming to ease congestion, arguably the top concern for city dwellers.

Connected cars are poised to revolutionize urban mobility.

Changing attitudes about car ownership, new and disruptive models of mobility and increased focus on the environmental impacts of driving and congestion are driving this transformation.

Energy continues to be a driving force in smart-cities enablement. Electrification in cities offers remarkable possibilities for rapid change.

Electrification of energy systems now reliant on natural gas or petroleum, such as building heating systems and personal transportation, is attractive for environmental reasons.

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The global smart cities market is expected to hit $34 billion by 2020.

Electric heat pumps (for both heating and cooling) and electric heaters with built-in thermal storage, which help manage the intermittency of renewable sources, can produce efficiency gains and competitive pricing.

A snapshot of cities

The global smart cities market is expected to hit $34 billion by 2020, according to industry analysts.

This is a global effort, with Asia leading the way.

Asia appears to be further along with smart city programs: China has 285 smart city pilot projects.

Singapore aims to be the world’s first smart nation, leveraging one of the highest mobile and broadband penetration rates in the world. It is using an open data platform and a dynamic 3D “Virtual Singapore” model that will allow city planners to test concepts, analyze traffic and pedestrian flows and run simulations.

India is planning 100 new smart cities and the overhauling of 500 cities under the country’s rejuvenation and urban transformation program.

Seoul incorporates cutting-edge technology into every aspect of city life. OLEV (Online electric vehicle technology) was successfully developed and deployed there, allowing electric public buses to charge as they move across road surfaces.

Asian countries have realized that public sector funding is inadequate to effectively address the scale of urbanization and are increasingly focused on attracting private sector participation to fast-track infrastructure and smart cities development.

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London is pioneering the use of open data to solve city challenges.

In North America, smart city investments are expected to grow from $3 trillion in 2017 to about $9 trillion by 2023. Technology investments will include sensors, wireless connectivity, instrumentation and control and cloud processing.

For the first time in 60 years, walkable urban places in the 30 largest U.S. metros are gaining market share over their drivable suburban competition and showing higher rental premiums. Fifty U.S. cities have agreed to provide open data.

The U.S. Department of Transportation recently announced a $165 million investment in smart-city solutions and rolled out a smart-city challenge earlier this year, offering $40 million in grants to the winner. The DOT has been working with Flow – a Sidewalk Labs Company – which aims to help cities understand where citizens want to travel and how to transport them to those destinations more efficiently, fairly and safely.

Europe is making progress as well:

London is pioneering the use of open data to solve city challenges. The London DataStore (launched in 2010) is one of the first open-data platforms in the world. Its 500 data sets have resulted in transport apps, interactive maps, population and demographic projections and urban planning projects.

Helsinki pilots smart city projects through its Smart Kalasatama district, a city innovation platform where new solutions can be developed and tested in a living urban environment. Smart work centers equipped with groupware and teleconferencing systems allow 30 percent of government employees to work closer to their homes.

Looking ahead

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Technology partners can extract greater value from smart initiatives if projects are tied to other goals.

Development of smart cities faces many barriers globally, including tight municipal budgets, sluggish technology procurement guidelines at public agencies, privacy and cybersecurity concerns and a pressing need for more IT staff at municipal agencies. Several things need to happen next:

  • Smart city development will require new technologies such as sensors, mobile and big-data analytics across infrastructure sectors, including transportation, energy, water supply, sewage plants and buildings.
  • Technology partners can extract greater value from smart initiatives if projects are tied to other goals. For example, tying a smart transportation system to addressing issues of homelessness, housing access and affordability would produce results spanning many sectors.
  • Cities and partners need to open more data sets to the public at large. Analytics campaigns are more effective when data from smart cities and private companies work in unison. Both parties must work together to create a transparent framework.

Much work remains to realize the vision of a world with smarter cities. As I mentioned earlier, it all starts with the four Cs: commitment, consistency, community and collaboration between all public and private stakeholders. How can your organization contribute?


Photo of Singapore courtesy Chuttersnap, Unsplash.

Dave Roegge is Director of Marketing, High Tech at UPS.

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