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A Focus On Smart Cities: What Is a Smart City?

October 11, 2017
Government, Smart City
By: Vivian Nguyen

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While there is no universally accepted definition of a smart city, it can generally be characterized as a city that combines data and technology to improve how its assets function. And watches how it and its residents benefit.

Data gathered in smart cities delivers powerful information on a wide range of information that, when analyzed and acted on, can improve things like traffic, public safety, public health, and so much more. Everything from schools and hospitals, to transportation, power plants, sewage, and all other services and assets operate more efficiently in smart cities. This is because they are monitored and analyzed in real time, leading to faster and more specific responses. Additionally, communication between residents and government is streamlined, making city officials better able to address resident grievances quickly.

Recent research by the BBC found that in just a few years, smart cities have grown from around two dozen to more than 100 around the world, with 600 more cities ready to “go smart” within the next few years. In North America alone, investment in smart cities is expected to reach $244.5 billion by 2021.

smart city, technology, smart cities

Smart City Technology

Smart cities typically combine various types of technologies and platforms, including cloud-based services, the internet of things (IoT), artificial intelligence (AI), mobile technology, networks of sensors embedded throughout the city, the semantic web, and various collaborative platforms. Many different combinations of these technologies could lead to what qualifies as a smart city infrastructure, but the basic foundation of a smart city is technology that allows data and communication to be gathered and used to improve efficiency.

Advanced connectivity and analytic capabilities allow departments across smart city agencies to simultaneously communicate and collaborate with each other and city residents in any number of ways. It can be as simple as helping people find parking spaces more easily, to something as complex as quickly identifying where new hazard zones are emerging. This information helps government agencies better address their constituents’ needs, particularly when it comes to physical infrastructure, safety, and resource management.

Technology for Better Communication

Effective communication between government agencies and residents has always been a challenge in cities large and small. Cities that are “going smart” aim to solve those communication breakdowns by finding new and innovative ways to listen to and communicate with residents to better understand and address their needs.

Digital mapping is an innovative way governing agencies can leverage technology to help smart cities operate more effectively. A map-based platform allows local government agencies to integrate, consolidate and analyze data quickly to easily monitor assets and streamline workflows for greater efficiency. Paired with other technology, this platform allows residents and government officials to engage with one another using a collaborative interactive mapping solution that’s accessible on desktop or mobile.

The addition of map-based software allows residents to easily collect and input data. Now, government agencies can more effectively respond to those inputs. This example of ‘civil analytics’ makes information actionable so that cities are able to mobilize and act quickly.

Helping Cities Prevent Problems Before They Happen

Smart cities are finding innovative ways to use data to improve safety and identify potential problems before they occur. Knowledge of hazard zones is particularly important when considering future urban developments. Spatial technology can instantly provide accurate hazard data, helping government officials monitor and identify risks quickly and effectively. Read our checklist to learn what cities should look for in a GIS technology platform.

Officials can monitor the likelihood of fire, for example, by reviewing data layered onto a map of the city. They can search for information like recent construction or buildings that haven’t been updated since new fire codes were issued. This sort of data helps city officials make informed decisions using predictive analytics to more easily identify areas of potential risk.

What’s Next for Smart Cities?

It’s expected that 70% of the world’s population will live in cities by 2050, making safety and sustainability the major driving forces behind the increased development of smart cities. As populations increase, government agencies need to monitor their assets to ensure they are operating at optimal levels, and they will need to leverage technology in innovative ways to maintain safety.

For example, some smart cities today are experimenting with combining video surveillance, gunshot detection software and body cameras on police officers, and using that data to optimize response times of first responders. This technology allows first responders to reach residents in need faster. They can arrive on the scene already prepared with the information they need to immediately take action.

As for sustainability, resource management will become a bigger issue as cities grow. Energy and water resources must be managed effectively, along with waste and sewage treatment facilities. Transportation and housing will need to be as efficient as possible, able to meet the needs of a growing population.

Big changes are underway for cities around the world, and ultimately no city will be untouched by the technological transformation that’s happening right now. Even small changes can help cities “get smart,” effectively saving time and money while making residents safer and happier.


Ready to get started? Learn the seven steps to becoming a smart city.

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