Smart cities are vital to our urban future

 Last month, thousands of city leaders, tech companies, academics and researchers from around the world converged in Barcelona, Spain to debate the future of the modern city. 

Already, more than half of the world’s population lives in urban areas, according to the United Nations. By 2050, that’s expected to increase to 66 percent. All told, an additional 2.5 billion people are expected to live in urban areas by then. 

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How do we prepare for this dramatic change? And, how do we do it while maintaining and improving quality of life and economic development? Critical infrastructure like power grids, water systems, lighting infrastructure and transportation are the foundations a city is built on and they’ll require modernization to match demand. These are challenges we’re tackling every day and were a major focus at Smart City Expo World Congress. 

The good news is cities around the world like Copenhagen and Glasgow are already pioneering solutions through advanced information technology and Internet of Things (IoT) networks to make their cities smarter. For them, the population boom also creates tremendous opportunity – urban environments currently account for more than 80 percent of global GDP

Cities are already competing for talent, investment and growth in the global economy. Amid strained resources, the decisions made today will affect a city’s competitiveness for generations to come. By establishing a horizontal, open standards networking platform, cities can begin deploying smart city applications – like intelligent and adaptive street lights – that will give them the highest return on investment now. 

This same network infrastructure can then be leveraged again as the city begins to add new networked services – including smart parking, bike rental kiosks, air quality and environmental sensors, and many more – over time. 

We have seen the diverse benefits smart cities provide to their citizens first hand for over a decade. By collaborating with cities and their utility partners, we can build initiatives that support energy generation and sustainability, efficiency and reliability, public health and safety, and economic viability. 

For instance, Copenhagen, often regarded as the world’s most sustainable city, is aiming to become the first carbon neutral capital by 2025. With the help of a smart city network canopy, they will modernize street lights, implement intelligent traffic signals, and create a safer cycling network for the more than 50% of the city’s population that commutes to work.  

Paris, the “City of Light,” is aiming to reduce public lighting consumption by 30% in the next decade through smart traffic controls and streetlights. 

Other cities are focused on improving public safety and efficiency. Glasgow is upgrading “humble lampposts” to improve citizen safety and encourage sustainable transportation through biking and walking. Miami and other cities across South Florida, home to the world’s largest networked street light program, are using a communications network that helps identify outages and mobilizes maintenance crews to restore failed lights more quickly.

And still others are leveraging smart city technology to drive job growth. The city of Bristol in the UK is connecting streetlights, traffic controls, and other sensors across the region to create a “programmable city,” acting as an innovation lab for startups and businesses as they build intelligent services and apps.  

Similarly, Chicago leaders have advocated using the city’s existing smart energy network canopy to inspire their entrepreneurial and startup communities. Their network already connects more than 4 million energy customers and smart street light programs in two suburbs. 

This is great news for cities, but also for citizens. These smart city pioneers should serve as blueprints for civic leaders around the world. If we learn from each other, cities can blend fundamental infrastructure like energy and transportation with technology to build incredible things, improve efficiency and quality of life today, and plan for the future. A future where there are a lot more of us, living in cities that thrive.

Davito is vice president of Smart Cities for Silver Spring Networks.

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