Cities need smart thinking

Today’s cities contain more than 50 per cent of the world’s population, account for 75 per cent of global energy consumption and emit 70 per cent of greenhouse gas.

They face challenges driven by changing demographics, scarcity of resources, such as energy and water, pollution, overloaded physical and social infrastructure, traffic congestion, and crime.

At the same time, cities need to compete for talent, jobs and inward investment, reduce their operating costs in a time of austerity, as well as manage existing debt.

Robin Daniels of Living PlanIT says the key to becoming a smart city lies in increasing efficiency and through this enabling citizens and places to interact in a “living city” environment. “Being smart is about deploying intelligence to enhance value,” he says.

Living PlanIT works closely with Cisco and a range of other partners, and with McLaren have combined telematics, developed for motor sport, with Cisco routers to provide high-volume, real-time data management, integrated on to Living PlanIT’s urban operating system.

There are numerous applications in healthcare, education, transport, retail and security. In one Living PlanIT demonstration, the fire service could maximise the pressure of water, unlock building doors, check on people’s location and support the emergency services.

The long-term goal should be a regenerative city which results in more energy and clean water, but less carbon

In an IBM project with Streetline and Citibank, it was discovered that 50 per cent of traffic in Los Angeles at any time was due to motorists searching for parking. This could be massively decreased through the deployment of a smart parking app enabling people to book their parking before leaving home.

Paolo Stark, chief executive of Siemens Brazil, says that, while smart cities provide a step forward, the real issue is about moving beyond immediate economic questions, and looking more closely at the direct and indirect benefits of action.

He says that while “smart city” is an absolute term, being smarter means thinking about how things work. “A smart city is one which looks at the strategic benefits of investment from attracting inhabitants and industry through cleaner water, effective transportation and effective healthcare – one where a process of sustainable transformation is taking place,” says Mr Stark.

According to Guy Battle, head of Deloitte’s sustainability practice, cities are where we’re going to solve the challenges of population and innovation. In dense urban environments, the opportunity arises for “integrated and closed-loop systems”. One example of closing that loop means putting waste water into an effluent plant, where the gas generated is used in a co-generation plant to produce electricity and hot water for the city.

He believes that, while the smart city is a necessary step in urban evolution, the long-term goal should be a regenerative city. This means one which results in a net-positive benefit of more energy, more clean water, less carbon.

An approach could be to ensure that every building must produce more energy than it needs or that it processes waste water and feeds clean water back into the city system. Currently every business and every building levies a social cost on its environment.

So a smart city is one which is transparent, shares information to improve efficiency, and one which protects and benefits its citizens. It’s worth pointing out, says Mr Stark, that the majority of solutions for climate change will also improve quality of life; even increasing home power consumption efficiencies will cut power bills.

There is a correlation between addressing climate change, and benefit to the city and its citizens.