Log In

Enter your username and password below

City Planning is About to Get a Tech Injection

Today’s Tech & Innovation Daily article is brought to you by the word “smart.”

It’s become the buzzword for our advancing world. Technology is allowing everyone to do everything smarter.

We all have smartphones… we’re living in smarter homes… there’s the smart grid.

Many of us are eating smart and working smart. Some of us have smart cars and smartwatches.

But there’s one big area that we haven’t yet dragged into this smarter world.

Our cities.

They’re incredibly important for our economy, our growth, our communities and our lifestyle.

But to put it bluntly, they’re pretty “dumb.” And very inefficient. Here’s what I mean…

So in keeping with the trend of how smarter technologies are advancing our world, designers and innovators at MIT and IBM (IBM) are working towards building smarter cities, too.

Some of the concepts they’re developing are truly remarkable. And I got the story firsthand last week while I was at MIT’s EmTech Conference for emerging technologies…

Back to Basics

So what is a “smart city”?

To answer that question, IBM first had to define the very concept of a “city.”

Obviously, no two cities are the same. Each one has its own set of challenges.

So the company worked with 2,000 major cities to establish the core functions of each one.

And IBM discovered that there are common patterns between all cities.

~ Infrastructure: Water, power, buildings, transportation, etc.

~ Safety: If there’s no security and enforcement, and people don’t feel safe, there’s no city.

~ Lifestyle: The reasons why people choose to live in a particular city. This includes the real estate market, job market, recreation, community, etc.

~ Governance: The people in charge who affect all of the above.

After completing its research, IBM concluded that all cities could be much more efficient. And it identified (and ranked) six main areas to address…

  • Smarter Economy
  • Smarter Governance
  • Smarter Mobility
  • Smarter Environment
  • Smarter People
  • Smarter Living

These six areas are the traditional building blocks of urban growth and development.

But a smart city essentially means an efficient city – efficiency based on proactive, forward-thinking governance and genuinely active citizen participation in public policy.

The Rise of the Citizen Class

As I said at the top, we’re living in a smarter world. If you think about the capabilities we have from our smartphones alone, it’s beyond fascinating.

The technologies embedded in our mobile devices – social media, GPS, location services, etc. – have changed human behavior. They’ve changed the way we communicate with the world around us and with the people in our lives.

And given how rich our cities are with data these days, it’s crucial for city planners to analyze this on a much larger scale and base their decisions on the demands of its citizens. Things like where we want to go, when we want to go, and how we choose to get there.

And knowing information ahead of time enables smart solutions for core city services…

The Driving Force Behind Smart Cities

Think about the amount of information we individually spew out at all hours of the day. City planners can take several steps back and evaluate it all on a broader scale. They can assess trends and predict events far in advance of them actually occurring.

For example, let’s say someone posts a status update or tweet, saying, “Ugh… not feeling so hot. I think I might be coming down with the flu.” Now imagine if a couple of thousand people in the area where you live or work were saying the same thing. City planners with access to this information could predict the next flu outbreak and work towards preventing it before it evolves into something worse.

Officials could also use information to better predict traffic jams, power outages, waste management issues – and actively provide solutions before they become a problem.

This kind of data is out there every single day. It’s the hotbed of all major cities.

But there’s a problem: IBM has discovered that much of it is just sitting there, waiting to be processed. (Many city leaders are remarkably incapable when it comes to gathering, storing and analyzing their data.)

It’s led MIT and IBM to start thinking far outside the box. They’re no longer just thinking about how we wire our buildings or how we communicate with our cities.

Their thinking has evolved towards how our buildings, roads, bridges, our car and bike-sharing programs, and our governments can effectively and efficiently communicate with us.

The key concept behind their collaborative work – and the driving force for smarter cities – is “Sensing, Listening and Actuating.”

Tune in on Saturday, when I’ll explain the emerging technologies that will act as the solutions…

Your eyes in the Pipeline,

Marty Biancuzzo

Marty Biancuzzo

, Technology Analyst

View More By Marty Biancuzzo