November 10, 2020
Networked, data-controlled and technological – the smart city of tomorrow is intended to change urban life for the better for all city dwellers. But how can technology make this possible? How does COVID-19 influence the planning of smart cities? And do we really want to entrust our cities to technology? The United Nations proclaimed the 31 October as World Cities Day to draw attention to these and other challenges of urbanisation and urban development around the globe.
Making use of data
Through the internet of things (IoT) and the new mobile phone standard 5G, the management of buildings, public spaces such as streets and squares, but also means of transport, emergency services and hospitals can be networked, communicate with each other and exchange data. Over 30 billion networked devices have been forecast for 2020, and over 75 billion networked IoT devices for 2025.
To make the smart city an entity with interacting elements, data must be collected, provided, and also interpreted sensibly. Therefore sensors, cameras, gadgets are needed - beside those devices like smartphones or cars that generate data anyway.
For example, smart homes react based on data about residents to adjust light and room temperature, smart cars generate data in road traffic and use real-time information from sensors in road surfaces or traffic lights to avoid traffic jams or find the next available parking space. Data on air quality in the city is collected to guide traffic flows. Residents use technical devices such as smartphones and laptops to access publicly available data and interact with the technology.
Also, the world of work is being transformed by smart technologies. Already normalised functions such as several colleagues editing notes on the same document in real-time, shows the efficiency the technology can bring for small daily tasks, but how much do we need to ‘keep up’ with the race for digitisation on the global market?
Facing a crisis
The pandemic has highlighted the need to speed up digital urban planning and increased participation of and communication with citizens.
At the same time, the crisis fosters innovative developments: home office, increased digital communication and digital services to enable social distancing. Especially the health sector has moved into focus. Organisational questions arise: how to bring together job seekers and companies with corona-related staff shortages, especially in the medical sector? How can protective equipment for medical staff be better organised? Responses to this need to be based on networked information in order to link and coordinate a wide range of different areas. Here, live and networked data would provide the basis for far-reaching decisions.
Besides those logistical and organisational challenges, smart cities raise many moral questions and insecurities regarding the monitoring and control of public and private premises or the fear of hackers and total dependencies on the technologies. However, if everything is technically possible, we should in particular have the possibility to focus on people.
While we are focusing more on human needs and making life more inclusive, the smart city is more likely to have the right tools and data at hand to take decisive action when needed. Thus, urban agglomerations have the prerequisites to become more resilient to crises, be they economic, health or other – but only with our participation.
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