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What Exactly Is a Smart City?

By Laura Agadoni · Jul 4, 2016 · Data

What Exactly Is a Smart City?

Image courtesy of Flickr, Mike Mozart

Smart cities typically contain a host of sensors that control mechanisms, such as traffic and streetlights. Some cities are using devices to make their cities smart.

If a smartphone is a cellphone that functions as a computer, is a smart city one that relies on high-tech, too? The short answer is, ''Yes.'' Smart cities typically contain a host of sensors that control mechanisms, such as traffic and streetlights. But that isn't all that's involved in the concept of a smart city. And smart cities are constantly developing, which makes them exciting, yet difficult to define exactly what they are. We've polled people around the country to find out what's going on in certain cities and to discover some new inventions that make a city a smart one.

Helps You Find Parking

When you need to find a place to park in town, it's usually a frustrating experience. ''On average, it takes a car driver in the city 20 minutes to find a parking space near where they want to go,'' teaches PARKiFi. This company points to an IBM study, which found that the frustrating experience of driving round and round to find a parking spot accounts for approximately 30 percent of street traffic congestion. ''Obviously, if cities are to get smarter, something needs to be done to solve this waste of time and resources, which is exactly what PARKiFi does.''

Keeps the Lights On

When Superstorm Sandy hit New York, people were displaced; businesses closed, either temporarily or permanently; and transit systems shut down. There was no heat, food, or transportation for many people for several weeks. ''After the devastation Hurricane Sandy brought to New York in 2012, the city has decided to rebuild in ways that are smarter than before,'' says Ashley Fallon, communications manager for UGE. ''As part of the RISE:NYC program, UGE is helping small businesses in NYC to be more resilient through the power of renewable energy.'' Some innovations include using solar and wind to provide power if there's a major grid failure.

Enhances the Overall City Experience

Kansas City, MO, launched what it calls a '' smart city initiative '' to make the urban center dynamic. Sara Vinson, who works with Cisco, a leading Internet of Things (IoT) company, explains what that entails. ''A Smart + Connected City framework was deployed to transform urban services and enhance the citizen experience.'' The initiative includes ''Sprint Wi-Fi, a free outdoor public Wi-Fi deployment across more than 50 square blocks downtown; 125 'smart' streetlights along a two-mile stretch of the new KC Streetcar line; and 25 interactive kiosks to engage citizens.''

Improves Emergency Notification Programs

Frogs, sheep, and birds might know when bad weather is coming, and groundhogs are said to predict an early spring or a prolonged winter. But since most people don't have this ability, it would be helpful to receive a bad weather alert. And that's what the Florida Division of Emergency Management arranged when it teamed with Everbridge, a global enterprise software company. The new initiative, called ''AlertFlorida,'' is ''Expected to be the most comprehensive and coordinated statewide emergency notification program in the country,'' according to Everbridge. ''The system will provide automated notifications of flash floods, tornados, and other watches and warnings issued by the National Weather Service.'' People select whether they wish to receive alerts through text message, email, voice call, TDD/TTY messaging, or a mobile device app.

Makes the Bus Easier to Ride

Regular bus riders know that bus schedulers often don't get the route schedule right. And when the bus schedules aren't good, people don't ride the bus. There's a smart city solution for this problem that Dr. Juan Argote's company VIA Analytics came up with. This company installs tablets in buses throughout the United States that synchronize their fleets. Oahu Transit Services in Honolulu is one customer that relies on frequency-based operations. When a bus is needed, the tablets alert the drivers, negating the need for bus schedules.

Enforces Sustainability Regulations

California's Title 24 was enacted to reduce energy use in California. The Mathilda project, a building rehab that meets zero net energy (ZNE) guidelines, came about to comply with Title 24. The Mathilda building now serves as a model for ZNE renovation strategies. A main feature of the project is dynamic windows by View. The windows act as transition sunglasses do, changing tint in response to the sun's movements and weather patterns. View's windows reduce annual HVAC and lighting energy consumption by 20 percent in a typical installation.

Some General Improvements

Companies that manufacture smart devices, which cities can use to become smart, allow their clients to customize their offerings. Mathieu Kury, marketing and sales operations analyst for Asteelflash tells what his company is involved in:

  • LED Smart Lighting: Used in cities to reduce energy consumption
  • Smart Metering: Helps regulate energy consumption of buildings
  • Energy Management: Includes power switches, photovoltaic controller, low voltage battery charger, uninterrupted power supplies, and charging points for electric vehicles and sending energy back to the grid

Bottom Line

The sky's the limit regarding what can be done to make a city a smart one. And there's no doubt that these are exciting times for cities. But with most change comes some controversy. And smart cities are no different. Many people are concerned that sensors and data gathering are intrusive, invasive, and cross the privacy line. What some call collecting data others call surveillance. The question to grapple with is which is more important: privacy or convenience?

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