What are the fears around data while exploring potential use cases to demonstrate the value for the ‘smart citizen’? Here is a look.

With The United Nations reporting that two-thirds (68%) of the world’s population are expected to live in cities by 2050, scientists are seeking new and innovative ways to improve the quality of life in our urban jungles. With a recent death in the UK linked to illegal levels of air pollution, it’s more important than ever to utilise technology that drives progress and innovates to develop a more sustainable future – creating smart cities.

However, with a large proportion (68%) of the UK public unclear about what a smart city is or the benefits it can bring, it’s obvious that further education is needed. In a post-GDPR world, citizens are increasingly aware of the vast amount of data being collected throughout their day-to-day activities. Once an understanding is established that these smart initiatives save time, money, and provide peace of mind, citizens will be more open to working with their government bodies to future-proof their communities.  

Getting smart about cities

With the aim to provide a more liveable and responsive environment, the smart city industry is projected to be worth $400 billion by 2020, Citywise reports. Underpinned by real-time data, truly smart cities understand how demand patterns change and are able to respond with faster, lower-cost solutions. Benefits from this approach include improvements to safety and congestion for efficient traffic management, healthcare advances from patient experience to data-driven public health interventions, and air-quality monitoring and energy-use optimisation to minimise environmental impact. All alongside further social connectedness and civic participation, new job opportunities provided through e-careers, as well as reduced cost of living thanks to improvements such as dynamic electricity pricing and usage tracking.

To provide these benefits, smart city initiatives must gather the relevant data from multiple sources. Sensors and beacons, communication networks, and open data portals – which can be introduced by city councils and governments to the existing infrastructure – are primary sources. For people management, smartphone data is invaluable in both gathering and providing instant information about transit, traffic, health services, safety alerts, and community news. Other sources include connected networks and devices – such as home-security systems, personal-alert devices, and lifestyle wearables – which offer value that many city stakeholders are willing to pay for. Mobility applications also provide greater value, thanks to the rise in popularity of e-hailing services like Uber and Lyft, and e-bikes or scooter schemes.

From byte to yotta

The benefits this data holds are visible through the deployment of connectivity resources available to many citizens now. But the data is held in several separate silos, each relating to a specific aspect of urban life. To improve the city as a whole and realise its smart potential, an interconnected data system is needed; one that integrates big data from multiple sources – state and citizen.

From traffic and pollution sensors to shared bike schemes, extreme amounts of data can already be collected, processed, and analysed in real-time and at scale. However, to provide a truly holistic citywide view of these, a combination of multiple sources is needed. Once this is achieved, advancement such as improving the daily commute via smart-mobility application can be implemented through networks of internet of things (IoT) sensors on physical assets. Real-time information can then be relayed via mobile apps or digital signage, enabling commuters to efficiently adapt their routes on the move.

This smart approach to modern cities also has impacts on crime levels, with a data-driven policing strategy utilising real-time mapping to cut emergency response rates. For a population of five million, this could mean saving up to 300 lives per year. To protect the environment, citizens and cities can work together to optimise the use of finite resources. The use of sensors is particularly key for the environment, by identifying sources of pollution to enable cities to arm their citizens with real-time protective measures so they can make the best decisions for their health. This digital feedback loop also works for conserving water, with leaking pipes one of the biggest water waste contributors. By collecting data on the health of city infrastructure and its surrounding areas insights can be gleaned, for example, on soil moisture levels to identify the waterlogged environments that surround a leak.

Identifying a truly smart citizen

It’s not only about installing digital interfaces in traditional infrastructure or streamlining city operations. Smart cities are primarily opportunities to use technology and data purposefully to make better decisions, and deliver a better quality of life for citizens.

By establishing channels for two-way data communication that feeds into the data infrastructure, a truly smart city can respond more dynamically to how resource demand is changing. For this smart future to become a reality, governments and councils need a reliable big data source to base long- and short-term decisions on – to safeguard the future health of the urban ecosystem. Only once a holistic view of the city is achieved can stakeholders make the key decisions and positive changes needed to ensure the future sustainability of its metropolitan environment.

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