Smart Cities: The future of urban living?

Smart Cities: The future of urban living?

More than half the people in the world now live in cities, and the globe’s urban population could reach 6.3 billion by 2050. How can urban areas cope with this double whammy to maximise space and efficiency – and without disrupting current infrastructures? By getting smart, that’s how, though some of the globe’s mega-cities are going about this in very different ways.

The exact definition of a smart city varies greatly depending on where in the world you are, but all smart city thinking and projects are a direct response to this rushing urbanisation – an almost tripling of urban areas by 2030 – that has already become a defining feature of the 21st century. Most of the world’s wealth is produced in cities, meaning the evils of pollution, congestion and waste must be combatted. As well as being sustainable, a smart city likely means a more efficient infrastructure, including better road systems and public transport, but also smart-metered utilities like gas, electricity and broadband.

A lot of smart city work is the product of big thinking and big budgets, with specialist architects re-designing entire urban areas, or huge data collecting tech projects from the likes of IBM, Cisco and Siemens, but small-scale projects like shared bike schemes contribute to a smart city too. “We have to learn to live in greater density and with a greater economy of resources,” says Paul Katz, Global Managing Principal of architecture practice Kohn Pedersen Fox (KPF), which has worked on smart city projects in Tokyo, New York, Las Vegas, London, Singapore and Shanghai.  “We have to live in 3D cities.”

The easiest way to build a 3D city is to start from scratch and, for now, the benchmarks in smart city development are ‘clean slate’ projects primarily in the Far East. Probably the most famous example of a smart city is an on going project in New Songdo, South Korea. The centrepiece of this US$35 billion project is centred on a fully wired-up Songdo International Business District built on 1,500 acres of reclaimed land along the Yellow Sea in Incheon, near Seoul.

In the distance is South Korea’s Incheon Airport; no wonder New Songo has been dubbed an Asian ‘aerotropolis’

This smart city has it all; a Cisco-powered TelePresence system for videoconferencing in all homes, offices, schools, hospitals, banks, and even on streets, a customised public transport system of buses, bikeways, electric-car rentals (there’s even work on putting recharging pads in public car parks and private garages to recharge future electric cars), and water taxis that ply strategically placed canals. There’s also a pneumatic waste collection system, something that rids the streets of dustbin lorries – and something that, sadly, you’ll likely never see in a European city. When it’s completed in 2017, New Songdo will house 65,000 permanent residents, with as many as 300,000 commuters expected each day.

Despite its environmental achievements (over a third of the city consists of landscaped parks), New Songdo has been dubbed an Asian ‘aerotropolis’, too. It’s just a few miles from the country’s main airport at Incheon, which is a 90-minute flight from Shanghai and Tokyo, and three hours from Hong Kong.

If its location is critical, Cisco’s involvement in the micro-technology of homes and offices is just as crucial when it comes to creating a futuristic feel to New Songdo. The city currently has 7,000 residents, all of which already live with Cisco’s U.Life a smart home system, which gives full control over lighting, heating, air-con and curtains via phones, PCs, tablets and touchscreen pads around the building.

Songdo International Business District is built on 1,500 acres of reclaimed land along the Yellow Sea in Incheon, near Seoul, South Korea.

Outside the home, New Songdo also contains some innovative traffic management. Its roads and pavements will soon have integrated sensors that not only dim street lights when nobody’s around, but also determine the frequency of traffic light operation around the city. This kind of reactive, dynamic treatment of traffic is done by collecting a lot of live data, but New Songdo isn’t the only example. 

A city-state of five million people at the foot of the Malay peninsula, the super-connected island city of Singapore has had an extensive, intelligent traffic micro-management plan called Junction Electronic Eyes (J-Eyes) imposed up on its drivers. A network of over 300 cameras at junctions throughout the island, J-Eyes monitors traffic loads to not only collate – and predict – the behaviour of drivers, but also to re-route traffic, and charge tolls according to how busy roads are. The system, which is controlled from a central HQ, offers smartphone apps to drivers, too, which even contain advice on where to park.

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