Currently, the Earth is home to over 7.4 billion people, with over half of those living in an urban setting and using 80% of the planet’s resources. By 2050, the population is forecast to be just under 10 billion people, with 80% of that population expected to be urbanised.1 The challenge that every city is facing is how to best deliver the resources and services needed to ensure a thriving population and good economic performance. For many, the most obvious answer is to use new and evolving information and communication technologies (ICT) to enable data analysis and sharing between delivery channels. This will, in turn, allow local authorities and service providers to monitor and control resource delivery in real time and proactively address needs. The popular term for a city that takes this approach is “smart city”. But the experts and visionaries will tell you that creating a truly smart city is about more than adopting ICT solutions; it’s also about sustainability and quality of life.

The definition of a smart city

There is no universally accepted definition for what makes a city a smart city. While narrower definitions focus on ICT, broader definitions take a more holistic approach to city planning. One of the most thorough definitions comes from the SAC, the general working group of Chinese National Smart City Standardisation:

Smart Cities: a new concept and a new model, which applies to the new generation of information technologies such as the internet of things, cloud computing, big data and space/geographical information integration, to facilitate the planning, construction, management and smart services of cities. Developing Smart Cities can benefit synchronized development, industrialization, informationization, urbanization, and agricultural modernization and sustainability of cities
development. The main target for developing Smart Cities is to pursue: convenience of the public services, delicacy of city management, liveability of living environment, smartness of infrastructures, long term effectiveness of network security. – as translated from the Joint Directive Document published by either ministries of the Chinese central government and taken from the ISO/IEC JTC 1 information technology document entitled 'Smart Cities Preliminary Report 2014'.

One of the shortest and most succinct comes from the BSI's PAS 180 Smart Cities Vocabulary:

Smart Cities is a term denoting the effective integration of physical, digital and human systems in the built environment to deliver a sustainable, prosperous and inclusive future for its citizens.

Other key definitions include:

A smart city is an urban development vision to integrate multiple information and communication technology (ICT) solutions in a secure fashion to manage a city’s assets – the city’s assets include, but not limited to, local departments information systems, schools, libraries, transportation systems, hospitals, power plants, water supply networks, waste management, law enforcement, and other community services. - Wikipedia externallink

A developed urban area that creates sustainable economic development and high quality of life by excelling in multiple key areas; economy, mobility, environment, people, living, and government. Excelling in these key areas can be done so through strong human capital, social capital, and/or ICT infrastructure. - Business Dictionary externallink

[…] ‘smart cities’, when used in a narrow sense, refers to the way Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) can improve city functionality, proposing that use of the right hardware, software and technology platforms can solve many or most urban development challenges. However, a broader conceptualisation of smart cities – more commonly considered by academic and policy user groups, rather than corporates - places emphasis on good city governance, empowered city leaders, smart or ‘intelligent citizens’ and investors in tandem with the right technology platform.What are Future Cities? Origins, Meanings and Uses externallink

[…] the concept of a Smart City goes way beyond the transactional relationships between citizen and service provider. It is essentially enabling and encouraging the citizen to become a more active and participative member of the community, for example, providing feedback on the quality of services or the state of roads and the built environment, adopting a more sustainable and healthy lifestyle, volunteering for social activities or supporting minority groups. Furthermore, citizens need employment and “Smart Cities” are often attractive locations to live, work and visit.Smart Cities: Background Paper, October 2013, Department for Business Innovation and Skills externallink

Smart cities and ICT

From a technology standpoint, a smart city relies on embedded sensors and devices to gather data and then share that information via a combined wired and wireless communications system. Information from transportation systems, roadways, power and water systems, buildings, and other parts of the built environment is fed into software that analyses and organises it for use by local authorities, service providers, businesses and citizens to enhance services, address problems, and tap into information. For instance, smart power and water grids not only improve service delivery reliability and efficiency, they also help customers control their usage and lower their bills. Smart transportation systems optimise citywide travel by providing things like traffic mapping, public transport arrival and departure times, and taxi locations. This information is relayed via a variety of means, including tablet and smartphone applications.

Essential to the creation of a smart city is a good broadband network. Fibre optic is currently the fastest type of connection available; however, the most robust network combines fibre optic with cable and wireless networking to ensure broadband availability is as wide-reaching as possible, with the focus for fibre optic initially being in key areas like emergency response centres, learning centres, government centres, research and technical institutions, and key business areas.

Once a broadband network is established, the next step is to ensure that the city’s infrastructure and spaces are fitted with embedded systems that can provide real time data. Those systems then need to be interconnected to form an integrated ICT infrastructure. Finally, eservices and web-based applications need to be developed to ensure the right information gets to the right end users.

Also key to smart city ICT success is transparency. Government information, in particular, needs to be open and available to the public. The OECD provides five reasons open government data is essential to the future of our cities:

1. It improves transparency, facilitating accountability, responsiveness and democratic control.
2. Citizens feel empowered, and that supports engagement and participation on a social level.
3. Empowered citizens become empowered civil servants.
4. It encourages innovative thinking which, in turn, creates an increase in service value and efficiency.
5. As the result of all of the above, the city performs better economically. 2

Smart cities and sustainability

While the foundation of a smart city is its use of technology to enhance city performance and optimise service delivery, a major factor in what makes a city a smart city is its level of sustainability. A truly smart city uses technology to become selfaware, which enables informed decision making and facilitates positive change. This includes things like tracking weather conditions and measuring water supply and consumption to efficiently manage use and tracking waste patterns to create more efficient recycling programmes.

Key elements of a sustainable smart city include:

  • Offering a sustainable agricultural ecosystem and plentiful access to raw materials
  • Favouring efficient building design, sustainable energy systems, green
    transportation, and green living
  • Providing zero footprint water consumption through low and high tech means
    (rainwater collection, recycling systems)
  • Exhibiting an awareness of its own context and local impact
  • Resiliency to long-term changes 3

Smart cities and quality of life

One of the most glaring problems facing future cities is how to make sure that the fundamental needs of its growing population are met. At its most basic level, a city needs to provide its people with uninterrupted access to power, water, food, transportation and healthcare in both normal (blue sky) conditions and during disruptive events. Through the use of smart city technology and innovation, gathered data can be used to predict system behaviour and foresee problems. This allows the city to better meet population needs consistently, as well as provide additional benefits to enhance quality of life. This includes things like:

  • High quality, reliable, superfast broadband network
  • Agile transportation systems and interactive bus shelters
  • Citywide cloud access and near field communication (NFC)-enhanced digital services
  • GPS for bikes and bike route calculators
  • Improved public safety
  • Cleaner air via cleaner energy sources and the integration of nature into the city’s footprint
  • Smart grids to reduce energy consumption, CO2 emissions, and problem response times
  • Energy efficient housing that takes advantage of natural lighting
  • Higher quality food through urban agricultural programmes
  • Disaster preparedness and proactive response to weather events

Energy innovations of the future

In an interview with Peter De Pauw, Eandis’ head of business development and strategy, Mr De Pauw outlined some of the key areas where innovation in energy technologies are imperative to the future of cities. This included:

  • Smart asset management and the use of sustainable materials in service grids to facilitate long term, cost effective performance
  • Smart grids and smart meters that provide vital information regarding network performance to facilitate better connection to local, renewable energy sources and allow consumers to monitor and adapt their energy use behaviours
  • Better power quality management through energy storage (thermal and electrical)
  • District wide heating and cooling in areas where residual energy is created by industry
  • Network monitoring, control, and operation to support longer asset lifetimes and lower maintenance needs
  • Energy efficient designs for housing and public lighting
  • Greener energy systems via renewable, clean energy carriers 4

Challenges faced

Whatever definition a city’s authorities chooses to adopt and work towards, the one element that remains universal is that smart cities are not static cities; there will always be new challenges that require continual innovation and the ability to adapt to conceptualised data. This includes things like:

  • Population growth and meeting the needs of an ageing populace
  • Increased human mobility and the globalisation of economies, ecologies, risks, demographics
  • Geo-political shifts and governance framework changes
  • Inequality (social tensions) and insecurity (food, water, energy)
  • Developing technologies and climate change 5

At the 2016 Planet Forward Summit held in Washington DC, US government and business (including not-for-profit) leaders talked about specific problems that future US and other world cities faced and proposed possible solutions. This included:

  1. Relaying a sense of urgency on and correlation of problems that aren’t directly observable. Examples included climate change, water quality, and the impact environmental and sustainability issues have on future economic health.
  2. Developing and financing a sustainable, rel iable water infrastructure. As in the UK, the US considers water to be a fundamental human right. However, in many US cities, the water systems are no longer capable of handling the necessary load, and this results in hundreds of water main breaks every single day. While solutions considered include raising prices (thus threatening access to a “fundamental human right”) in order to repair and upgrade water systems, the key to a smart city approach is innovation and one planet, holistic thinking. This means considering low cost, low tech solutions as well as higher cost traditional or high tech ones. For instance, to combat water shortages associated with drought without the cost of a major system overhaul, West Palm Beach in Florida gave out rain barrels and low flow fixture vouchers. This falls directly within the remit of smart city thinking.
  3. Addressing a fail ing publ ic transport system. The primary issue here is the lack of faith that US citizens have in the successful implementation of public projects such as transportation, and similar attitudes can be found within the UK. What is needed, said experts at the Summit, is an integrated approach. People often use more than one type of transportation in their daily commutes, so by recognising that and proposing a transportation system that encourages and supports crosstransportation – including cars – people are more-easily provided with a system that can be tailored to their specific needs.
  4. Redesigning the urban setting. This is a biggie. As more of the world’s population becomes urbanised and all of our cities fill up even further, how we think of urban design must change. Like with most countries, in the US the trend has always been to grow outward. However, cities like San Francisco (and countries like ours) simply don’t have the land to do so. One solution is to take a page out of Shanghai’s Shanghai Tower, which is a vertical city in its own right, housing everything its occupants need to sustain a good quality of life.
  5. Producing the food needed to feed 9 billion people. The solution here may very well be urban farming that supports rural farming, which would require a lot of innovation – using high and low tech methods to produce ways of growing more food in smaller spaces. Considering that humans do better when they have access to nature, growing food in the urban environment could also be a way to address happiness and health needs above and beyond filling bellies.6

The role of standards in UK smart cities

BSI's smart city standards strategy

Commissioned by the UK Department for Business Innovation and Skills, BSI’s “The Role of Standards in Smart Cities” takes a look at the role that standards will play in the implementation of smart city stratagems and outlines a standards strategy to aid in that process. Issue 1 of the document was published in June 2013 and Issue 2 was published in August 2014. Key priorities identified within the standards strategy include:

  1. How local authorities will set smart city objectives and how they will measure progress.
  2. How best to create a shared understanding between cities in order to “deliver the vision”.
  3. How information will be captured and shared between services and infrastructure.
  4. Identifying and managing risks surrounding smart city services.

The Smart City Advisory Group was created to oversee BSI’s response to the above priorities and provide a strategic vision for identifying and addressing city authority needs within the standards programme.7

The Cities Standards Institute

In addition to the standards strategy, BSI and the Future Cities Catapult externallink have launched The Cities Standards Institute externallink, which brings together innovators, industry leaders and city authorities in order to best define common challenges and determine best practice solutions. This includes:

  • Ensuring standards are relevant to business commercial and technical requirements
  • Facilitating purposeful engagement at national and international levels
  • Prioritising common problems
  • Encouraging smart city standards update
  • Creating an active stakeholder network
  • Defining international importance areas and incorporating them into standards developed8

Future of cities series

The Government's Future of cities externallinkis a forward looking project that explores the challenges and opportunities in regards to our cities over the next 50 years. The collection was first launched by the Government Office for Science in June 2013 and continues to be updated with new reports, working papers, essays, blog entries and announcements on a regular basis.

The collection has been structured around six primary urban themes:

  • Life
  • Economy
  • Metabolism
  • Form
  • Infrastructure
  • Governance 9

To read more about the programme and view the report, papers, blogs etc, visit the Future of cities collection externallinkon the website. 

European smart city model

The European smart city model was first developed in 2007 as a way to provide a multidisciplinary, holistic approach to profiling and benchmarking cities in Europe for the purpose of sharing innovations and lessons learnt around urban development. The model is currently in its fourth version, and has grown from exploring medium sized cities of 100,000 to 500,000 citizens to those from 300,000 to 1,000,000.

As with the UK Future of cities model, the European smart city model also focuses on six “smart” characteristics working in relationship with each other:

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

The website externallinkprovides more information on benchmarking and the cities explored in particular. Several reports, including the Smart Cities Final Report, are also available for free.

City resilience index

The City Resilience Index has been developed by Arup with support from the Rockerfeller Foundation. A globally-applicable self-assessment tool, the Index allows cities to assess their resilience levels in order to understand and address challenges in a methodical way. To build its assessment, the Index uses 52 key indicators and 12 goals that are categorised into four key areas:

  • Population health and wellbeing
  • Societal and economic systems
  • Physical infrastructure and ecosystems
  • Leadership and strategy

Cities contributing to the underlying research include New York, Rio de Janeiro, Capetown, Shanghai, Dubai and Madrid, while Index pilot cities include Arusha, Concepción, Shimla, Hong Kong, and Liverpool.

Standards, publicly available specificiations (PAS) and other documents

BSI standards focussed on common understanding and a unified approach to smart cities

PAS 180:2014 Smart cities. Vocabulary externallink
PAS 181:2014 Smart city framework. Guide to establishing strategies for smart cities externallink
PAS 182:2014 Smart city concept model. Guide to establishing a model for data interoperability and communities externallink
PD 8100:2015 Smart city overview externallink
PD 8101:2014 Smart cities. Guide to the role of the planning and development process externallink

Other supporting documentation from BSI

Mapping research and modelling for smart cities externallink
Guidance on the economic assessment and funding of smart city initiatives externallink

Other related standards

BS 8583: 2015 Biodiversity. Guidance for businesses on managing the risks and opportunities externallink
BS 8900-1:2013 Managing sustainable development of organisations externallink
PAS 2060 Specification for the demonstration of carbon neutrality externallink
PAS 55-1:2008 Asset management. Specification for the optimized management of physical assets externallink

This article has been edited and repurposed from “Smart Cities, Future Cities, Sustainable Cities”, written for the Construction Information Service.

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