By Michael Dixon
Cities have never been more attractive, with people all over the world migrating to them from near and far.
However, with them comes a range of significant challenges that city leaders must tackle. A new report from Frost and Sullivan looks at smart cities as a mega trend set to drive urban development for the next decade. It predicts that 26 global cities will be considered smart cities in 2025, more than 50 percent of which will be in Europe and North America.
In Barcelona last week, city leaders from around the world gathered at the Smart City Expo World Congress to discuss the best strategies for dealing with this population shift. As IBM met with mayors, CIOs and civic leaders, it was clear to all that a new level of instrumentation and interconnection within governments was needed to deal with the challenge.
More than ever, forward-thinking city leaders are embracing the opportunities that technology can create. The application of Big Data and analytics, for example, can lead to better management and new partnerships that ultimately benefit citizens. And according to Frost and Sullivan, partnerships are a critical way for cities to address the rising challenges.
One example of a successful technology partnership is the Digital Delta project in the Netherlands. This is a breakthrough program designed to harness insights from Big Data to help transform the management of the entire Dutch water system and protect the population – 20 percent of which is below sea level – from flooding and other natural disasters. The partnership is between Rijkswaterstaat, the Dutch Ministry for Water; Delfland, the local water authority; the Deltares Science Institute; and the University of Delft.
In Spain, IBM is working with the towns of Irun and Hondarribia. The area, known as the Bajo Bidasoa in the Basque region is leading the way in mining patterns in vast quantities of diverse data, using real-time data to make accurate predictions, but also engaging citizens via social collaboration to make the area a better place to live and work. Even though the area has only about 78,000 citizens, they are taking on some innovative projects like using RFID sensors on waste containers to track usage; installing smart street lights that report when they need maintenance; and creating parking spaces that know when they are empty – all of which provides the cities with better insight.
The results of their work are impressive. Water leaks are down by 70 percent; water supply costs decreased by 14 percent; and unnecessary water treatment decreased by 40 percent. To improve waste management and encourage more citizen participation in recycling, volunteers are placing RFID tags on trash cans providing insights into better waste management.
Citizens are also turning to smartphones to communicate with city leaders. Incidents such as a fallen tree or traffic accident or pothole can be reported and shared along with a photo and geographical information. Data is collected by the SmartCityCenter where issues are resolved and tracked and citizens can check the status of each.
The community’s efforts to become smarter and more sustainable have also resulted in economic development as local entrepreneurs have worked alongside technology partners to create new technologies and in turn added jobs to the local economy.
In the future, the success and progress of a city will be measured by its ability to innovate for a more efficient consumption of energy, water and other resources, i.e. the ability to maintain high quality of life and sustainable development.
Smart leadership is what will make the difference between a city that struggles and a city that thrives.