Editor's Note: The following is a guest post from Forrest Senti, director of business and government initiatives for the National Cybersecurity Center.
Global spending on smart city technologies is expected to see a 22.7% increase by 2025, according to a recent analysis from Frost & Sullivan. But even as the push to create smart cities gains momentum, attention has been heavily focused on setbacks in the process or gaps between the haves and have-nots — not the successes fueled by smart city projects.
There have been countless innovative developments in this space, all of which can change the game for city leaders who are making the next wave of decisions. So why have positive transformations and innovations not been given the spotlight?
Part of it is rooted in the fact that most people don’t clearly understand what a smart city actually is. To many, smart city technologies call to mind things like security infrastructure or smart car systems.
But these technologies go far beyond those applications. Smart cities are built on a broad infrastructure of systems working together. Smart car infrastructure is certainly a piece of the larger puzzle, but it’s only one element of an otherwise massive data network.
Issues, challenges in building smart cities
Plenty of obstacles can stand in the way of smart city projects, including concerns around data management. Because smart city technology creates massive amounts of data — the demand for which will only increase significantly — the development of adequate database technology will continue to be a challenge for smart cities.
In addition to these data challenges, smart city leaders must grapple with significant network challenges. Smart city infrastructure will heavily rely on 5G connectivity, but adopting and integrating 5G coverage is not a simple task. Speedy 5G rollouts have been stalled by everything from zoning policies and high fees to otherwise lengthy processes necessary to obtain permits.
On top of this, not all of the artificial intelligence (AI) necessary to tackle big issues and challenges in building smart cities has been developed. Strides have been made in the creation of "narrow AI," or machine-learning designed to solve specific problems, but AI is not yet capable of solving bigger, more general problems at the same level humans are able to operate. This presents nuanced challenges to tech-powered smart city projects.
Beyond the obstacles
Fortunately, the benefits of building smart cities and implementing smart city infrastructure far outweigh these challenges. Here are a few ways in which smart cities benefit the businesses and people that call them home:
- Economic benefits: Smart cities lay the groundwork for prosperity. Businesses will benefit from the innovation and progress inherent in a city powered and connected by data. As an example, trade becomes more efficient when cities can map shipping routes via geospatial intelligence networks. Singapore saw this when it launched its Smart Nation initiative and began using dynamic route planning to optimize operations as well as its trading economy.
- Data-driven decisions: Because smart cities are entirely connected, businesses and government entities can make smarter choices rooted in data. Open data enables everyone to see how individual decisions play a part in the overall infrastructure. It also allows them to monitor this data in real time, which empowers them to strengthen operations over time. For instance, this data can connect police departments to the most high-risk areas for more proactive community policing.
- Environmental impact: Just as increased efficiency provides economic advantages, it also creates a positive environmental impact. When city management systems (e.g., water, electricity, or traffic) are better aligned by the power of connected data, we see reduced emissions, waste, and energy. For example, Seattle implemented its Trash Track project to let residents follow their trash through the sanitation system and encourage them to reduce waste. Because of these environmental improvements, residents of the city are enjoying better living conditions.
- Improved transportation: Residents in smart cities also see huge improvements in transportation systems. Connected and data-based transportation infrastructure is far more efficient and intelligent than the alternative. Think traffic signals that can optimize the flow of vehicles through the city. Or residents who can track public transit in real time, like in Chicago. Smart city technology creates efficiencies that benefit the entire community.
- Access to digital resources: Smart cities can also expand access to digital resources for residents. New York City, for example, is home to a high-speed Wi-Fi network called LinkNYC that replaced payphones with kiosks offering free internet access and phone calls. This project has drawn people to set up shop in the technology hub, contributing to the community economically.
While obstacles do exist in the creation of smart cities, the successes many municipalities have seen in implementing smart city infrastructure far outweigh them. In looking at examples of places where smart city technology is already transforming efficiencies and operations, we can enjoy a glimpse of life in the cities of the future.