The Future Of Urban Development in a Technology Centric World
Professor Dato Dr Ahmad Ibrahim
Fellow Academy of Science
Head of Research, Confexhub Group
Few would dispute that the world has become increasingly interconnected and technology-dependent. The internet has been the game-changer. Cities are increasingly turning to internet-based technology to pursue sustainable development. A new wave of smart applications is changing how we approach everyday activities. Utility appliances such as intelligent fridges, personal assistants like Amazon’s Alexa or smart home security applications create opportunities for more efficient living. While the ideas of “Smart Cities” has been proposed as the future of urbanism, the question remains: how do we connect this new technology to create the “efficient” society? How are city authorities coaxed to embrace the new reality?
Cities Of The Future
Smart cities are definitely a growing global trend in city management. They bring together infrastructure and technology to improve the quality of life of citizens and enhance their interactions with the urban environment. The use of data is key to decision making in smart cities. But how can data from areas such as public transport, air quality meters and energy production be integrated and effectively used? This is a challenge for city administrators.
The Internet of Things (IoT), has some of the answers. There have been many reports written on how IoT contributes to the functioning of smart cities. Created as part of the smart technology movement, the IoT enables various objects and entities to communicate with each other through the internet. The internet is without a doubt the big enabler. An efficient high-speed internet is critical in the functioning of IoT. This is where 5G is key. By creating a network of objects capable of smart interactions, the door is opened to a wide range of technological innovations that could help improve public transport, give accurate traffic reports or provide real-time energy consumption data.
By rendering more technology capable of communicating across platforms, IoT generates more data that can help improve various aspects of daily life. These include the management of city wastes which keep increasing as the population of cities expand. Improper management of such wastes can also contribute to the increase in the GHG emission of the cities. Cities can identify both opportunities and challenges in real-time, reducing costs by pinpointing issues prior to their emergence and allocating resources more accurately to maximize impact.
Efficiency And Flexibility
By investing in public spaces, smart cities can be places where people want to spend more time. The city of Barcelona has adopted smart technologies by implementing a network of fibre optics throughout the city, providing free high-speed Wi-Fi that supports the IoT. By integrating smart water, lighting and parking management, Barcelona saved €75 million of city funds and created 47,000 new jobs in the smart technology sector.
The Netherlands have tested the use of IoT-based infrastructure in Amsterdam, where traffic flow, energy usage and public safety are monitored and adjusted based on real-time data. Meanwhile, in the United States, major cities like Boston and Baltimore have deployed smart trash cans that relay how full they are and determine the most efficient pick-up route for sanitation workers.
The Internet of Things has led to a plethora of opportunities for cities willing to implement new smart technology to improve the efficiency of operations. Furthermore, tertiary institutions are also looking into maximizing the impact of integrated smart technology. Places such as university campuses and island communities provide smaller laboratories to implement technology in a more manageable environment that can be then replicated on a larger scale.
Universities are essentially smaller, more condensed versions of cities, often boasting their own transport systems, small businesses as well as their own citizens, the students. This makes campuses the perfect testing ground for new smart city technology as experienced in Manchester Metropolitan University.
Smart technology could go even further in improving efficiency by tracking the movements and actions of students: There are possibilities around smart kiosks with personalized information, true cross-campus digital and personalized wayfinding. These include wearable tech like smartwatches and phones.
On-campus, your phone or smartwatch could remind you of a class and how to reach it, give you updates on your assignment due dates as well as warn you about overdue books you have borrowed from the library. Whilst these may seem like small improvements compared to the ones implemented in various cities worldwide, they can help form a blueprint for future development that can be upscaled to fit larger developmental needs.
As smart technology continues to improve and urban centres expand, both will become interconnected. For example, the United Kingdom has plans to integrate smart technology in future development and use big data to make better decisions to upgrade the country’s infrastructure. Better decisions could be a boon to the economy.
The potential to improve several aspects of public service systems as well as the quality of life and reduce costs has driven the demand for smart cities. By taking a step towards the future, we will improve not only how we interact with our general environment but how cities interact with us, ensuring that we receive the best quality options and waste fewer resources.