Do We Really Need Smart Cities?

Do We Really Need Smart Cities?


Smart city uses information and communication technology (ICT) to improve operational efficiency, share information with the public and provide a better quality of government service and citizen welfare.

IBM defines a smart city as “one that makes optimal use of all the interconnected information available today to better understand and control its operations and optimise the use of limited resources.”

However, in short, a smart city uses a framework of information and communication technologies to create, deploy and promote development practices to address urban challenges and create a joined-up technologically-enabled and sustainable infrastructure.

The term smart city is also used in literature regarding the education of its inhabitants. A smart city has therefore smart inhabitants in terms of their educational grade. The intelligent systems represent an important part of future educational process. The intelligent systems will affect the way in which the information is received, used, understand and learned by users.



The concept of smart cities in 1960s and 1970s when the US Community Analysis Bureau began using databases, aerial photography and cluster analysis to collect data, direct resources and issue reports in order to direct services, mitigate against disasters and reduce poverty. This led to the creation of the first generation of smart cities.

The first generation of smart city was delivered by technology providers to understand the implications of technology on daily life. This led to the second generation of smart city, which looked at how smart technologies and other innovations could create joined-up municipal solutions. The third generation of smart city took the control away from technology providers and city leaders, instead creating a model that involved the public and enabled social inclusion and community engagement.


This third generation model was adopted by Vienna, who created a partnership with the local Wien Energy company, allowing citizens to invest in local solar plants as well as working with the public to resolve gender equality and affordable housing issues. Such adoption has continued around the world, including in Vancouver, where 30,000 citizens co-created the Vancouver Greenest City 2020 Action Plan.


How Smart Cities Work

Smart cities follow four steps to improve the quality of life and enable economic growth through a network of connected IoT devices and other technologies. These steps are as follows:

  1. Collection – Smart sensors gather real-time data

  2. Analysis – The data is analysed to gain insights into the operation of city services and operations

  3. Communication – The results of the data analysis are communicated to decision makers

  4. Action – Action is taken to improve operations, manage assets and improve the quality of city life for the residents

People are able to engage and interact with smart city ecosystems through mobile devices and connected vehicles and buildings. By pairing devices with data and the infrastructure of the city, it is possible to cut costs, improve sustainability and streamline factors such as energy distribution and refuse collection, as well as offering reduced traffic congestion, and improve air quality.


Smart City Features

Smart city features are energy conservation and environmental efficiencies, such as streetlights that dim when the roads are empty.

Smart city can be used to combat climate change and air pollution as well as waste management and sanitation through internet-enabled rubbish collection, bins and fleet management systems.

Smart cities allow for the provision of safety measures such as monitoring areas of high crime or using sensors to enable an early warning for incidents like floods, landslides, hurricanes or droughts.

Smart buildings can also offer real-time space management or structural health monitoring. People can also access this system to notify officials of any problems, such as potholes, while sensors can also monitor infrastructure problems such as leaks in water pipes

Smart city technology can improve the efficiency of manufacturing, urban farming, energy use, and more.Smart cities can connect all manner of services to provide joined up solutions for citizens

Combining automation, machine learning is allowing for the adoption of smart city technologies for a variety of applications. For example, smart parking can help drivers find a parking space and also allow for digital payment.

Another example would be smart traffic management to monitor traffic flows and optimise traffic lights to reduce congestion, while ride-sharing services can also be managed by a smart city infrastructure.



 ‘Challenge’ or competition to select cities for funding and using a strategy of area-based development is the challenging task. This captures the spirit of ‘competitive and cooperative federalism’.

Smart leadership and vision at this level and ability to act decisively will be important factors determining the success of the Mission.

Understanding the concepts of retrofitting, redevelopment and greenfield development by the policy makers, implementers and other stakeholders at different levels will require capacity assistance.

The Smart Cities Mission requires smart people who actively participate in governance and reforms. Citizen involvement is much more than a ceremonial participation in governance. The participation of smart people will be enabled by the Special Purpose Vehicle (SPV) through increasing use of ICT, especially mobile-based tools.


Why Smart Cities Are Important

54% of the world’s population live in cities and this is expected to rise to 66% by 2050, adding a further 2.5 billion people to the urban population over the next three decades. With this expected population growth there comes a need to manage environmental, social and economic sustainability of resources.


Smart cities allow citizens and local government authorities to work together to launch initiatives and use smart technologies to manage assets and resources in the growing urban environment.


Are Smart Cities Sustainable?

Sustainability is an important aspect of smart cities as they seek to improve efficiencies in urban areas and improve citizen welfare. Cities offer many environmental advantages, such as smaller geographical footprints, but they also have some negative impacts, including the use of fossil fuels to power them. However, smart technologies could help alleviate these negative effects, such as through the implementation of an electric transport system to reduce emissions. Electric vehicles could also help to regulate the frequency of the electric grid while not in use.

Such sustainable transport options should also see a reduction in the number of cars in urban areas as autonomous vehicles are expected to reduce the need for car ownership amongst the population.

Creating such sustainable solutions could deliver environmental and societal benefits


Why do we need them?

A smart city should provide an urban environment that delivers a high quality of life to residents while also generating economic growth. This means delivering a suite of joined-up services to citizens with reduced infrastructure costs.

This becomes increasingly important in the light of the future population growth in urban areas, where more efficient use of infrastructure and assets will be required. Smart city services and applications will allow for these improvements which will lead to a higher quality of life for citizens.

Smart city improvements also provide new value from existing infrastructure while creating new revenue streams and operational efficiencies to help save money for governments and citizens alike


Are they Secure?

Smart cities offer plenty of benefits to improve citizen safety, such as connected surveillance systems, intelligent roadways and public safety monitoring

There is a need to ensure smart cities are protected from cyber-attacks, hacking and data theft while also making sure the data that is reported is accurate.

In order to manage the security of smart cities there is a need to implement measures such as physical data vaults, resilient authentication management and ID solutions. Citizens need to trust the security of smart cities which means government, private sector enterprise, software developers, device manufacturers, energy providers and network service managers need to work together to deliver integrated solutions with core security objectives

Accountability – System users need to be accountable for their actions and interaction with sensitive data systems. Users logs should record who is accessing the information to ensure accountability should there be any problems



Creating smart connected systems for our urban areas provides a great many benefits for people around the world, not only to improve quality of life, but also to ensure sustainability and the best possible use of resources.

These solutions are dependent on a unified approach from government as well as the private sector and residents themselves. With the correct support and infrastructure, however, smart cities can use advances such as the Internet of Things to enhance the lives of residents and create joined-up living solutions for the growing global urban


 Mahima Pant 

Faculty Geography Optional

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