Four ways to tell if you're living in a city that's getting smarter

Published: 22 Sep 2017
Author: Pierre-Yves Roy

With more of us living in cities than ever before, urban life is under pressure and there seems like there is more of everything – people, traffic, energy use, journeys, pollution, congestion and waste.

Cities will have to get smarter to deal with all this – but how do you tell if your city is smart? How do you know it is evolving to meet these challenges?

Here's a look at four signs that a city is changing and becoming a city of the future.

Like everything else in modern life, cities are becoming smarter. They are being transformed from collections of buildings, roads and utilities, into self-aware entities that manage themselves for the benefit of their human inhabitants.

But if you were living in a smart city, how would you know? The buildings look the same, so what marks out a smart city from any other?

Keeping an eye on things

A smart city lives on data – from CCTV, people’s mobile phones, wind speed and temperature sensors, pollution detectors, radar speed detectors for traffic, GPS data for public transport and public safety vehicles and many others.

Combined with big data analysis techniques, this data helps a city plan and improve its services and infrastructure, from road layouts and parking, to hospital capacity, power provision and zoning for business and retail premises.

Does your city feel a better place to live in than it did a few years ago? Is air pollution reduced and congestion much less than it was? You may find it easier to get across town and have better information about transport and local weather. Crime hotspots may have reduced and you might live within walking distance of schools, shops and your place of work, cutting the need to use your car.

Clearing the arteries

City dwellers need to travel, for work, school and leisure. From the suburbs, to the city center and within the central areas, people travel in different ways – bicycles, buses, private cars and taxis, trams and subways all play their part, but are they simply left to trundle along, causing congestion and pollution? Many of us have got off a train to find that the bus we needed left two minutes before our train was scheduled to arrive.

Smart public transportation in a smart city

Living in a smart city, you will find that traffic flows more freely because traffic lights and variable speed limits are controlled to reduce congestion and cut pollution from cars sitting with engines running. Signs will display the nearest car park and how many spaces it has. Detectors will ensure that cyclists are given priority over cars, so they can get away from junctions safely.

Electric vehicles would have more charging points where they need them and would be given priority in city centres. Examples include Paris, which has developed a fleet of 3,000 electric vehicles. Cars are tracked via GPS and parking spaces can be booked from the dashboard.

Trams, trains and buses will link up and drivers will be instructed to amend their speed to arrive at the best time to pick up passengers.

In a smart city, you’ll get to your destination more quickly and conveniently than ever before.

Traffic on Times Square, New York

Power for life

Electricity, gas and water are the lifeblood of the city and using them well and efficiently is a major goal. Smart grids can take inputs from consumers and producers, the time of day, the weather conditions and major events to predict where and when the demand is. They help manage demand and supply and ensure that energy is both produced and consumed in the most efficient and cost-effective ways.

District heating and cooling schemes and taking waste heat or spare power from one source and using it elsewhere are all examples of a smart city at work.

If your bills are more predictable, if your office generates its own power and sells some of it to the city at times of peak demand, your city is getting smarter.

Safety first

Keeping its inhabitants safe is perhaps the first priority of any city. Smart cities are ahead of the game here. The basis is a capable, secure communications network based on digital technologies like TETRA or Tetrapol. These secure networks can be complemented with broadband to achieve a hybrid network. With police, paramedics, firefighters and hospitals all linked into the network and sharing voice channels and data, lives are saved and resources are used more efficiently.

Traffic near the Eiffel Tower in Paris, France

City dwellers can help by sending in video of incidents or crimes, while virtual reality and augmented reality can put incident commanders right at the scene. Data on the types and location of crimes and social media posts can be analyzed and patterns recognized, allowing police officers to patrol high risk areas.

You may see ambulances parked near accident black spots, or see police vehicles cleared through priority lanes to get to accidents quicker. Drones in the sky above a fire? Your fire department is using broadband technology to see all aspects of the incident and decide the best way to tackle it.

The common theme through all this is communications – a city needs to communicate over a robust network if it wants to evolve to become a smart city, one that you’ll be glad you live in.

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The Secure Communications blog gives you insights into critical communications future, secure and critical communications, public safety and other professional apps, current events, Tetrapol and TETRA radios, and active paging, for example.