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How new technology is making cities smarter and connecting infrastructure

Illustration by Tyler Stone

Make Way for the Metropolis: A Smart Cities Tour

More than 55 percent of the world’s population—4.2 billion humans—live in cities today. And that trend is predicted to continue, with urban areas expected to add another 2.5 billion people by 2050, according to the United Nations.

“Together, India, China, and Nigeria will account for 35 percent of the projected growth of the world’s urban population between 2018 and 2050,” the UN’s Revision of World Urbanization Prospects report found. “By 2050, it is projected that India will have added 416 million urban dwellers, China 255 million, and Nigeria 189 million.”

To keep up with the demands of this population growth, many cities are incorporating technology into their operations and security apparatus to make cities more livable, sustainable, and safe as part of the Smart City movement.

Some of these advancements are visible today in the deployment of communication architecture to improve emergency response, traffic management to reduce congestion, public Wi-Fi to increase connection, and surveillance systems to deter crime. Others—like advanced metering infrastructure, digital twins, and universal air pollution monitoring—are just in the beginning phases of implementation.

Busan, South Korea

What if every aspect of your daily life was logged via a sensor, tracked over time, and analyzed? How would your life change? And what impact would the information gleaned have on the city you lived in?

Such an experiment is underway in Busan, South Korea, where 54 households are participating in the Eco Delta Smart Village project to ultimately build a Smart City from scratch. The groundwork for the project was laid in 2018 to create a smart village where individuals in single-person units up to three-bedroom homes are provided housing in exchange for data collection on them to be provided to developers, appliance manufacturers, the government, and health care practitioners.



“Once the three- to five-year experiment is over, and the city becomes more fully occupied, we will no longer study the info, but the technology in these homes will be the same,” said Lee Jae Min, deputy director of the smart city project with South Korea’s Ministry of Land, Industry, and Transport, in an interview with The New York Times. “All of the current tenants know how important it is to provide this information. With all the data we collect through the smart village, we can build a smarter city.”

The goals for the project, include adding five years to life expectancy, achieving a 50/50 work and life balance, reaching a 100 percent recycling rate, increasing renewable energy use by 20 percent, and creating 28,000 new jobs.

Konza, Kenya

Some smart city projects have been in the works longer than others. Konza Technopolis is one of those, which was approved in 2008 as part of Kenya’s Vision 2030 Flagship Project.

“Vision 2030 aims to create a globally competitive and prosperous nation with a high quality of life by 2030,” according to a press release. “As part of this vision, Konza will be a sustainable, world class technology hub and major economic driver for Kenya.”

The project broke ground in 2013 and completed its first major building project in 2019. When completed, Konza will have an integrated urban information and communication technology network that supports connected urban services that can be managed at scale: infrastructure services (transportation, utilities, public safety, environment); citizen services (access and participation); city services (city information, planning and development); and business services (supportive services for local commerce).



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“As a smart city, Konza will gather data from smart devices and sensors embedded in the urban environment, such as roadways, buildings, and other assets,” according to a fact sheet. “Collected data will be shared via a smart communications system and be analyzed by software that delivers valuable information and digitally enhanced services to Konza’s population. For example, roadway sensors will be able to monitor pedestrian and automobile traffic, and adjust traffic light timing accordingly to optimize traffic flows.”

Kenya’s approach to smart cities is not without criticism, however, as its projects in Nairobi have come under scrutiny for incorporation surveillance systems from Chinese technology companies.

India

With 17 percent of the world’s population residing within its borders and as the nation with the second largest population overall, India is focused on transforming its cities to address exploding population growth.

In 2015, it launched the Smart Cities Mission to promote cities that provide core infrastructure, clean and sustainable environments, and provide a decent quality of life to citizens through the application of smart solutions. The mission selected 100 cities to be developed through a two-stage competition into smart cities.

Additionally, the mission has developed IT standards for participating cities to create unified, resilient, secure, and sustainable smart infrastructure; as well as a data maturity assessment framework; and a National Urban Digital Mission to build a shared digital infrastructure to strengthen the urban ecosystem.

“India is already using public digital infrastructures like JAM (Jan Dhan-Aadhar-Mobile), IndiaStack, and UPI to address crucial needs at speed and scale,” according to a fact sheet. “Using these, India has compressed a 47-year journey into a decade, ensuring that nearly every Indian can now access a bank account easily.”

India’s smart city approach also helped it respond to the COVID-19 pandemic, providing data and analytics to aid decision-making in the nation’s response.

Singapore

On the southern tip of the Malay Peninsula, Singapore is the largest port in Southeast Asia and has a population of approximately 5.68 million people. A city-state, Singapore is synonymous with the smart city movement because it’s taken a Smart Nation approach to incorporating technology to make systems more efficient and the experience of daily life.

Singapore has a “digital first” approach where government, economy, and society harness technology to effect transformation in health, transport, urban living, government services, and businesses. Under its Smart Nation initiative, the city-state identified strategic national projects to drive and enable the adoption of digital and smart technologies throughout, including e-payments, national digital identity, sensor platforms, and urban mobility.



Ninety-four percent of Singapore’s government services are now digitized to create a seamless and personalized experience for residents. It released a digital government blueprint in 2018, which has been put into practice through a variety of initiatives to enhance response to world events.

“For example, our ongoing drive to enhance our tech capabilities allowed us to pivot quickly and develop digital tools for contact tracing and the safe re-opening of Singapore’s economy amid the COVID-19 pandemic,” according to a fact sheet.

A core aspect of this approach has been cybersecurity. Singapore takes a three-pronged approach to securing its systems and residents’ data by ensuring a whole-of-government cybersecurity readiness posture; enabling decisive operational response; and regular collaboration with the cybersecurity research community through vulnerability rewards programs, bug bounty programs, and more.

Smart Kalasatama, Helsinki, Finland

“Time is money,” as the saying goes, and a district in Finland’s bustling capital city of Helsinki is putting that to the test by creating the Smart Kalasatama district to save citizen’s one hour of time every day by incorporating smart services.

“Valuable time is spent daily on queuing up, grocery shopping, and commuting,” according to a fact sheet on the district. “Smart services improve both quality of life and time management. Time will be saved by improving the flow of traffic and logistics, as well as guaranteeing first-rate local services and flexible facilities for remote working. The extra hours can be spent on activities that bring happiness, whether that means relaxing in the local park, cooking with your children, studying, or dance classes. The objective is to deliver services to people rather than vice versa, reducing daily commuting.”

In 2021, Helsinki was listed as one of the top 10 smart cities in the world by the Smart Cities Index. It achieved this rank through its commitment to pilot programs on green solutions, electric cars, parking, local solar power production, and reduction of consumer’s carbon footprint.

Approximately 3,000 people are living in the district today; planners estimate that 25,000 people will live there and 10,000 people will work there by 2035, participating in a smart-grid area where electricity users are also producers.

Woven City, Japan

What will the city of the future look like? Toyota is on a mission to find out by helping build a prototype on a 175-acre site at the base of Mt. Fuji in Japan.

Named Woven City, the municipality is designed to incorporate a connected ecosystem that is powered by hydrogen fuel cells. It will also serve as a testing facility for residents and researchers focused autonomous, robotic, personal mobility, smart home, and artificial intelligence technologies.

“Building a complete city from the ground up, even on a small scale like this, is a unique opportunity to develop future technologies, including a digital operating system for the city’s infrastructure,” said Akio Toyoda, president, Toyota Motor Corporation, in a statement when the project launched in 2020. “With people, buildings, and vehicles all connected and communicating with each other through data and sensors, we will be able to test connected AI technology…in both the virtual and the physical realms…maximizing its potential.”

The Woven City project broke ground on 23 February 2021 and is being designed by Danish architect, Bjarke Ingels. Once complete, the city will have streets for three use-case scenarios to test autonomous technology: fast vehicles; slower speed zones for personal mobility and pedestrians; and pedestrian only.

The buildings will be constructed mainly of wood covered in photo-voltaic panels to generate solar power. Residences will also be completed with human support technology, including in-home robotics, sensor-based artificial intelligence, and more.

For more insights on smart cities around the world, check out the Nordic Smart City Network; Smart Cities Dive; and resources from the World Economic Forum.

Megan Gates is editor-in-chief of Security Technology. Connect with her at [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter: @mgngates.

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