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Smart Cities Initiatives around the World Are Improving Citizens’ Lives

The big cities of the future are going to have to get “smart” – from monitoring energy and water usage, to managing traffic and transportation systems – and some cities are already doing it.

By Marcia Wendorf Jul 29, 2019 | Source:

Smart Cities Initiatives around the World Are Improving Citizens' Lives12019/Pixabay

It’s a fact of life that most of us are going to be living in cities.

According to the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, 68 percent of the world’s population will live in cities by the year 2050.

Research by U.S.-based McKinsey & Company shows that by 2025, 600 cities around the globe will together generate 60 percent of the world’s gross domestic product (GDP).

Currently, there are 29 cities worldwide with populations of more than 10 million people, and cities use between 60 percent and 80 percent of the world’s energy. Lighting alone accounts for up to 19 percent of the world’s electricity consumption.

To manage that many people, cities are going to have to become “smarter,” and for that to happen, Internet of Things (IoT) devices are going to have to collect data, which can then be used to manage assets and resources efficiently.

What Does “Smart” Mean?

Examples of smart management include monitoring and managing: traffic and transportation systems, power and water supply networks, waste management systems, information systems, schools, libraries, and hospitals.

In 2014, the U.S. consulting firm Frost & Sullivan identified eight key aspects that define a smart city: “smart governance, smart energy, smart building, smart mobility, smart infrastructure, smart technology, smart healthcare and smart citizens.”

In the creation of smart cities, Europe and Asia are out ahead of the United States. The European Union (EU) has its “Digital Agenda for Europe,” which focuses on innovation and investment in Information and Communication Technology (ICT).

Vendors Are Jumping on the Bandwagon

The smart city industry is projected to be at least a $400 billion market by 2020, and vendors are jumping on board. Companies such as Intel, Cisco Systems, IBM, Verizon, Silver Spring Networks,, GE Lighting, Ericsson, and Siemens are all promoting “smart” technology.

In 2015, the Obama administration announced a grant of $160 million for the creation of software and IoT applications that will help local communities improve their city services. In late 2016, the White House announced an investment of $80 million for smart cities.

Vendors are touting monitoring water and energy usage, reducing CO2 emissions, and creating smart lighting and security solutions. Other ideas at the forefront are fast access to traffic, parking, and road condition information.

Much of the promotional material created by smart city vendors includes the phrase: “improving the lives of citizens through technology,” but it’s helpful to remember that the Internet of Things doesn’t come without a cost. Some have raised questions about the safety of the 5G network on which it will rely.

5G waves are ultra-high frequency and ultra-high intensity. Whereas 1G, 2G, 3G and 4G use between 1 and 5 gigahertz frequency, 5G uses between 24 and 90 gigahertz frequency.

The International EMF Scientist Appeal, a group of 225 scientists from 41 countries, has submitted a letter to the U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) expressing their concern that proper attention hasn’t been paid to “reports of increasing rates of cancer and neurological diseases that may be caused by exposure to EMF from wireless sources.”

Smart city technologies have been implemented in cities such as Singapore, Dubai, Amsterdam, Barcelona, Madrid, Stockholm, Copenhagen, several cities in China, New York, and the English cities of Milton Keynes, and Southampton.

Amsterdam, The Netherlands

The Amsterdam Smart City initiative began in 2009, and it currently includes over 170 projects being developed collaboratively by government, residents, and businesses. The projects run on wireless devices on an interconnected platform, and they enhance the city’s real-time decision-making ability.

Amsterdam, The Netherlands
Amsterdam, The Netherlands. Source: Massimo Catarinella/Wikimedia Commons

Amsterdam says that its goal is to reduce traffic, save energy and improve public safety. It upgraded street lamps so that municipal councils can dim the lights based on pedestrian usage.

A number of homes in Amsterdam have been provided smart energy meters, which incentivizes reducing energy consumption. Smart traffic sensors allow the city to alert drivers to current traffic conditions so they can decide on the best routes to take.

Barcelona, Spain

Barcelona has done well in the traffic management sector. Its new bus network is based on an analysis of traffic flows. Its use of smart traffic lights maximizes the number of green lights on bus routes, and in emergencies, the route of an emergency vehicle can be entered into the traffic light system, and all the traffic lights can be set to green.

Barcelona, Spain
Barcelona, Spain. Source: kirkandmimi/Pixabay

Copenhagen, Denmark

In 2014, Copenhagen scooped the World Smart City Award for its “Connecting Copenhagen” Smart city development strategy. Initiatives are run out of the Copenhagen Solutions Lab, which is focusing on air quality data collection and traffic management.

Copenhagen, Denmark
Copenhagen, Denmark. Source: ExplorerBob/Pixabay

Dubai, United Arab Emirates

Begun in 2013, smart city initiatives include creating driverless transport, fully digitizing government, business and customer information, and transactions, and providing 5,000 internet hotspots that allow citizens to access government applications. Two mobile applications, mPay, and DubaiNow allow residents to pay for utilities, traffic fines, and educational, health, transport, and business services.

Dubai, United Arab Emirates
Dubai, United Arab Emirates. Source: Re-Zet/Pixabay

The Smart Nol Card is a unified rechargeable card that allows citizens to pay for transportation services such as metro, buses, water bus, and taxis. The Digital City initiative assigns each building a unique QR code that can be scanned to display information about that building, its plot, and location.

In 2018, Dubai announced the creation of the Dubai Blockchain Business Registry, which will digitize what had been paper-based systems.

Madrid, Spain

Madrid has created the MiNT Madrid Inteligente/Smarter Madrid platform that will integrate the management of local services. These include garbage collection and recycling, and public and green spaces.

Madrid, Spain
Madrid, Spain. Source: ncb80/Pixabay

Madrid is noted for its bottom-up approach, where social issues are first identified, then technologies are developed to address those issues. This approach includes support for start-ups through the Madrid Digital Start-Up program.

Milton Keynes, UK

The MK: Smart initiative is a collaboration between local government, businesses, and academia that focuses on energy and water usage, and transportation. The city has created the MK Data Hub which will acquire energy and water consumption data, and transportation data.

Milton Keynes, UK
Milton Keynes, UK. Source: Paul Harrop/Wikimedia Commons

The Milton Keynes Urban Data School is an online platform to teach school students about data skills, and it has already produced a Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) that informs citizens about what a smart city is.

Stockholm, Sweden

The underpinning of Stockholm’s Smart city technology is the Stokab dark fiber system. It was developed in 1994 to provide a fiber-optic network across Stockholm. Private companies can lease fiber as service providers on equal terms.

Stockholm, Sweden
Stockholm, Sweden Source: Kostiantyn Hantsov/Wikimedia Commons

Stockholm seeks to create energy-efficient buildings, to monitor traffic, and to develop e-services. These e-services include political announcements, parking space bookings, and snow removal. GPS analytics will allow residents to plan their travel routes across the city.

The Kista Science City region brings together government, industry, and academia to develop ICT applications for implementation in a Smart city.

Schenectady, New York

Schenectady is upgrading its 4,400 street lights to LED technology. This will allow the lights to be dimmed during off-hours or adjusted based on real-time data. The city is also planning on using the light poles to house 5G small-cell antennas.

Schenedtady, New York
Schenedtady, New York. Source: Jayu/Wikimedia Commons

The city’s wi-fi data network and a new software program called Municity5 will allow building inspectors to file reports and print documents from the field. City police will also be able to use the network to upload dashboard video from their patrol cars without having to return to the police station.

Another program will display the locations and routes of snowplows, while another will allow residents to report potholes, code violations and garbage pickup complaints to authorities.

Columbus, Ohio, USA

Columbus has stepped out to the forefront by its use of electric vehicles. In 2017, it partnered with American Electric Power Ohio to create new electric vehicle charging stations. Their goals are: expanding electric infrastructure, converting existing public vehicle fleets to electric, and creating incentives for people to rideshare.

Columbus, Ohio
Columbus, Ohio. Source: Ron Reiring/Flickr

Columbus has received grants of $40 million from the U.S. Department of Transportation, and $10 million from Vulcan Inc., the late Paul Allen’s holding company.

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