what are smart cities

What are Smart Cities? – Turning Concepts into Reality

The age of technology has gifted us with many innovations that affect our lives each day, along with a healthy outlook for how we might use information technology to shape our collective future. Our ability to harness advanced computational power and the internet offers us tremendous opportunities to ignite a revolution of efficiency and improvement to our lives by collecting, processing, sharing, and leveraging data in ways that were previously impossible.


Smart Cities are one of the most exciting results of this way of thinking, and although there isn’t really such a thing as a Smart City just yet, we may see the first real Smart Cities emerging in the next ten or fifteen years as meccas of human technological achievement and application.


This article looks at the concept of Smart Cities, where and how they are being worked on right now, and why we should be excited about the integration of information technology with city planning when it comes to improving the way we all live together.

What is a Smart City?

Smart cities represent the ideal of integrating information and communication technologies such as the internet, advanced computational power, cloud storage, sophisticated monitoring systems, and the Internet of Things (IoT) to improve management of a city’s assets and improve quality of life for its residents.


Smart Cities can theoretically improve our lives through several different mechanisms. City planners or officials can use real-time monitoring systems to collect and process data from citizens and devices and use the results to optimize city planning decisions. IT applications can also be used to convey data to citizens, helping them make decisions based on information collected by the city and released to the public – this could be something like “I won’t go to the dog park right now, because the city’s monitoring system shows there are no dogs for mine to play with.”


Smart Cities are envisioned to allow real-time responses to issues in a variety of areas – schools, libraries, transportation systems, hospitals, power plants, water supply networks, emergency services, waste management, and parks can all be monitored and optimized for service delivery using Smart City concepts.


Smart Cities Already Saving Lives in the USA

Data analysis is already being used to improve the efficiency of service delivery in some cities. In New Orleans, for example, the Fire Department runs a program that distributes smoke alarms to residents of the city at no cost; citizens can simply call the New Orleans FD and have one delivered. After a home with no alarm caught fire and five perished, the NOFD envisioned an outreach program that would use big data to identify homes that were likely to catch fire and target them specifically for distribution of smoke alarms.


The director of the city’s Performance and Accountability office had staff members analyze data to assess what city blocks were most likely to contain homes without smoke detectors and where children and the elderly – those most at risk of dying in fires – were most likely to live. Using the data, the NOFD can install 6000 new fire detectors annually through its outreach program, compared to just 800 annually under the old system.


In 2015, Chicago began using a predictive algorithm to target its health inspections at the restaurant’s most likely to have violations based on 11 variables. Since implementing the new system, it has increased its number of critical violation cited by 15%, though the number of illness complaints has remained constant.


Kansas City, MO, is using sensors to collect data about traffic and parking availability and making it available on a public website so that its citizens can make an informed decision about the most efficient ways to travel. Google is already able to achieve large-scale traffic monitoring using the GPS service installed on Android phones.


Current Smart City Projects Around the World

Smart Cities are developing around the world, with planning and collaboration between locals, governments, and businesses. In Amsterdam, an initiative started in 2009 includes over 170 projects that run on an interconnected platform through wireless devices. These include an app that allows residents to rent their parking spots, and in turn provides the city with real-time parking data, and a project called “smart lighting” which helps the city save money by allowing control of the brightness of street lamps.


Barcelona’s incredible Smart City applications are making it one of the safest places in the world to live. The city’s traffic lights are integrated with its emergency services, so when ambulances or police vehicles are deployed, a mix of traffic management and GPS technologies ensures that all traffic lights are set to green. Resultantly, emergency crews are on the scene and ready to save lives in record time.



If you ask me, the most exciting thing about Smart Cities is that they aren’t a dream. We aren’t talking about the Jetsons and flying cars – the technology already exists to make our cities work in ways that were never possible before. Even better, most smart city projects around the world are being developed as a collaborative process between municipalities, their residents, and local business. This means that you can get involved and create your own smart city project that will improve life for folks in your community. What are you waiting for?



Wall Street Journal
The Guardian
Smart Cities Council