What is a smart city?

According to the United Nations, 54.5 percent of people worldwide live in urban areas, and that number is expected to reach 60 percent by 2030. In addition, one in three individuals will live in a city of at least a half million people.

To accommodate this expansion, today’s cities are taking advantage of a wide range of innovations to become true smart cities and meet the growing need for citizen services and safety. According to the International Data Corporation, global spending on smart city initiatives totaled nearly $124 billion in 2020. It’s expected to reach $135 billion this year.

But what, exactly, is all this funding paying for? It can be hard to keep up with the rapid pace of technological development. So, here’s a detailed analysis of important innovations that are enabling smart cities.

What is a smart city?

What is a smart city? The Smart Cities Council says a smart city, “uses information and communications technology (ICT) to enhance its livability, workability and sustainability.” It collects data, communications it and analyzes it to improve decision making.

For example, smart cities fuse sensor data with business information, domain knowledge and workflows into an intelligent information ecosystem that enables officials to quickly sense, decide and act as a city grows. This includes data collected from citizens, devices and assets that is processed and analyzed to monitor and manage traffic and transportation systems, power plants, water supply networks, waste management, law enforcement, information systems, schools, libraries, hospitals and other community services.

Smart cities and IoT

Data collection, including in real time, is clearly important to smart cities, which is why Internet of Things (IoT) applications are powering smart city initiatives around the world.

These applications give city leaders, municipal agencies and other stakeholders the ability to remotely monitor, manage and control devices. However, for smart cities to operate effectively, they need to translate this data into real-time situational awareness that improves the safety and quality of life for citizens.

By combining historic data with live streams from IoT sensors and applications in real time, cities can create new insights and actionable information. With the rise of real-time, IoT-driven sensors that are connected to dynamic information systems, today’s smart cities operate in safe, connected, digital-first ecosystems that transform citizen services.

Smart city technology and solutions

A necessity to achieve these results is understanding, “where?” Where is data coming from? Where are urban problems occurring? Where must a city invest resources?

Using geospatial technologies can help city leaders bring their smart city visions fully to life by turning location-based data into location intelligence to empower quality-of-life and safety-related city developments. For example, smart monitoring of power and water systems can lead to earlier identification of disruptions and get services back online quickly for public utilities, driving more efficient infrastructure operations and management.

A smart city develops an advantage by delivering relevant geospatial data, workflows and analytics to any device in the hands of local government, services providers and residents interested in making the city a better place to live. By implementing this technology in different services, it is possible for city leaders to monitor changing environments and be better prepared for what’s to come.

Smart cities and infrastructure

One key area for smart cities is infrastructure. In the United States, President Biden is pushing for an aggressive spending plan that will provide $2.3 trillion for infrastructure upgrades.

In addition, the Biden administration plans on boosting the Highway Safety Improvement Program to explore the use of “smart” pavement, vehicle-to-infrastructure communication, connected intersections and other infrastructure-related innovations.

This will potentially provide an opportunity for the U.S. to better embrace smart city infrastructure investment, planning and implementation. Cities in Europe and Asia provide examples of what this might look like.

By 2025, the Asia Pacific (APAC) region is predicted to account for $800 billion in smart city projects. As home to half of the world’s population and 60% of the megacities, APAC must focus on efficiency and sustainability. China, for example, has invested the equivalent of U.S. $74.3 billion into a national smart city program. South Korea, meanwhile, has poured U.S. $350 million into developing a national IoT ecosystem.

In Europe, a number of cities are committed to using technology to improve citizens’ lives. The City of London Corporation launched a Smart IoT initiative in 2019, while Helsinki has established smart innovation districts that pilot multiple technologies. Lyon is experimenting with smart grids and the Amsterdam Smart City partnership has supported more than 40 projects aimed at enhancing infrastructure.

Smart city applications

But it’s not just the infrastructure itself. There’s a wide range of services that today’s city leaders can consider for innovation investment.

Air quality: Enhancing the air quality in any city through smart city technology can play a major role in improving life for all citizens. Thankfully, there has been a tremendous leap forward in air quality sensing for smart cities.

Environment: Making cities smarter, safer and more sustainable is a key vision for many city leaders. In addition to tracking air quality, it is also possible to monitor energy use, electricity, water and waste tracking, which can provide critical insights for developing sustainability policies.

Lighting: As a great first step to becoming a smart city, smart street lighting systems can help reduce electricity usage through the use of LED lights. These solutions can also brighten areas where crime is common, as well as be programmed to respond to pedestrian and vehicle activity.

Parking: Smart parking is gaining traction. It not only allows for tracking and monitoring of parking spots in garages and on streets, but also helps reduce traffic and pollution and provide a better citizen experience.

Safety and security: Keeping citizens safe and secure is foundational for today’s cities. From sensors and video intelligence to citizen reporting to enabling cross-department collaboration for responding to incidents, there are many facets and solutions related to smart city safety and security.

Transportation: From travelers and commuters becoming accustomed to having ubiquitous access to real-time transportation data on their smartphones to the rise of green fleets, smart city transportation is all about digitally driven solutions that fully optimize the movement of people.

Water and power management: With water and electricity systems being a core part of a city’s critical infrastructure, today’s smart water and power innovations allow for rapid responses and cross-department coordination — in real time — when a burst water pipe or power outage impacts an area of a city.

Examples of Smart Cities

Many cities around the world have embraced these technologies and approaches to improve services for their residents. Here are a few examples.

Munich, Germany
Munich deployed a smart monitoring system to better manage and understand the impacts of shared mobility services in the city.

The SaaS solution can track, visualize and analyze IoT data from a variety of mobility providers. The solution will monitor shared vehicles, such as e-scooters, bikes and cars, and will be the first of its kind in Germany.

The solution, built with Hexagon’s M.App Enterprise software, will also feature a dynamic digital twin of the city, allowing users to fuse the real and digital worlds and receive constant updates. With this smart monitoring system in place, the city can continually monitor and guide future mobility concepts based on data.

Baton Rouge, Louisiana

The city of Baton Rouge has created applications built upon M.App Enterprise to visualize and understand their most pressing problems.

The geospatial business applications are not only helping the mayor-president’s office and the district attorney analyze and visualize blighted property data, but they also empower the finance department to utilize the power of location by providing accurate answers about the loss of tax-exempt revenue by location.

The solution’s cross-filtering capability allows officials to explore data using multiple charts simultaneously. The city plans to extend its use to other departments to help them answer additional location-based questions and address issues ranging from crime to traffic incidents.

Milan, Italy
Identifying where leaks in underground pipelines occur is a vital yet expensive task. Satellite radar technology can give a good predictive indicator for where leaks may be occurring by measuring where the ground is subsiding around a pipeline.

Hexagon partner Planetek Italia used the power of M.App Enterprise to build and deploy Rheticus® Displacement, a cloud-based geoinformation service designed to deliver accurate satellite-based data and information for the monitoring of ground surface movements.

“The availability of fresh information on ground, buildings and infrastructure stability in a dynamic dashboard ensures timely and informed decisions on the management of our valuable infrastructure,” said Andrea Aliscioni, director of the Waste Water Treatment Division of MM S.p.A in Milan, Italy.

With the solution, city officials can focus on potential problem areas and perform preventative maintenance before disaster strikes. And knowing when and where ground instability may lead to a flood or landslide means emergency responders can react quickly and confidently, saving time, money and lives.

Move Towards a Sustainable Future

As rapid changes to technology are coupled with accelerated citizen demand, today’s smart city solutions must be capable of adapting quickly and affordably.

This means enhancing the efficiency of all urban operation and services, while also meeting the needs of future generations. As such, all smart city technologies should have an eye towards the future and should be easily replicated as a city evolves.

As the future of smart city technology is now, today’s cities are paving the way for critical innovations that will enhance the quality of life for all citizens. Learn more about how Hexagon’s solutions empower smart cities around the globe.