Did you know that 54% of the world’s population lives in cities? That’s right. According to a report from the United Nations, we have more than half of the population living in cities and this number will significantly increase. The UN report estimates that by 2030 60% of the world’s population will live in cities and that 1 in every 3 people will live in cities with at least half a million inhabitants.
This is why managing urban areas is one of the most important challenges of the 21st century. We need to rethink the cities of the future, and we need to put our hands to work, specifically on issues such as sustainability, connectivity, mobility, and citizen engagement.
However, some cities are already getting closer to the future, by implementing innovative solutions that improve the quality of life of millions of people. But, which are the top smart cities in the world? What’s the best example to follow? What kind of solutions should we build for our own cities? Well, you’re about to find out.
Market research firm Juniper Research recently ranked the smarter cities in the world. To get to the final rank, researchers at Juniper took into account many different factors, including their adoption of smart grid technologies, intelligent lighting, the use of information technology to improve traffic, Wi-Fi access points, smartphone penetration, and the app landscape.
Here is the top 3.
I’ve never been to Singapore, however, according to Juniper Research, it is the top smart city in the world. Why? First, because they set it out as a goal back in 2014, with the launch of a program called Smart Nation. With this in mind, Singapore installed sensors and cameras to track everything from “the cleanliness of public spaces to the density of crowds and the precise movement of every locally registered vehicle”, explained the Wall Street Journal. A little creepy if you ask me, but this actually provides large amounts of data for the city to analyze. Meaning that they can easily identify the main problems within the city.
This data goes into an online platform called Virtual Singapore, and it pretty much gives the government an unprecedented look into how the country is functioning in real time. But, just before you think that this is getting too much like Orwell’s 1984, a spokesperson for the government said that these sensors are only installed when there are specific benefits to citizens and that it doesn’t set out to build systems and collect data before deciding what to do with it. The government has also made much of this data public, allowing for innovation to come from big companies or startups.
I’m still a bit skeptical about this whole surveillance but, Singapore is a the top smart city in the world because it was actually able to implement innovative solutions. Singapore had high marks for its smart mobility and technology as well as its wireless connectivity. For example, they developed a software called “Virtual Singapore,” a dynamic 3-D model that enables city planners to run virtual tests, verifying, for instance, how crowds might evacuate from a neighborhood facing an emergency.
They are also the world leader when it comes to transport. Singapore has implemented congestion charging while also making significant investments in road sensors, phased traffic lights, and smart parking.
As for broadband availability, Singapore also had also a very good score. According to an article on the Internet of Things Institute, there is a company called Singtel which “recently announced that it was rolling out a 10-Gbps fiber broadband service that would enable residents to download a two-hour HD movie in 90 seconds”.
Then, there is another interesting solution which is a monitoring program for the elderly. The sensors measure movements of the elderly at home. The data is then handled by private companies selected by the government. It can be accessed, with family members’ permission, by caregivers. Doris Oo told the Wall Street Journal that she has used the system when leaving her 79-year-old mother at home alone in the apartment they share. She got text messages when her mother’s movements changed, suggesting potential illness or distress.
Unlike Singapore, I’ve been to Barcelona before, and to me, it is not a surprise that the capital of Catalunia ranks number 2. Over the past few years, Barcelona has pushed for innovation to improve the lives of its inhabitants. Xavier Trias, who was the Mayor of Barcelona from 2011 to 2015, started a new team called Smart City Barcelona, who was to be responsible for integrating existing projects and identifying new opportunities to improve services for all of the city’s people and businesses. Smart City Barcelona identified 12 areas for intervention, including transportation, water, energy, waste, and open government, and they initiated 22 programs.
They have also installed sensors to monitor traffic, which enabled the city to come up with a plan to remodel its traffic, saying that it could reduce traffic by 21%. The city has also implement smart parking technology, smart streetlights, and sensors to monitoring air quality and noise.
As to wifi, they have been expanding the city’s network and having free wifi in many public spaces. Since 2013, the number of hotspots is up 62% to 670 WiFi hotspots at a maximum distance of 100 meters from point to point, and the number of WiFi users has doubled.
However, what really makes a difference in Barcelona is what they are doing in terms of energy and sustainability – smart grid pilot projects, smart meters, and a plan for reducing carbon emissions. According to an article on Data-Smart City Solutions, “to improve energy efficiency, the city installed 19,500 smart meters that monitor and optimize energy consumption in targeted areas of the city. As for waste management, households can deposit waste in smart bins that monitor waste levels and optimize collection routes.
And to top it all off, Barcelona has also made its Sentilo sensor and actuator platform available on the Internet. The open-source software platform can be found on Github, and it allows city planners around the world to study data from Barcelona’s smart city projects and learn from them.
For London, it all began in tackling congestion and to make parking simpler. But, since then, many of the key issues have been addressed. Like other cities in Europe, London has also made its data available to the public with a platform called London Datastore. However, it is on traffic and congestion that most of its efforts lay. This includes building new roads, investing in public transportation, and in smart traffic technology.
Nonetheless, and despite all the efforts, London is not ranking higher mostly because of its use of unclean energy and its poor energy use reduction initiatives.
Notice that Lisbon is not on this list? Well, soon it will be. With initiatives such as Lisbon Aberta, an open data platform from the city of Lisbon, and Smart Open Lisboa, a startup program on smart cities, Lisbon is putting itself on the map.
If you want to be part of this future, find out more about it here.