Ever since the COVID-19 pandemic, it seems that citizens have been abandoning their hectic city lives and migrating to other parts of the world. The pandemic has posed challenges and changed the needs for urban centers around the world, having left us with a whole new way of living. One of the major changes being the increase in working remotely; Which, in-turn, has affected transportation patterns and consumption habits. With this major shift in the way that a city typically operates, cities have been left with the opportunity to re-work and re-build to be better than before.
But what exactly makes a city better than it was before? Well, an improved overall quality of life comes from rethinking the cities to make them more resilient, sustainable, and inclusive. There is a solution that is working to include all of those things, and that is the concept of “Smart Cities”. According to a report from the McKinsey Global Institute, Smart cities: Digital solutions for a more livable future,
“Smart cities add digital intelligence to existing urban systems, making it possible to do more with less. Connected applications put real-time, transparent information into the hands of users to help them make better choices. These tools can save lives, prevent crime, and reduce the disease burden. They can save time, reduce waste, and even help boost social connectedness. When cities function more efficiently, they also become more productive places to do business.”
Architects are now challenged to strategize their designs around the goals of the city and the new roles of technology. Creating infrastructures that blend into the existing ecosystems of these cities can only be done by first understanding the community, which is done best through getting to know its citizens. Once the citizens’ needs and desires are understood, the design process for smart cities will typically be centered around these 3 things: resilience, sustainability, and inclusivity. These 3 objectives have been practiced by smart cities around the world, each one contributing to a higher quality of life:
A smart city utilizes technology that works to decrease fatalities caused by things such as road traffic, fires, and homicides. Applications designed to increase public safety include things like gunshot detection, smart surveillance, and real-time crime mapping. When citizens have access to such tools they will be able to shave a significant amount off of emergency response times, which could make all the difference in a life or death situation. Additionally, smart cities are able to ease traffic congestion by having intelligent traffic signal systems, real-time navigation alerts, and smart-parking apps. Each of these tools can safely and efficiently guide citizens where they need to go no matter what may be happening on the roads.
Sustainability has only become more popular as things like industrialization and consumption rates continue to rise. A city becoming more sustainable will not happen right away, but arming citizens with tools that make them more aware of their carbon footprint will decrease emissions significantly. Water-consumption tracking and air-quality monitoring applications provide real-time information with the public enabling them to adjust their lifestyle to be more sustainable, and protect themselves from harmful airborne pollutants.
The role of technology in healthcare, transportation, and social connectedness works to create more inclusive cities. Utilization of technology in healthcare has created options for patients to easily receive the medical attention that they need and prevent the spread of diseases. Options such as telehealth are helpful for citizens with a chronic illness or disability; telehealth combats physician shortages and is a convenient option for people who are unable to drive or get to an appointment on their own. If telehealth is not an option, applications that allow users to easily navigate public transit, or e-hail a ride, make transportation more accessible than ever. Inclusion may also stem from the increase in social connectivity that has resulted from smart cities. Social media platforms are a great example of inclusion, as they give people a way to communicate with their local officials and other community members. Additionally, online tools like E-career centers contribute to a community’s inclusiveness by helping people to get employed at any skill level. Although smart technologies may eliminate some jobs, things such as maintenance, driving roles, and temporary installation jobs have created new opportunities as well.
By designing infrastructures based on these 3 objectives, architects have achieved a higher quality of life in some of the world’s most well-known cities. In the United States for instance, Boston and New York have benefited from adopting these technologies and practices, experiencing decreases in violent crime and traffic congestion. Around the world, cities such as Copenhagen and Barcelona have been benefiting from the efforts to reduce traffic and air pollution; Bike-sharing systems, apps for cyclists to monitor traffic lights, and charging stations for electric cars are a few of the tactics that are seeing success. Now that cities globally have started to utilize these smart technologies, the next step is to observe if they truly make their communities more inclusive, sustainable and resilient. McKinsey Global Institute states in their report that the past “decade of experimentation has yielded promising results as well as valuable lessons about how to implement digital technologies in urban settings.” To determine the success of these practices throughout the next decade, cities will need to pay attention to the seven quality-of-life dimensions: listed by MGI as “safety, time and convenience, health, environmental quality, social connectedness and civic participation, jobs, and cost of living.”
“Secure, sustainable smart cities and the IoT.” Retrieved from www.thalesgroup.com/en/markets/digital-identity-and-security/IoT/inspired/smart-cities
Heine, Ilse. “Lessons from the Pandemic: The Future of ‘Smart Cities’.” Strategic Technologies Blog. 25 August 2021. Retrieved from csis.org/blogs/strategic-technologies-blog/lessons-pandemic-future-smart-cities
Woetzel, Jonathan, et al. “Smart cities: Digital Solutions for a more liveable future.” McKinsey Global Institute. June 2018. Retrieved from www.McKinsey.com/business-functions/operations/our-insights/smart-cities-digital-solutions-for-a-more-livable-future