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What are smart cities?

What are smart cities?

Smart cities are not just about technology. They’re about transforming people’s way of life.

Cities are increasingly under pressure from two directions: population growth and rapid technological change. The United Nations (UN) predicts that 66 per cent of the 9.7 billion people on the planet will be living in cities by 2050. This change will add 2.5 billion more people to the urban population, who will also consume more energy, water and other resources. How will our cities be able to meet the demand of the earth’s growing population? 

With the rise of the internet of things (IoT), automation, virtual reality (VR) and artificial intelligence (AI), public and private sectors are in the best position to take the opportunity and develop the smart use of integrated systems and technology so that our future cities to become highly functioning, liveable, and sustainable – or in short, smart. 

How are smart cities smart?

Smart cities are defined as cities that use integrated processes, smart engineering or creative design to self-regulate its environment and operations.

Using smart technologies that are connected through the Internet of Things (IoT), a smart city uses sensors to analyse its environment and automatically modify its operations to provide for users in that environment. It can make its own decisions and respond to changes in the environment without human intervention.

Five key ingredients for a successful smart city

According to the UK Department for Business Innovation and Skills (BIS), successful intelligent cities effectively integrate the “physical, digital, and human systems in the built environment” to help urban areas thrive socially, economically, and environmentally. They are typified by having:

Asian woman with smart watch

  1. Smart citizens at the centre of design – Building smart cities is about enhancing people’s lives, creating liveable environments and connecting the community to its city. Every piece of technology embedded to our cities (sensors, traffic lights, CCTV cameras, etc.) is defined by the purpose of keeping the city and its people moving and safe.

  2. Good governance – Transforming cities to be smart and sustainable doesn’t happen overnight and it certainly doesn’t happen on its own. For these sophisticated systems to work, all institutions, private and public, must work constructively together with short-, medium- and long-term visions agreed and shared through interoperable systems and data.

  3. Data collection and management excellence – What makes cities smart is not the digital technology installed on the corners of roads, highways and transport systems. It is the data collected and how it is analysed and used to help in planning and developing solutions for our cities – now and into the future. Inherent to this is ensuring trust in privacy and security in gathering and using the information collected.

  4. Integrated and shared frameworks – Aside from collaboration between government and private institutions, intelligent cities need all technologies and systems to be integrated, in sync and aligned in shared frameworks. These frameworks are maintained around standards, interoperability of service delivery systems and service delivery modes.

  5. Efficiency and sustainabilitySustainability, in an economic, social and environmental context, is a consistent priority in creating smart cities. All systems and sensors are designed to capture data that will help in reducing energy consumption, promoting a healthier environment and delivering efficient transactions and processes around the city. 

Five considerations for designing smart cities

  1. Smart cities are long-term investments
    Transforming our cities to be smart is an investment for the future, designed with the purpose to address the ever-changing needs of residents. It’s not just about technology for technology’s sake. While the returns on investment may not always be financial, the benefits found in reduced energy consumption, increased productivity, improved security, and improved sustainable outcomes will all be invaluable in enhancing its residents’ quality of life.

  2. Each city has a unique DNA
    There is no cookie-cutter approach to building smart cities. Each city has its own history, environment, economy, society and constraints. This must be taken into consideration when designing a strategy.

  3. Human-centred approach is key
    It’s not an option, it’s a must. Adopting a human-centred approach is important to understand the needs and concerns of the community and should be done from the very beginning. Residents and citizens must be taken in the journey and given the chance to provide their feedback for engineers, developers and government agencies, which leads to the development of more effective and holistic smart solutions.

  4. Synergy unlocks new opportunities, with technology as the enabler
    Open data provides the right people with the right resources to develop solutions that make cities smarter. We need to share data, break down silos and approach issues with a “wider systems” way of thinking.

  5. Horizon approach
    Successful transformation requires thorough prioritisation and concurrent management of the here, now and future. Keeping one eye on the far horizon, while focusing on smaller initiatives, is key to identifying where the greatest prospects lie to disrupt or to be disrupted.


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