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Why smart cities are the future of cities

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Smart cities will soon become the new normal. Worldwide, most major cities have developed a concept of becoming ‘smart’. Logically, with climate change posing an imminent threat, sustainability is at the center of most innovative cities. As a result, smart cities are the future. 

The definition of smart cities varies across countries.  However, generally speaking, a smart city is an advanced city in terms of networks and services where digital technologies increase efficiency all around. From inhabitants to businesses and even city administration, all processes are affected. This includes ICT, transport, water supply, waste disposal, energy generation and consumption, buildings and much more.  In addition to that, our ageing populations’ needs are better satisfied, and communal places are made safer. Most importantly, air quality is improved too!

Understandably, this does sound a bit too good to be true, but frameworks already exist. 

The need for smart cities

It is undeniable that climate change is impacting the world we live in. To survive and provide for future generations, our societies need to become more environmentally friendly and sustainable. Initiatives to reduce carbon emissions (Paris Agreement, European Green Deal) can only be achieved if everyone contributes.

Additionally, rising urbanization precipitates challenges such as meeting needs and desires without destroying the environment even further. Unfortunately, growing energy demand is not making it any easier. 

Scarce resources like land or water need to be protected. Otherwise, high standards of living and longevity cannot be guaranteed. However, simply protecting them is not enough. We need to find solutions to rebuild the environment before reaching the point of no return. 

To manage such challenges, various concepts have already been developed. These included increased energy efficiency through digitization,solar-powered electric vehiclesfintech applications and even managing consumer demand. Last but not least, smart cities have been identified as one solution to achieve greater sustainability whilst boosting living standards.

Smart city concepts

For a city to become ‘smart’, a carefully chosen long term implementation plan must be followed. Cities should be seen as one system with individual projects all striving towards the same goal: Becoming resource-efficient, progressive, technologically advanced and inhabitant-friendly. Smart cities incorporate intelligent and innovative solutions in all areas in order to protect the environment.  

There are many approaches out there on how best to become a smart city, ranging from technology-based approaches to social-based approaches. The city of Vienna is currently ‘the most livable city in the world’ and follows a strategy based on social aspects. Contrarily, Seoul, South Korea’s capital, is leveraging their citizens tech-affinity to become the city most proficient in smart technologies. What else would ‘the most innovative country in the world’ do?  

The Vienna Approach

Vienna is following a social-based way of turning itself into a smart city. How this strategy looks in detail is described below. However, what is important to remember is that such a process is incremental in nature, takes time and requires everyone’s commitment. 

The Development

The city of Vienna has highlighted that participation is needed to become a smart city. This is not a top-down approach but rather a community effort. 

The strategic level is the first step towards becoming smart. As already mentioned, a systematically and carefully thought of long-term plan must be followed. 

The reduction of the city’s raw material and energy intensity is pursued through effective resource management. This includes smart supply, smart disposal systems, process-driven change, tech developments, and networks of all kind. These networks incorporate everything from energy, mobility, buildings and infrastructure.

Building on new technology, innovative transportation networks and traffic infrastructure will save resources and make the transportation sector ‘smart’. However, this is easier said than done. For the transportation sector to become smart, it must be accessible, affordable, and safe. Vienna is planning to tackle this challenge by developing user-friendly facilities and environmentally friendly transport modes. Car-sharing and hydrogen trains are two examples. 

In addition to this, the education and qualification sector must also be considered. Smart cities, or intelligent economies, actively support education, qualification, R&D efforts, entrepreneurship and innovation. Acquiring knowledge continuously and sharing this knowledge on both a national and an international level is essential. This depends on suitable educational environments. 

Governance is also an important area that requires change. Greater transparency, active cooperation, digitization, and individuals’ ability to actively participate in decision-making processes form a smart city. Consequently, the administration is encouraged to adapt to society’s needs and wants. 

Social dimensions need to be taken into account to increase people’s quality of life further. Technology alone is not enough. For smart cities to succeed, self-management is of utmost importance. In other words, the entire society must be actively involved in turning a conventional town into a smart city. 

The Funding

The matter of funding for such initiatives is always a significant concern. Luckily, the European Union has developed numerous funding projects to boost smart city developments all across Europe. Further, Austria has also developed national funding programs. Besides those initiatives, ‘The Smart Urban Lab aspern’, was established. This is a place where smart ideas, concepts and technologies can be combined and trialled under realistic conditions. 

The Seoul Approach

On the opposite side of the spectrum, Seoul has based its strategy on becoming a smart city on technology. For all of you who have been to South Korea, and especially Seoul, this should not come as a surprise. The level of technology, society’s demand for innovation and the financing behind the technological advances is unprecedented. 

The current state of technology

A top-down innovation system combined with heavy investments has led South Korea to become what it is today. The government has promoted Information and Communication Technologies in close cooperation with industry and academia. Korea is also among the leading countries in R&D spending, leveraging to become even more technologically advanced. 

 The ‘Smart City’ experience begins when you land at Incheon International Airport, the country’s biggest airport. It is not only a central transport hub, rated as one of the best airports globally, but also a hub for innovation. Some highlights are the automated kiosks and check in counters; use of solar PV; and even robots to guide lost passengers to their destination! At Incheon Airport, there are not many things that cannot be achieved through a smartphone app. From ordering taxis, buying tickets, ordering in the café, or even transferring money – it’s all possible. 

Known for its fast internet speeds, South Korea is also the hub for e-sports and online gaming of all kind. Further, any form of public transport is trackable in real-time; estimated arrival times, delays, and routes are publicly accessible; and it can all be paid with one single ‘T-Money’ card. For those of you who are not familiar with this kind of payment, it is a card that is charged with money and then intelligently deducts tariff when used on taxis, buses, subways and other forms of public transport.  

In Seoul, cash is rarely seen; most payments are made via credit card or smartphone. Apps exist for everything. Fintech has become a central topic, where government policy measures and funds aim to promote innovations whenever possible.

High-speed internet, public WIFI, and a fantastic cellular reception is available anywhere. No matter if you’re on top of Bukhansan (북한산) mountain or in a subway tunnel, the reception is consistently incredible. 

Home to Samsung, LG Electronics & SK, Seoul’s tech-loving citizens are blessed with leading multinational tech firms to provide them with the latest tech developments. 

Through tremendous technological advances and ambitious government plans, Seoul has become a model ‘smart city.’ The Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, and Transport even has a website solely designated to smart cities, called ‘Smart City Korea’

Korea’s Smart Cities 

It all began with the election of Seoul Mayor Park Won-soon in 2011. With initiatives to promote e-governance and the establishment of an organization to find social problems through the social economy, which can then be solved, the concept of smart cities was born. As a smart global city, Seoul has paved the way for other cities to become ‘smart’. 

Korea defines a Smart City as “a platform to improve quality of life for citizens, enhance the sustainability of cities, and foster new industries by utilizing innovative technologies of the 4th Industrial Revolution Era”. – The Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, and Transport

 
Development Stage

Korea first started constructing smart cities in 2013. This initiative initially came from the Korean government. To date, several local governments have participated in developing smart cities and have installed dedicated organizations for smart city developments. 

The Strategy

In June of 2019, the Korean government developed a 5-year plan to promote and expand smart cities. This roadmap includes 14 detailed tasks in 4 significant areas. 

The four areas are (i) National Pilot Smart City, (ii) Infrastructure Building, (iii) Ecosystem for Innovation, and (iv) Global Networking. 

The 14 detailed tasks can be looked up here, and comprise the following: 

  • National Pilot Smart Cities Sejong & Busan
  • Research & Development 
  • Development of Smart Solutions
  • Smart City Living Lab
  • Distribution of Integrated Platform 
  • Drastic Regulatory Improvement 
  • Create an Industrial Ecosystem 
  • Build Cooperative Governance
  • Smart City National Support Consignment 
  • Smart City Global Network 
  • Export of K-Smart Cities 
  • Overseas Cooperation – New Town Development 
  • Overseas Cooperation – Solutions Export 
  • World Smart City Expo

Smart Cities – Summary

Smart cities are what we should all be striving for. They aim to achieve a better overall standard of living in sychronisation with environmental goals rather than at the expense of our planet. 

As explored above, there are a broad range of strategies that can be implemented to make a city ‘smart.’ However, something they all have in common is unity. Unity in development, unity in promotion, unity in adoption, and unity in living. Only through cooperation and commitment to a shared goal can a sustainable and resource protecting society be achieved.  

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