The Smart City Dream is becoming a reality – and it’s improving people’s lives

Last month we highlighted how the smart city ideal is becoming a global engine that’s driving toward a low-carbon future, as the adoption of smart city solutions regarding sustainability speeds up. This month, we take a look at how smarter cities mean higher quality of living and overall happiness rates for the people who live there.

A market in blossom – Smart city global market developments

Before we jump into the most recent developments in smart cities that are making average people’s lives better, it’s worth looking at the bigger picture and quantifying the increase of pace we’re experiencing in the smart city space. Recent reports from analysts like GlobalData forecast the smart city market – i.e.: deals related to smart city infrastructure development and upgrades – will almost double from 2018 levels of $441 billion to encompass $833 billion by 2030. In the past two years alone, a total of 151 major deals regarding smart city projects have been struck worldwide. 

Despite the disruption of the global pandemic in 2020 and into 2021 (and also because of it) there is a greater impetus now than ever before to make cities smarter in response to our growing societal, economic and environmental problems.

Upgrading the urban living experience – How smart cities are improving their citizens’ lives

Helsinki – Trombia Free: In the Finnish capital Helsinki, the world’s first fully powered, electric and autonomous street sweeper robot has been deployed as part of a pilot scheme to automate the city’s operations. The Trombia Free robot reputedly only uses 15% of the energy that a conventional street sweeper would use, making it a vastly more sustainable option. In terms of improving the lives of people living in Helsinki, the robot is so quiet in its operations that it can be deployed at night, minimising traffic disruption without disturbing citizens’ sleep. 

Saudi Arabia – The Line: We’ve talked before about the sustainability potential of The Line, Saudi Arabia’s bold vision of an entirely new kind of city. However, The Line also represents a clear break with many of the worst issues of inner city living, offering a glimpse of markedly improved living standards for the people who live there. Since The Line aims to have no cars at all, only AI-enabled micro-mobility services, this means zero congestion and zero air pollution from car exhausts. Additionally, as there’s no need for massive car parks, garages and other car-related infrastructure, the city’s design has much more room for the amenities and green spaces that citizens actually want. Accordingly, The Line’s smart design approach offers residents a chance to secure a convenient city lifestyle, but one that’s complete with guaranteed easy commuting, clean air and access to nature.

Dubai – The Dubai Food Security Dashboard: In many of our newsletters we’ve drawn attention to the severity of the Middle East’s food and water security challenges, and how smarter long-term solutions are needed to counterbalance these issues. A year ago, Dubai's Supreme Committee of Crisis and Disaster Management launched The Dubai Food Security Dashboard – an AI and data science powered platform that provides live updates on five important indicators for food security: the supply index, stock availability, domestic production, consumption and the price index for all vital food and beverage commodities in Dubai. A year on since its launch, the dashboard has proved its value in ensuring through its AI, data-driven insights that essential food stocks did not run out even during the worst of the pandemic, while also ensuring that Dubai citizens could buy said supplies at reasonable rates. As food and water security issues continue to loom large, this is a vital avenue of progress to a genuinely potential life-threatening problem.

Boston – Participatory Urbanism: Interconnectivity is at the heart of the smart city ideal, and that includes the people who live there. Boston is taking this to the next level with its ‘participatory urbanism’ concept, which lets citizens get actively involved in determining the direction and development of new smart city services and initiatives. Current efforts include ‘Citizens Connect’ a smartphone app that lets people make their neighbourhoods better by giving them an easy tool to report service problems; ‘Community PlanIt’, which is a platform designed to complement in-person community meetings, while reaching out to audiences that might not attend such meetings; and the ‘Welcome Home Challenge’ where Bostonians submit ideas for new businesses and improvements to the city’s growing Innovation District. Deploying initiatives that aim to get citizens actively involved in making their city smarter is a growing trend we’re seeing, one that’s boosting happiness and satisfaction levels in urban environments.

London – Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park: A lot of projects built in relation to the Olympic Games end up being expensive and unsustainable white elephants, but this is not the case with London’s Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park. Repurposed within 14 months after the 2012 Olympics, these 45 hectares of parkland have blossomed into a community that now features 10,000 new homes, a university district and a media and digital hub. More recent developments include its low-carbon heat and cooling network and landscaping methods that utilise natural environmental features to promote biodiversity and mitigate flood risk. This is one prominent example of how evolving smart city design methods are creating communities that offer residents tangibly better living standards alongside more sustainable urban growth.

Happy people, happy cities

This is just a handful of the hundreds of major smart city projects and initiatives that continue to pull new and existing urban centres towards unlocking their full potential. While government spokespersons and urban planners frequently talk about smart city innovations in grand strategic terms, citing net sustainability gains and economic opportunities, there is the equally important dimension of raising the overall quality of life for average city-based citizens to consider. 

Health, happiness, security and safety levels are as much the yardsticks for measuring the ‘smartness’ of a city as the range of its automated transport solutions or the coverage of its public WiFi. As cities get smarter worldwide, this should translate into better, healthier, happier and more fulfilling lives for the people who live there.