7 Lesser-Known Smart Cities of the World

Issue #18

I’m Vignesh Kaushik. I curate and write articles on Thank God It’s Computational to help architects, designers, and urban planners leverage cutting-edge technologies on AEC projects.

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What exactly makes a city a truly intelligent and connected one? Is it installing sensors and connecting them to Internet of Things (IoT)? Or is it making data open for public to build apps for themselves? No doubt, our technology promises to make cities more sustainable, cleaner and safer. But by simply replacing a city’s street lighting to IoT powered sensor infrastructure, a city doesn’t become smart. It becomes efficient, but not smart. For cities to be truly smart, the urban fabric needs to be just as intelligent and connected as the infrastructure. Cities are vibrant only when it’s citizens are ‘engaged’ and participate in governance and policy making. They can effectively be engaged only when cities fuel their collective intelligence with data.

Cities have the capability of providing something for everybody, only because, and only when, they are created by everybody.
—Jane Jacobs, The Death and Life of Great American Cities

Big cities like New York, Toronto, London, Singapore, Dubai, Copenhagen are much ’smarter’ compared to most other cities in the world. But there are smaller cities that are increasingly 'engaging’ their citizens and thereby becoming 'smarter’ with innovative public-private-community participation initiatives.

This week, let’s look at a handful of such lesser known smart cities that are cash-strapped yet have done an awesome job of keeping it’s Citizens front and center.

Lesser-Known Smart Cities in North America

Kansas City, USA: Using Smart City Infrastructure to Spur Economic Growth

The Smart City corridor follows the 2.2 mile-long streetcar route at Downtown Kansas. The public can now see a live visualization of the data on a map that shows available parking, traffic flow and pedestrian hotspots, as well as the location of KC Streetcars. The project is a collaboration between Kansas City, Sprint, Cisco and Think Big Partners. The Sprint Wi-Fi network will enable connectivity between the project’s sensors and devices, while Cisco will be providing smart city infrastructure. The City owns the data and will soon migrate it to the City’s Open Data Catalog. Kansas City has now more than one billion dollars in economic development underway within the boundaries of the KC Streetcar.

Louisville, USA: Co-Creating Smart City with Citizen Scientists

Unlike other cities, Louisville isn’t heavily investing taxpayer money in things such as IoT sensors, smart street lights, and other cutting edge technologies. Instead, it’s looking for partners - both corporate and community. They have launched LouieLab, a truly public co-working, co-creation space for businesses and community to collaborate and work together on solving important problems. Also, instead of creating bespoke solutions, Louisville is trying to build on open technologies and platforms. For example, city’s air quality data is now available on a new IFTTT channel that relays information to subscribers through text, email or even by changing the color of the user’s smart light bulb in their home.

Lesser-Known Smart Cities in South America

Buenos Aires, Argentina: Smart City That Engages With Citizens

The Argentinian capital isn’t ranked as one of the world’s most advanced cities. But recent projects show it’s working hard and offering a path for other cash-strapped cities to still become smarter. In 2014, Buenos Aires introduced a new agency called the Ministry of Modernization charged with providing quick solutions to maximize citizens’ time and open datasets for private developers to leverage. The ministry launched mobile apps citizens could use to register complaints or they could flow in via geo-referenced tweets as well. For instance, when a resident sees a problem like a manhole missing or a broken sidewalk, she can tweet a picture to the ministry along with a short description. The app, using GIS , sends the location of the complaint to the ministry and work is assigned to the nearest vendor to resolve the issue. To close the loop, a city street inspector—using a mobile device—validates the work done by the vendor and uploads a picture through the app showing the issue was resolved.

Medellin, Columbia: From Notoriously Violent To Winning World City Prize

Medellin, Colombia has beaten off 38 other cities to be named as the winner of the biennial Lee Kuan Yew World City Prize, which is awarded by the Singapore government. An important tool designed to promote Medellín’s smart city profile is MiMedellín platform. This platform aims at developing and implementing new ideas of citizens contributing to the transformation and co-creation of their city. In the environmental strategy, the Early Warning System integrates information from over 100 sensors in 7 different types of networks to capture environmental information. Added to this are the Integrated Metropolitan Emergency and Security System, a systemic strategy of inter-institutional convergence between the security and emergency agencies of the State that integrates more than 10 local and national government agencies. You can download a detailed report about Medellin here.

Lesser-Known Smart Cities in Europe

Barcelona, Spain: A 'Network Of Networks' Smart City

Barcelona capitalized on the 500 Km of fiber optic cable backbone to provide responsive parking and street lighting, smarter public transit, and citywide sensing capabilities—in the process, it became a hub for planning the future of the data-driven city. Barcelona estimates that IoT systems have helped save $58 million on water, increased parking revenues by $50 million per year, and generated 47,000 new jobs. To capitalize on the energy around the city’s IoT projects, Barcelona has actively fostered its local technology industry. It’s integrated sensor network is relayed through Sentilo, a platform developed specifically for the city, which is now open source and available for reuse by other governments.

Santander, Spain: Largest Sensor Infrastructure Per Capita

The city-run project involves 20,000 sensors that measure traffic flow, parking spaces, noise, pollution, temperature, moisture levels, and other metrics from fixed locations such as buildings, parks, streetlights, and bus stops. Santander residents can add to the information flow by downloading the “Pulse of the City” (PoC) app that turns their smartphones into sensors. The data were all stored in a centralized cloud platform for easy access to city officials. The city officials analyze data in real-time to adjust the amount of energy they use, the number of trash pickups needed in a given week, and how much water to sprinkle on the lawns of city parks. They have also made the information available to developers to create consumer services. For example, SmartSantanderRA, an augmented reality mobile application, includes information on more than 2,700 beaches, parks, monuments, tourism offices, and other city sites. You can download the full case study report about Santander here.

Lesser-Known Smart Cities in Asia

Anyang, Korea: A Top-Down Approach To Smart Cities

Anyang, a 600,000 population city near Seoul is developing international recognition on its smart city project that has been implemented incrementally since 2003. This initiative began with the Bus Information System to enhance citizen’s convenience at first, and has been expanding its domain into wider Intelligent Transport System as well as crime and disaster prevention in an integrated manner. Anyang’s Ubiquitous Integrated Center (U-IC) acts as the platform that gathers, analyzes and distributes information for mobility, disasters management and crime. Anyang is currently utilizing big data for policy development and is continuing its endeavor to expand its smart city services into areas such as waste and air quality management.