Cities are growing, evolving. And innovation plays a huge role in this transformation.
Almost 10,000 years ago, hunter-gatherers learned the secrets of selective breeding and agriculture, and managed to grow their own food. For the first time in history, humans found a way to survive without moving to a different territory to find new sources of food. And that’s how everything started.
It wasn’t until the Industrial Revolution that modern cities as we know them appeared. New technologies deployed on a mass scale allowed these vast communities to grow faster than ever before. This video shows (quite spectacularly), the evolution of the most populated cities over time.
In order to improve these big communities and prevent them from collapsing, innovation is and has always been key. Cities need sanitation systems, properly-built homes, secure transportation. And the list goes on forever. Even if we have evolved a lot since hunter-gatherers changed the course of history, there’s still much left to be done.
What’s the future of cities, then?
The future of cities will come hand in hand with innovation. Cities won’t be cities anymore. They’ll be Smart Cities.
The City of the Future: The Challenges
How will the city of the future look like?
There is not just one good answer.
Cities are made by the people that inhabit them, and people are profoundly affected by culture and by the city itself. Thus, two cities facing the same problem might need two different solutions.
And that’s probably the main challenge encountered when trying to develop a Smart City. A Smart City is not just a city that uses cool technology. It’s a city that carefully studies the habits and the needs of its citizens and tries to fix them in the most suitable way.
That’s the difficulty and the beauty of it, right?
Some of the challenges that the city of the future will face. Source.
But even though the solutions might differ, there are some main challenges that affect most cities. And we’ve made a list with the most relevant ones.
In the City of the Future, Mobility Will Change Radically
Traffic. Who likes it, right? It always ranks as one of the main problems affecting cities. If there’s ever such a thing as the perfect Smart City, smart mobility will play a key role in it.
Smart mobility faces problems such as traffic, pollution, car accidents, parking and many more. (This infographic explains pretty well this and other benefits of the Smart City).
But let’s clarify something before anyone gets confused.
How 21st-Century Planning is Different
Governments and citizens have always tried to foresee potential problems and fix those already happening. However, the approach to solving these problems is radically different now to what it was before.
For example: Some decades ago, the solution to busy highways was to add a new lane.
Well, maybe not so much.
What seemed like a good way to reduce congestion brought, in fact, poor results. Adding a new lane didn’t reduce traffic. Instead, it attracted new drivers that didn’t use that route in the past. Instead of fewer cars on highways, cities ended up with equally congested roads (only, this time, they had an extra lane full of vehicles.)
The city of the future will face problems differently. Instead of just adding a new lane, those trying to create a smart city should look at the problem from different points of view. Do we really need that many cars? Should we be owning cars or should we share them? Would it be preferable to have self-driving cars? What percentage of traffic is caused by people looking for a parking spot? Perhaps we should make parking smarter? The possibilities are endless, and the answers vary depending on the city.
So, back to mobility.
Some of the main elements that will shape mobility in the city of the future are:
Shared Mobility: Ride-hailing services have been growing steadily for years. And every indication suggests that they will keep doing so. The city of the future is, without a doubt, a city where people will share transportation methods such as cars, motorbikes or scooters. Why own your own car when there’s such a thing as Mobility As A Service? (MaaS)
Electric Vehicles: Electric vehicles are becoming more popular every year, but cities have a long way to go until they’re fully prepared to “host” these types of vehicles. The number of available chargers is still low, and grid capacity needs to be improved (nowadays, it is not fully prepared to charge vehicles such as electric buses.) These are some of the problems that get in the way of mass adoption of electric cars, and cities will need to face them in the near future.
Traffic Management: Traffic is one of the main problems for urban areas worldwide. Fortunately, new solutions are coming up everyday to try to fix this problem (or, at least, mitigate its consequences). Startups and big corporations all around are developing systems to try to address this issue. Pittsburgh, for example, deployed a system that uses video and radar to analyze traffic in 50 intersections and adjusts signals in real-time. This AI-based system has reduced travel times by 26%, and vehicle emissions by 21%.
Buildings in Future Cities are Not Just Buildings
Nowadays, 50% of the total human population lives in cities. Studies predict that 35 years from now, that percentage will rise up to 75%. That means we need to find a home to 3 billion people in just 35 years.
And, if we want future cities to be smart cities, not every building is good enough. We need our skyline to be made up of buildings that are, amongst other things:
Sustainable: The buildings where we work and live create almost 50% of CO2 emissions on the planet. Smart buildings are designed with sustainability in mind. This means things such as low-energy houses, natural materials (like cork, clay or recycled paper,) renewable energy use, or waste reduction.
Secure: We’re talking about buildings with integrated fire prevention systems or intrusion and access control. Obviously, it’s also essential to protect the building’s systems from hackers.
Cost-efficient: There are many ways in which a smart building helps its inhabitants save money. It detects occupancy patterns and adapts how much energy it consumes. Cooling and ventilations are regulated automatically. Sensors are able to detect potential maintenance problems and stop them before they happen. And so much more.
IoT: The Core Technology Upon Which The Future City is Built
Without the Internet of Things, Smart Cities wouldn’t exist. These intelligent, interconnected cities, rely on data collection for everything. And that is what IoT sensors do: they collect data and feed it into a platform so it can be analyzed.
In the city of the future, devices must be able to communicate between each other, so decisions can be made. Authorities and city officials must work hand in hand with network operators to position several connectivity points throughout the city to ensure proper communication.
Future Cities Will Be Sustainable (And This is Not an Option)
Sustainability is key in the development of any Smart City, and it is closely related to some other challenges we’ve already talked about throughout the article. We have mentioned traffic or sustainable buildings. But, hey, there’s a lot more:
Waste management: Smart Cities need to face different problems related to waste management, such as overfilled trash bins, unoptimized truck routes or the need to separate mixed materials for recycling. Well-applied technology can definitely help solve these kinds of issues. For example, sensors attached to trash bins can measure fill level, send an automatic alert if it reaches a certain limit and automatically optimize collection trucks’ route.
Energy: “The city of the future will definitely be energy-efficient. It might even produce energy instead of consuming it.” Those aren’t our words. They’re Daniyar Tanatov’s, Partner Account Manager at Spaceti. "It would be great if future cities were self-sustainable, meaning that they should produce the energy they consume. The main challenge for this is convincing companies and governments to invest more in this area." How do cities produce more energy than they consume? Turbines or solar panels on rooftops are a possibility. Or even solar walls - buildings with solar panels incorporated into their facade.
Working Hours: Unexpected, maybe? Current working hours levels vastly exceed what we could consider sustainable, concluded research conducted by thinktank Autonomy. Fewer working hours would mean less commuting, fewer products manufactured and less resources used. Technologies such as Artificial Intelligence could help overcome a challenge that, nowadays, seems unsolvable.
The City of the Future: Who is Behind It
Startups play a key role when it comes to finding new solutions to build the city of the future.
The challenges that smart cities face are endless, and public institutions and large corporations simply can’t come up with all the solutions that we need. Some of the most brilliant (and passionate) minds are in startups that are still finding their way in a global ecosystem. For corporations, these startups are a threat, but also an opportunity.
ARTICLE WRITTEN BY: FERNANDO LEIRA CORTEL
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