Roosevelt Institute | Cornell University

The Future of an Urbanized World: Smart Cities

By Marc AlessiPublished November 9, 2014

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The dawn of a new era is upon us. Technology is reshaping our lives in ways we would have never imagined before. And now, with the help of data analysis and state of the art sensors, technology has impacted the infrastructure of cities. Smart cities are now popping up around the world; some from scratch, others developing by renovating today's bustling cities. Soon, smart cities will become the norm, with technology leading the way.
By Marc Alessi, 11/9/14



Imagine a city that acts almost like a living organism, where sensors regulate anything from temperature, to traffic systems, to consumption.  Fact or fiction?  Fact.  Some companies across the globe are working with governments to build smart cities from scratch.  The movement first started in 2001 when the South Korean government, under its environmentally friendly President Kim Dae-jung, pushed for green building initiatives.  POSCO E&C, a Korean construction giant, partnered with Gale International, a New York-based real-estate company, to develop and construct the world's first smart city, Songdo. 

The city first opened in 2009 as the Songdo International Business District with the tallest building in Korea, a city-plan that avoids traffic jams, a Central Park, a Grand Canal, some of the best educational centers, and, most importantly, data-analyzing computers and sensors that make it easier for people to live and breathe in the city.  The entire city is built with the most innovative, environmentally exciting technologies.  And now, governments and urban centers across the world are working together to try to make Songdo a reality in other nations.

In India, smart cities are providing public services more efficiently through technology.  "Integral to a smart city is information technology, where a network of sensors, cameras, wireless devices and data centers form the key infrastructure for providing services," says Vishal Malik, director of Coldwell Banker India.  In new smart cities in India, such as Kochi Smart City and Gujarat International Finance Tec-City (GIFT), the goal is to get businesses out of cities like Mumbai and Bangalore and into these newly constructed, innovative cities with technology ranging from smart meters for water management, state of the art security, intelligent traffic signals, to waste management based on recycling.  Songdo and GIFT may be promising smart cities built from the ground up, but across the world, urban planners and designers are working hard in metropolitan areas that have been standing for centuries, making large-scale innovative improvements.

This is the case in the United Kingdom where one of its cities, Glasgow, has recently won 24 million pounds from a private company that wants to make it the UK's first smart city.  The project seeks to make the city more energy efficient by monitoring energy levels, ending traffic jams through fast responses to road incidents and traffic congestion, and by creating apps to help the citizens of Glasgow get around the city.  But let's not stop there, a recent ranking of the world's top 10 smartest cities puts Vienna, Austria first, with its high quality of life, programs like Energy Vision 2050, Roadmap 2020, Action Plan 2012-2015, and sustainability initiatives.  Surprisingly, New York City scored a close 4th place, thanks to its partnership with IBM to launch the IBM Business Analytics Solution Center, helping the city save money through data analysis.

The World's cities are changing quickly.  From Asia to the Americas, cities are competing against each other to get their hands on the most innovative technology and incorporate it into their cities to save money, become more sustainable, and make life easier for the local population.  Soon, our roads, energy systems, waste management, transportation, and water will be technologically linked to improve a city's infrastructure, making our lives easier while helping the city become more environmentally friendly.