10 smart cities that are actually smart
If you ask IBM, Cisco or any mayor of a city aspiring to global status, smart cities are the greatest thing since sliced bread.
But with sensors and cameras sending reams of data to a centralized hub, some critics are creeped out by the potential Big Brother abuses of this $1 trillion industry. Others worry about living in sterile urban environments lacking in serendipity. Still, with another 2.5 billion people forecast to be living in cities by 2050, getting smarter could be the only path to keeping cities livable. Listed below are some of the hidden gems to come out of the “smart city” movement.
1) Lisbon, Portugal
According to National Geographic, the city of Lisbon, Portugal offers a service to tourists with kids—a wearable tracker and cell phone app that lets you find your kids in case they get lost. The app uses GPS and cell towers to find your kid and you can press a button to immediately notify police. Extremely useful in a city where you don’t speak the language.
2) Porto, Portugal
Lots of cities advertise themselves as offering free public Wifi, but we all know that coverage can be spotty. The city of Porto, Portugal has solved this problem by equipping its municipal fleet of buses and garbage trucks with special “NetRider” boxes that double as Wifi hotspots, forming a mesh network. As a result, internet coverage in the city is “ubiquitous and reliable.”
3) Boston, USA
Since 2007, Boston police have been using Shotspotter, a system that allows them to detect the location of shots fired in real-time. The moment the sound of a gunshot reaches a nearby sensor, the police computer system triangulates the shooter’s position and a camera zeroes in on them, even if the person is running away. Within minutes, police in the field can find the suspect and stop them for questioning.
4) Glasgow, UK
According to the BBC, the city of Glasgow, Scotland has rolled out a new app that allows the city to track cyclists’ routes, distances travelled and average speeds. The cyclist doesn’t derive any immediate benefit, but the (anonymous) information will allow the city to know where to fix and build bicycle lanes.
5) Songdo, South Korea
By some accounts, the planned high tech city of Songdo, near Seoul, South Korea, is sterile and over programmed. But one feature of the new city is undeniably cool: there are no garbage trucks in Songdo. Instead, garbage is sucked out of individual kitchens through a tunnel system and sent straight to processing centers. There are plans afoot to use some of the waste as a source of renewable energy.
6) Lagos, Nigeria
Africa’s biggest city currently has a population of 12.6 million, which is expected to double by 2030. Whether you believe they’re trying to help, or practicing e-colonization, international companies are competing to turn Lagos into a “smart city” that can somehow barely cope with its massive population challenges.
As reported by MIT Technology Review, IBM launched an innovation center in Lagos this year. One area where they expect to help is with Lagos’ notorious traffic jams, which start at 6 a.m. and make Manhattan streets look like quiet country road. The company hopes to use big data to optimize travel routes in the city.
7) Medellin, Colombia
Another city where traffic jams are endemic is Medellin, Colombia. For instance, by minibus, it takes residents of the barrio of Santo Domingo one or two hours to reach the city center. But a cable car system installed in 2004 has shortened the ride to just seven minutes. This gives poor slum dwellers better access to jobs, and has reportedly even slashed the city’s murder rate in half.
8) Nairobi, Kenya
Kibera is a slum in Nairobi that houses 250,000 people without adequate toilets or running water. In 2009, residents and outside volunteers started an initiative called Map Kibera to literally put the slum on the map. While residents of richer cities fear surveillance from their local government, residents of Kibera felt invisible and wanted to be seen in the hope of attracting government investment.
For instance, a project called Voice of Kibera plots media stories about the slum onto the map. There is another project that tracks infrastructure projects like water pumps and latrines. Residents of the slum can also use the map to track corrupt officials who say they are making upgrades and actually aren’t.
9) Belgrade, Serbia
A Serbian startup called Strawberry Energy has installed a dozen “strawberry trees” throughout Serbia and other Balkan countries. The “trees” look like public art installations and have solar panels on their roofs. You can sit on a bench next to the installation and charge your phone. Each charging station has 16 cords and there are plans to equip them with Wifi as well so that they really become hubs for socializing.
10) Fredericton, Canada
As the smart city trend grows, one wonders who will control the data collected and infrastructure? Will it be the government, large companies or community members?
In 1999, the capital of the Canadian province of New Brunswick decided to build its own fiber optic network instead of buying services from an outside provider. The city created a co-op and installed over 15 miles of fiber optic cable, which it later used to provide free Wifi to the entire city. Today, the small town of 80,000 hosts a lively startup scene.