The smarts to succeed
In 2016 there were 512 cities with a population of at least one million. According to UN estimates, this number will rise to 662 by 2030. And by that year, some 60 percent of the world's population will live in metropolitan areas: more than 4 billion people living together at extremely close quarters.
Ongoing urban growth creates many a problem for big cities. For instance: how can people move around more freely without causing gridlock? How can per capita energy consumption be cut despite increasing demand? How can cities reduce their water consumption? And how can the daily accumulation of garbage be used to generate energy? Harnessing today’s advanced digital technologies, scientists and private companies are making increasing headway in the realm of proactive, real-time urban control systems – aka "smart solutions." And communities utilizing these networked information and communication technologies in their quest for sustainable economic, ecological and social solutions have christened themselves “smart cities.”
"Smart" by design
In Asia, planned cities are emerging which include cutting-edge urban control technologies right off the drawing board. One example is the Songdo International Business District located near Seoul, the capital of Korea. Construction of this new residential and business zone for an estimated 70,000 inhabitants has been underway for almost 15 years now. And the final construction phase is due for completion in 2020. Wide-ranging data on the people who live and work in the district is collected around the clock. Public areas – and, indeed, some private premises – are under continuous video surveillance. The residents use multifunctional chip cards to access public transport, banking services and healthcare, not to mention their homes. Individual consumption and access data is downloaded from the apartments for real-time data analysis – which in turn is leveraged for energy supply management. Hopes are high that the networked monitoring system can cut the use of energy and natural resources by up to 30 percent compared to conventional cities.
Unlike these new urban centers – which have been planned from day one to optimize everyday routines – residential areas that have grown organically over decades or centuries pose different challenges for planners, as they strive to improve existing structures and systems. Solutions that are simple by design and efficient in operation are key to improvements in traffic, energy and data management. The same applies to the integration of digital systems in urban administration and public life.
Maintaining quality of life
In the Danish capital of Copenhagen, parameters such as noise level, carbon dioxide emissions, other air pollution data and capacity levels are recorded by sensors mounted in streetlights, sewers, traffic lights, and refuse containers etc. The readings are then analyzed to make urban management processes user-friendlier and more climate-compatible.
A recent study ("Quality of Living Rankings," MERCER 2016) rated Vienna as the city with the highest quality of life worldwide. With an eye to maintaining that status, the Vienna city administration has developed a smart urban strategy featuring a number of resource-saving innovations. These include an "A to B" app which displays the best route, required travel time and CO2 output for different means of transport between any two points. The app factors in the traffic conditions, users' personal preferences and the weather (www.anachb.vor.at).
Another large-scale project in Vienna is the construction of a new lakeside community in Aspern: a smart district for 20,000 residents on a 240-hectare site. When completed in 2028, it will boast ultra-modern energy-saving systems and an intelligent mobility strategy.
The ultimate goal of these projects is not to increase efficiency, but to use the digitized data to create a climate-compatible and therefore sustainable city that provides a good quality of life for all its residents. There is no shortage of groundbreaking ideas and innovations, and their implementation is progressing steadily. Bring on the future!
The last mile – in style
E-commerce has grown rapidly in recent years, particularly in the B2B and B2C sectors. As a result, the demands on services covering the final leg of deliveries – from intermediate storage to the final destination – have also increased. The time pressures are also becoming increasing, with a tightly-knit network of storage facilities now needed to shorten "last mile" delivery times. Same-day delivery is nothing unusual nowadays, and ambitious providers aspire to deliver within a matter of hours. In their efforts to improve standards, the courier, express and parcel services are tapping innovative, smart solutions that help them to configure time slots and select the best delivery option:
- transporting parcels using drones or robots
depositing consignments in car trunks
leaving consignments in a parcel shop or locker, for subsequent collection by the recipient
utilizing lockers for temporary local storage, allowing courier, express and parcel providers to deliver items by bicycle or electromobile over the last mile
allowing recipients and couriers to change delivery destinations and slots as required. Networked booking systems allow customers to re-route deliveries at any time.
notifying recipients of the projected or actual delivery time of a package
Imke Borchers is a literary scholar and editor for the Atlas.