Nº 5 2013 > Technology Watch

Smart cities

Smart cities may be new cities built smart right from the start or cities established for a special purpose (such as an industrial city or a science p
Smart cities may be new cities built smart right from the start or cities established for a special purpose (such as an industrial city or a science park) or —– most commonly —– an existing city made smart step by step.

What is a smart city?

A smart city can be defined as a “knowledge”, “digital”, “cyber” or “eco” city, depending on the goals set by the city’s planners. Smart cities are forward-looking economically and socially. They monitor critical infrastructure including roads, bridges, tunnels, rails, subways, airports, sea-ports, communications, water, power, even major buildings, to optimize resources and security. And they maximize services to citizens, providing a sustainable environment that fosters happiness and wellness. These services rely on information and communication technology (ICT) infrastructure.

Structurally, a smart city is a system of systems working together. This interoperation of countless systems demands openness and standardization — key principles in smart city construction. Without openness and standardization, a smart city project quickly becomes cumbersome and expensive. A smart city’s constituent technologies include the high-speed optical, sensor, wired and wireless networks that are necessary to enable such benefits as intelligent transport systems, smart grids and home networking.

A smart city’s relationship with its citizens is what distinguishes it most from a traditional city. The ICT-supported services of traditional cities cannot respond to changing economic, cultural and social contexts in the way that smart-city services can. Thus a smart city is above all a human-centric city, which relies on an ICT infrastructure and continued urban development, always taking environmental and economic sustainability into account (see figure).

Smart cities around the world

Smart cities may be new cities built smart right from the start or cities established for a special purpose (such as an industrial city or a science park) or — most commonly — an existing city made smart step by step. Many of the world’s major cities have embarked on smart city projects, including Seoul, New York, Tokyo, Shanghai, Singapore, Amsterdam, Cairo, Dubai, Kochi and Malaga. Considering today’s rate of innovation, it is highly likely that over the coming decade, smart city models will become widely attainable and popular strategies for city development.

Existing smart city projects differ. Amsterdam’s approach is to achieve greater environmental sustainability through smarter operations, employing state-of-the-art technologies in efforts to reduce emissions and use energy more efficiently. Other cities aim to make a broad range of city functions smart, with ubiquitous smart technology playing a role in all aspects of citizens’ lives. Two examples of this strategy are the Republic of Korea’s Ubiquitous City (u‑City), launched in 2004, and Deutsche Telekom’s T‑City launched in Germany in 2006. Smart Seoul (see https://itunews.itu.int/En/4148-Smart-Seoul.note.aspx) aims for smarter city management and a better quality of life for its inhabitants.

Cities set their own priorities, but all smart cities display three essential traits. The first is ICT infrastructure. Securing next-generation ICT infrastructure is critical to the success of emerging smart-city services and to anticipating future service demands. Second, the city must have a well-defined and integrated management framework. The many systems of a smart city will work in harmony only through strict adherence to common standards. Third, a smart city needs smart users. ICT are the tools to enable a smart city, but are of no use without technically savvy users able to interact with smart services. A smart city must not only increase access to smart devices across income levels and age groups, but also offer access to education on the use of these devices. A smart city relies on an inclusive network of smart device users, with the city’s inhabitants demanding or creating the services they most value.

Standardizing for smart cities

Given the importance of standardization in creating smart cities, a wide range of activities are under way in different organizations. For example, the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) is looking at smart city standards through a group focused on “smart community infrastructure metrics”. ITU’s Telecommunication Standardization Sector (ITU–T) has established a Focus Group on Smart Sustainable Cities to assess the standardization requirements of cities aiming to boost their social, economic and environmental sustainability through the integration of ICT in their infrastructures and operations.

ITU–T Study Group 5 — Environment and climate change — agreed to form this new Focus Group at its meeting held in Geneva from 29 January to 7 February 2013. The creation of the Focus Group answers a call to action proposed in September 2012 at ITU’s second Green Standards Week, held in Paris. “Smart Sustainable Cities” is also the theme of ITU’s third Green ICT Application Challenge.

Making the smart city the next stage in the process of urbanization will call for new ICT standards, infrastructure and solutions to ensure that this vision becomes a reality. The ITU–T Focus Group on Smart Sustainable Cities will act as an open platform for smart city stakeholders — such as municipalities, academic and research institutes, non-governmental and ICT organizations, and industry forums and consortia. Stakeholders will be able to exchange knowledge in the interests of identifying the standardized frameworks needed to support the integration of ICT services in smart cities.


This article is based on an ITU Technology Watch report entitled “Smart Cities - Seoul: a case study”. The report covers Seoul’s emergence as a “smart city” applying ICT as basic infrastructure to improve service delivery, citizen happiness, and economic and environmental sustainability. Authored by the Seoul Metropolitan Government, with support from ITU’s Telecommunication Standardization Bureau, “Seoul — a case study” offers an overview of the conceptual underpinnings of Seoul’s smart-technology agenda, as well as descriptions of a number of the smart services available to citizens.

The full report is available at http://www.itu.int/en/ ITU-/techwatch/Pages/smart-city-Seoul.aspx.



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