Nº 4 2014 > Smart sustainable cities
What is a smart sustainable city?
People move to urban areas in the hope of finding a better job and enjoying a higher standard of living. However, the increasing number of people migrating to cities creates congestion, puts pressure on limited resources (for example, energy and water), and escalates the demand for services such as sanitation, health care and education.
The concept of the smart city emerged more than a decade ago, and a number of cities in the world have jumped on the smart city bandwagon, labelling themselves “smart” in some way or another. But rapid urbanization and the obvious need to develop a sustainable model to support anticipated population growth in cities led the ITU to coin the term “smart sustainable cities” to highlight concerns about resources, and to incorporate characteristics of both eco-cities and smart cities.
But what exactly is a smart sustainable city? To ensure that the sustainability aspect in smart cities is not overlooked, the ITU–T Focus Group on Smart Sustainable Cities has conceptualized the new term, based on an analysis of about a hundred different definitions. The following definition was agreed during the fifth meeting of the Focus Group on Smart Sustainable Cities held on 19–20 June 2014 in Genoa, Italy: “A smart sustainable city is an innovative city that uses information and communication technologies and other means to improve quality of life, efficiency of urban operation and services, and competitiveness, while ensuring that it meets the needs of present and future generations with respect to economic, social and environmental aspects”.
Although the role of information and communication technologies (ICT) has not been completely framed, the services where ICT can assist, such as water resource management, energy efficiency and transport infrastructure, are well recognized.
Having a formal, comprehensive definition for the smart sustainable city provides a basis for understanding the common features of smart sustainable cities and developing key indicators. This helps establish an ICT infrastructure, metrics and policies for smart sustainable cities.
“Amidst the challenges posed by rapid urbanization, decision-makers are facing the need to rethink and redefine the way in which infrastructure is built, services are offered, citizens are engaged, and systems linked, with the aim of transforming cities into more sustainable and robust living environments. ICT-enabled innovation is at the core of that transformation,” explains Silvia Guzman, Chairman of the ITU–T Focus Group on Smart Sustainable Cities.
Urban planners now tend to lean towards an integrated approach, running cities as an integrated network rather than a set of individual sectors. The aim is to raise the quality of life of inhabitants by combining technological and social innovation, and using ICT to improve the performance of sectors such as transport, energy, urban safety and waste disposal.
What should a smart sustainable city look like?
“The following key attributes of smart sustainable cities are observed: sustainability, quality of life and intelligence. Sustainability relates to governance, pollution, climate change and other factors. Quality of life is about financial and emotional well-being. Intelligence is the implicit or explicit ambition to improve economic, social and environmental standards. Smart mobility is an example,” explains Professor Sekhar Kondepudi from the National University of Singapore.
Smart sustainable cities can be assessed using four broad themes, as outlined in the diagram below: society; economy; environment; and governance. Society means that the city exists for its inhabitants.
Functioning smart sustainable cities contain eight physical infrastructure and service elements (as shown in the diagram). Real estate, for example, integrates multiple technologies, such as lighting, safety and renewable energy, and uses intelligent building analytics. Industry aims for zero emissions and develops innovative manufacturing techniques. Energy companies and utilities run a smart grid and wireless communications. Air, water and waste management companies use sensor networks or water information systems. Security is provided through video surveillance. Medical practices give remote health care and use electronic record management. Educational facilities supply world-class digital content and flexible, interactive learning.
“The ICT infrastructure is the nervous system of the smart sustainable city, orchestrating the interactions between the various elements and the physical infrastructure. It acts as a foundational platform upon which the different smart services can operate efficiently and in an optimal manner,” points out Professor Kondepudi.
The physical infrastructure components of a city can be thought of as subnetworks of a larger network — a system of systems. They behave like a network in terms of end use characteristics and interactivity with other nodes. This is analogous to an IT or data communications network. Hence ICT-based management processes can be employed, with some modifications, within a city.
The smart sustainable city using the integrated approach tunes itself, sharpening the individual efficiencies of different vertical infrastructure operations, for example real estate, waste and mobility. To maximize their capability, these apparently independent vertical silos need to coordinate with each other.
The smart sustainable city employs the ICT infrastructure in an adaptable, reliable, scalable, accessible, secure, safe and resilient way for a number of purposes. It improves the quality of life of its inhabitants. It ensures higher standards of living and employment opportunities. It improves the well-being of its citizens, for example through medical care, welfare, physical safety and education. It streamlines services that rely on physical infrastructure, such as mobility or water. It reinforces prevention and management of disasters, including the ability to address climate change impacts. It provides effective, well-balanced regulatory and governance mechanisms with appropriate policies.
In summary, the smart sustainable city establishes a sustainable approach that meets the needs of today without sacrificing the ability to meet the needs of future generations.