What Is a Smart City?

Follow us @CITOrg or @dihrie or this blog for current information on the new Smart City Actuator.

As CIT and Smart City Works developed our new Smart City Works Actuator, this question kept coming up from just about everyone. Some people just asked. Others knew a few reference points: I know so and so city is doing smart parking meters or smart street lights or smart trash collection…is that what you mean? Still others referenced the technology components: do you mean broadband, or Internet of Things (IoT), or cybersecurity, or autonomous vehicles? A few asked the meta questions: will this improve resilience, will this enable the surveillance state, will this improve people’s lives?

The standard web definitions were not much help. Wikipedia has: “A smart city is an urban development vision to integrate multiple information and communication technology (ICT) and Internet of Things (IoT) solutions in a secure fashion to manage a city’s assets – the city’s assets include, but are not limited to, local departments’ information systems, schools, libraries, transportation systems, hospitals, power plants, water supply networks, waste management, law enforcement, and other community services. The goal of building a smart city is to improve quality of life by using urban informatics and technology to improve the efficiency of services and meet residents’ needs.” This is helpful, and brings Quality of Life to the table, but does not provide much guidance on how to build one, or how these many and varfs_gfx_smart-cities-concepts-v1ied pieces fit together.

Sarwant Singh, based on a Frost & Sullivan
study, provides a fairly typical definition, “We identified eight key aspects that define a Smart City: smart governance, smart energy, smart building, smart mobility, smart infrastructure, smart technology, smart healthcare and smart citizen.” Lots of smarts and interdependencies, but not much structure.

So we developed otriangle-defur own definition, one based loosely on the old communications stack model, where each layer of the stack depends on services provided by the layer below it. Note in this version we have explicitly included the 22 City Link™ platform at the Link layer, since an initial implementation of this vision will be with our partners at Gramercy District where the 22 City Link™ platform is being piloted; other communities may have different Link layer implementations.

Several things stand out in this working definition:

  1. It explicitly ties technologies up the stack to the people-centric use cases around improving quality of life
  2. It provides context for things such as data collection or cybersecurity or autonomous vehicles…we don’t want to do them just because we can, but because they achieve some goal in the context of a set of infrastructures. This context also helps open up questions along the lines of: what is the proper balance between the privacy of people transiting the urban environment, and data collection for use by retailers…who owns the data, what permissions are needed, can it be re-sold, how long can it be retained, etc.
  3. For the Actuator, it will help us help innovators understand where they fit in a larger picture, which will aid them in defining the boundaries of what needs to be included in their specific product offerings. Furthermore, this provides fodder for discussions of how to scale a product. It is fantastic to be able to demonstrate a product in the friendly, custom confines of Gramercy District, but proving that a product can scale, and is thus investable, requires that it function in a wide range of built environments and infrastructure, old and new.
  4. It can be useful in early “diagnostic” discussions…for developers the discussion includes topics like “what do the buildings look like”. For communities whose vision is something like “become a smart city” but are underserved when it comes to connectivity, it provides a starting point for a longer term strategic growth plan that begins with “first, get connected”. For larger platform companies it may help make the externalities explicit for ongoing product evolution and understanding the sweet spots and limitations for existing products.

Our collective understanding of Smart Cities is evolving rapidly as the innovation process and ecosystems begin to explode. Hopefully this working definition will provide a more stable framework for understanding where and how these innovations can ultimately serve to improve our quality of life.

Next (Monday 2/27): What Is an Actuator?

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