What are smart cities, and why do we need them?


What are smart cities, and why do we need them?

Smart cities are rewriting the rules of city living. We're entering a new reality where urban landscapes are no longer perceived as mere concrete jungles but rather sophisticated, smart and efficient systems. Smart cities represent in fact a convergence of technological advancements and data-driven strategies, elevating urban environments beyond conventional frameworks. From the optimization of traffic management to the implementation of responsive infrastructure, smart cities are pioneering a future where efficiency and innovation merge together.

What is a smart city? A definition

A smart city is a forward-looking urban environment that leverages advanced technologies and data-driven solutions to increase the efficiency, sustainability, and overall quality of life for the citizens, or – as the European Commission defined it - “it is a smarter urban transport networks, upgraded water supply and waste disposal facilities and more efficient ways to light and heat buildings. It also means a more interactive and responsive city administration, safer public spaces and meeting the needs of an ageing population1”.

The concept of a smart city involves the integration of various interconnected components, such as information and communication technologies (ICT), software solutions, data analytics, innovative urban planning strategies and, first and foremost, the Internet of Things (IoT). The primary goal is to create a seamlessly connected and technology-based ecosystem that smartly responds to the needs of its inhabitants, promotes sustainable development and improves the overall functioning of the city.

What makes a city “smart”?

A smart city is hence a city that, through innovations and technologies, intelligently manages its resources, aims to become energy self-sufficient and is attentive to the quality of life and the necessities of its citizens. Achieving this goal relies heavily on the constant, real-time monitoring of data and immediate communication of any suboptimal performance. This is made possible through the deployment of a series of advanced technologies, such as:

  • Information and communication technologies (ICT)
  • Internet of things (IoT)
  • Data analytics

Information and Communication Technologies

Smart cities rely on robust ICT infrastructure to enable seamless communication between various systems and devices, such as high-speed broadband networks, Wi-Fi connectivity, and communication protocols that facilitate the efficient exchange of information.

Internet of Things

IoT plays a crucial role in smart cities by connecting a vast network of physical devices and sensors. These devices, embedded in urban infrastructure, collect real-time data on various parameters, such as traffic flow, air quality, energy consumption, and more. This data is then analyzed to make informed decisions and optimize city services.

Data Analytics

The abundance of data generated by IoT devices is processed and analyzed using advanced data analytics techniques. This analysis provides valuable insights into patterns, trends, and potential areas for improvement, enabling city planners to make data-driven decisions.

The key features of smart cities

The advanced technologies smart cities rely on and that were discussed above are deployed in the various aspects of the citizens’ lives and in the management of crucial dimensions such as mobility, energy consumption and sustainability practices.

More precisely, using ICT smart cities can:

  • Provide intelligent transportation systems to enhance mobility and reduce congestion. This includes real-time traffic management, smart parking solutions, and integrated public transportation systems, all aimed at improving the efficiency of urban mobility.
  • Rely on sustainable energy practices as a core aspect of the city. Implementing smart grids, energy-efficient buildings, and utilizing renewable energy sources contribute to reduced environmental impact and efficient energy consumption.
  • Minimize their environmental footprint by incorporating sustainable practices. This involves initiatives such as waste management optimization, green building practices, and the integration of renewable energy sources into the urban infrastructure.

Why do we need smart cities?

According to the World Urbanization Prospects published by the UN, urbanization – driven also by population growth – is a phenomenon that shows no sign of stopping. The share of people living in cities is in fact expected to reach 66% by 2050. As the population within cities continues to grow, it becomes imperative for these urban areas to accommodate the needs of their increasing population by making more efficient use of their infrastructure and resources.

And here’s why we need smart cities. Smart cities technologies offer the possibility to achieve these improvements, as they can advance city operations and improve the overall quality of life among residents.