Head of Partnerships, Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN)
Networks Manager, Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN)
Cities concentrate human skills and resources, offering a wealth of opportunities for progress. The promise of cities is embodied in the 11th Sustainable Development Goal (SDG), to “make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient, and sustainable.”
Today, many city leaders are taking the spotlight with innovative policy and planning tools to build the cities of the future. In addition, they are employing new technologies.
Sensors, apps, and broadband connect our world like never before, improving the way we move about, heat and cool our homes, and stay healthy. These technologies can support cities that are more dynamic and reactive to resident’s needs.
More than 55 percent of the global population lives in cities, and this figure is expected to grow. Modern computer technology and broadband internet infrastructure have created the Internet of Things (IoT), where everyday items like refrigerators and washers communicate with grocery stores and the electricity grid.
In the transport sector, sensors that monitor infrastructure help us maintain ageing roadways and railways. Las Vegas and other cities are using sensors and video monitors to analyze traffic patterns to reduce congestion and improve route efficiency. Smart parking and public transport improve the reliability of our transit options, and allow us to get around cities in a cleaner and faster manner. Shared mobility options like scooters and bicycles give commuters new alternatives.
A huge amount of pollution and energy use in cities comes from buildings. Modern buildings can be made more efficient through passive measures (insulation, design, airflow); high-efficiency technical solutions; and on-site energy management (on-site solar, energy storage, and grid efficiency). the latter two solutions depend heavily on IoT.
Further, with population density increasing in most cities, there is a greater need for Multi-Energy Systems (MESs) incorporating alternative energy options like rooftop solar, storage, and electric vehicles. MESs allow communities to leverage the power of IoT to choose their energy supply and create cleaner and energy-independent neighborhoods.
Further, modern smart meters allow building owners to improve temperature regulation, keeping tenants more comfortable and saving them money.
Digital technologies have the potential to make our society healthier than ever before.
At the personal level, apps and sensors can be used to help people get more exercise, eat better, and manage chronic conditions like diabetes. However, there are also solutions happening at a community level. The data from these apps, when properly anonymized to protect privacy, can be analyzed by public health experts to track trends, the success or failure of different interventions, and outcomes.
There are many pilots currently underway. For example, Walgreens and ESRI used anonymized prescriptions data to successfully track and predict the spread of flu.
New technology is also revolutionizing how cities manage waste. Cities like Baltimore are using smart trash cans and recycling bins with sensors to alert garbage collectors when they are full. Paired with route-optimization algorithms, these bins can significantly improve the efficiency of waste collection and reduce local air pollution.
Innovations like solar-powered waste compactors can further increase efficiency, while better data on waste production can incentivize behavioral change. Research is also underway to develop bins that could automatically separate recyclables like paper, plastic, and glass, reducing human error and diverting more waste from landfill.
A city is made up of many parts, often overlapping and exerting pressure upon each other. New tools for data collection and analysis help us understand these interactions, and IoT helps exploit synergies and reduce tradeoffs.
IoT allows residents, building owners, and city officials to choose how we live in our cities. Smart technologies, real-time data, and user-friendly interfaces allow citizens to take control of their decisions and can empower them to improve the spaces around them.
As has been demonstrated in the past few decades, IoT can make our lives in cities better than ever before, making them safer, more resource-efficient, and healthier places to live.