Eternal smart cities

    We are well aware of what a smart city is. First of all, it is a predictable city. We can get information about the transport collapse, natural disaster, a fallen tree, the alien ship wreck - all in real time, while having a clear understanding of what services you need to use and how to notify the population. However, before talking about a smart city, let's introduce a criterion for the city of “stupid”. It is not as simple as it seems, although you don’t have to go far for examples - Moscow is still far from the title of “city of the future” (the capital of Russia is 63rd in the list of 100 innovative cities of the world).

    The problem with most cities lies in the fact that practically all of them cannot be considered “smart” initially. Our distant ancestors, founding and developing the settlement, were guided by completely different principles. It so happened that most major cities and many capitals are located in the floodplain - the most dangerous place in the vicinity of the river. During a flood or flood, the territory of the city in the floodplain is guaranteed and is regularly flooded. Also, pollutants accumulate in the floodplains, rivers flood the cemeteries during the spill, spreading the infection throughout the course. We have cited one of many examples, but despite all the dangers, cities can indeed be considered almost immortal.

    Among all the objects created by civilization, cities are more likely to claim eternal status. The first settlements appeared more than 5,000 years ago. Their longevity, especially by the standards of ordinary human life, invariably attracts the attention of researchers. The oldest cities in our world are more than 3,000 years old. For comparison: the oldest companies are about 1,000 years old, and their number is incomparable with the number of ancient cities.

    Very few commercial enterprises have existed for at least 100 years. Recall how sustainable cities can be: hundreds of thousands of houses were almost destroyed by bombing during World War II. But the buildings were rebuilt again and people returned to their usual habitats. Unlike countries whose borders are very unstable and subject to revision from time to time, cities actually remain indestructible, expanding naturally.

    One of the reasons for the sustainability of cities is that they are effective: their growth is associated with increased productivity. Cities also have a great social function: they connect some people with others. In the city we find people just like ourselves, and people completely different from us. A city is a territory where creative people want to live and work in order to collaborate with other people and receive certain benefits of civilization.

    According to a recent report by the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs, for the first time in human history, more than half of the world's population lives in cities. By 2030, there will be 41 cities in the world with a population of 10 or more million people. And by 2050, already 2/3 of the people will dwell in an urban environment.

    How to make cities more efficient, given the constant population growth? Companies such as IBM, Cisco and Samsung are actively promoting the concept of “smart cities” using digital technology. A great example of this concept is the Rio de Janeiro Control Center, built by IBM. Initially, it was planned to create an operational headquarters to deal with natural disasters, but, having studied the best practices of other cities, the city authorities opted for a model designed for the entire population of the city and all city services, including utilities and public transport. The control center unites more than 30 institutions and partner organizations, reducing response time by eliminating bureaucratic obstacles and encouraging cooperation in every possible way.

    The Center receives data from sensors installed throughout the city. On a video screen with an area of ​​over 75 square meters. m. in real time, broadcasts from 800 cameras. The Center operates around the clock and monitors the main systems of the city, data on weather forecasts, river levels, satellite images, video, data from utilities, air and water protection services, etc. are recorded and integrated.

    As you can imagine, a city generates a huge amount of data - and will generate much more in the near future. With the increase in the number of sensors, many urban areas will produce more data than they currently receive at the Large Hadron Collider. The arrival of such a volume of information will require the development of a reliable wireless and wired infrastructure. Next-generation broadband investments will be needed to meet the big data transfer needs.

    On the example of Rio de Janeiro, we see that digital technology can be used to increase the efficiency of the city. But at the same time, obstacles to the mass introduction of this model remain. Issues of financial and legal support slow down the process of investing in the necessary infrastructure. There is still a problem with security: any systems of this level can contain errors and be hacked. For example, in 2006, a mistake in the control system software for high-speed trains running in the San Francisco Bay area led to three complete outages per day.

    Large systems that provide centralized management are a great goal for those who want to keep track of all the events in the metropolis. In the post-Suden world, no one can guarantee that the data collected by the residents of the city will not be used for their own purposes by the state, transnational corporations or any persons who have access to them.

    However, there is another way to make the city smarter. In many countries, young activists are trying to solve the issue of access to government data. Provided with the technologies and the necessary information, they could implement smart city models better and cheaper (not modeled after managing through omnipotent supercomputers). Large vendors are not able to appreciate the human aspect that makes cities special. Instead of sharing information, collaborating with each other and effectively developing the functional infrastructure of the city, they are more interested in using digital technologies to connect residents to themselves.

    Offers from the bottom, based on the use of the Internet, mobile technologies, despite all the attractiveness, have a limit. Small applications designed to serve residents of one community are difficult to scale to reach wider populations.

    Given the limited approaches of both top-down and bottom-up approaches, which way of creating smart cities remains the most promising? Mayors in cities such as New York, Boston, Philadelphia, and San Francisco are working hard to expand access to government data and help enthusiasts develop applications that use this data.

    In Chicago, for example, a number of initiatives have been proposed that go far beyond the usual introduction of technology. Among the priorities identified in the plan, the need to use technology to improve public services and support civic innovation was indicated. The plan also calls for increasing the availability of broadband for all businesses and residents.

    A number of major cities, including San Francisco, New York, London, Dublin and Singapore, have developed their own technology plans. Although they all share a strong belief in the power of technology, each city has come up with a set of distinctive priorities and strategies that reflect its specific features.

    Another encouraging sign of progress is the increased interest of researchers in the “science of cities” in an attempt to understand how they work. There are hundreds of thousands of cities in the world, from very tiny to huge megacities. The more of them start looking for ways to use smart digital technologies, the sooner we will move on to the true world of smart city.

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