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Will people’s lives in tomorrow’s cities be healthier, more liveable, and more relaxed than today’s? To accomplish this, cities will need to become much more efficient – in short: smarter.
We live in an age of urbanization. For the past ten years, more than half of the world’s population has lived in cities. Moreover, there’s no end in sight for this migration of people to urban areas. On the contrary, the latest UN forecast predicts that 70 percent of the world’s population will be living in cities by 2050. At that point, the world’s total urban population will be almost equal to the earth’s entire population today. Within a mere century, the number of people living in big cities will have grown from one billion to almost six billion. This trend will also lead to the rise of more and more megacities — cities that have over ten million inhabitants. Whereas there were 28 megacities in 2014, there are expected to be 41 by 2030, and demands on infrastructures will grow accordingly.
Many cities are already suffering from housing shortages, overstretched infrastructures, and uncertain water and energy supplies. Added to this is the increasing risk of natural disasters resulting from climate change. Emissions from big cities, in particular from the transportation sector, are contributing considerably to this development.
The aim in many cities is therefore to set the stage for clean air instead of smog, and smart public transportation facilities to reduce congestion. As more and more cities move toward these goals, they will rely increasingly on digital resources that will, for example, monitor emissions figures and traffic density and coordinate local public transportation and traffic light switching times with monitoring results. Ultimately, they will also use digital technologies to inform individuals about the best ways to reach their destinations, regardless of whether they are driving their own vehicles, sharing cars, using a public transport system, or combining transport modes.
The first step toward making a city smart is to increase knowledge regarding the operations of its infrastructures, ranging from water and energy management to traffic, air quality and lighting. In every big city, innumerable sensors and meters collect data from these and other sources. The challenge that cities face is thus to turn this avalanche of data into actionable information. Such information will, for example, enable smart grids to predict – and thus offset – fluctuations in the electricity supply that are caused by changing weather conditions.