Smart Cities, Innovating for Sustainability and Social Wellbeing

Author: Andres A. Catano

A Conversation with Joel Curado

By the year 2050, approximately 70% of people will live in cities. However, most major cities have infrastructure limitations and are not prepared for the accumulation of so many individuals. Thus, the need for innovation. “Today one of the great examples of the smart city will definitely be Dubai. It is smart in multiple verticals: education, transportation, logistics, Internet access, citizen services, even oil & gas”, says Joel Curado, a Technologist and Smart City Expert for Cisco with 10+ years’ experience in Digital Transformation & Internet of Things (IoT).

Joel shared his advice on ways to create smart infrastructure for cities. “My favorite smart city project was Hamburg – says Joel. Hamburg is a fascinating city with a port that occupies 10-15% of the city. The local economy really depends on the port and it is the number one employer of the city. Hamburg authorities wanted us to focus on three main points while transforming the port.”

The first one was environmental. A port is a place where a lot of pollution occurs and families live in houses near this vicinity. The authorities wanted to show citizens that the port can be a safe place to live near. When the authorities saw that certain vehicles or boats were producing a particular kind of environmental pollution they would charge a fee. We equipped the port with special sensors connected to our network to track the level of pollution. The second focus was monitoring the arrival and departure of vehicles. We equipped the port with Cisco video cameras to improve the efficiency of loading and unloading boats. The third point was about smart lighting to provide better lighting for employees when needed and optimize overall consumption. Also, we built a predictive maintenance system in one of the main bridges, so the authorities were able to repair or provide maintenance as quickly as possible.

Not all city authorities think in such innovative ways as the ones in Hamburg. Fortunately, nowadays, the creation of startup eco-systems foster innovation aiming to present cities with the latest and greatest smart city solutions. Companies like Fundie Ventures, an impact venture consultancy in Madrid, focuses on early stage start-ups that are committed to positive and measurable impact on people and planet. Fundie has partnered with several organizations to work together with global startups, bringing innovation to society.

Of course, there are some issues with creating smart cities. Funding and regulations are among the main ones. An ancient city infrastructure can also be an issue. “A city built from scratch, we call it a green field, where you can do whatever you want in terms of planning is much better” – states Joel.

One of Cisco’s first main smart cities projects was in Songdo, South Korea, which was a green field. They expanded the land into the ocean and then built a city on top. The design of the city of Songdo was similar to New York’s Central Park, but with an emphasis on key mobility components, so that people could rapidly access any service in the city.

In contrast, Barcelona is an excellent example of a brownfield – a city that wasn’t created with technology in mind, but that was designed to incorporate many features later on, as designed by master urban planner, Ildefons Cerdà. It’s very vertical and angular with a modern infrastructure. The city administration of Barcelona notes that the new systems based on high technologies helped to create 47 thousand jobs, to receive an income of 36.5 million euros and save 42.5 million euros on water consumption.

The ongoing growth of IoT is fueled by the value it creates. It will positively affect the cities’ ability to reuse its natural resources, strengthen its finances and improve the quality of life for its citizens. More specifically, it fosters a modern dynamic urban communications system, the use of energy-saving technologies, environmental preservation focused on zero waste production and better mobility transportation.

On the other hand, smart cities tend to become an enormous socio-political project. They can also raise issues around citizens’ privacy. When sensors and cameras are everywhere, it is difficult to provide a non-intrusive environment. For example, in the city of Chicago authorities created an open data portal. All the data from the city is collected and anyone can access it for free. They extract the data and leverage it to create apps that bring added value services. Although this can make life more efficient for their inhabitants, it also fuels the privacy issue.

For a long time, it has been considered that technologies divide people and make the world less human-centered. However, smart cities do have the ability to unite people with the common goal of simplifying and optimizing their life. Nowadays this trend is gaining momentum. Based on Joel’s experience, the concept of the smart city is not just about architecture and infrastructure, but also about inclusion, psychology and anthropology. That is why it is necessary to understand the interlock between city and citizen. Smart cities should be tremendously focused on their users, from a design and experience perspective. This will enable everyone to live well and prosper. If smart cities creators and urban planners take all this into consideration, we will soon see true smart cities, with expanding infrastructure that can be used as a basis for continuous growth for all.

*Special thanks to Joel Curado for his participation and insights. 

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