A smart city is generally defined as a city that utilizes information and communication technologies to allocate its resources in a sustainable way and improve the quality of life for its citizens.
The concept is quite cool, of course. When we imagine megacities of the future, it’s fun to consider the possibility of living in a “digitized” home that can manage a household more wisely than we can, or driving to work in a autonomous car or a superbus that speeds along on the highway at 250 km/h. But are these projections realistic? Here are three predictions we think will actually define the smart cities of tomorrow.
1. Electricity will take the place of fossil fuels
A defining feature of smart cities will be the types of vehicles on the roads. It rarely shocks anyone anymore to say that the days of the gas-powered car are coming to an end. A variety of environmentally friendly alternatives have been gaining momentum in recent years and will control the mobile landscape of the future, such as e-kick scooters in all shapes and sizes, mopeds, e-motorcycles and e-bikes. Those aren’t the types of vehicles that are kept in a garage at home, either: fleet-sharing services are accessible to all and better for the planet than owning a personal car.
There will almost certainly always be consumers and city dwellers who love cars and couldn’t think of getting around without one, but smart cities will at least have so many shareable options that no one would ever be forced to buy their own car out of necessity. Perhaps sharing will redefine the traditional view of cars being an ultimate symbol of personal freedom - because there’s really nothing more freeing than booking a vehicle through an app, driving away with it, parking it wherever a spot’s available, not having to worry about getting it back home and letting the next user get behind the steering wheel.
2. Smart data will lead to the creation of smart solutions
A smart city couldn’t really be considered ‘smart’ without tech’s seamless integration into everyday life. Without the advances in technology that were made in the past few years, the apps that are used by a fleet-sharing business, as just one example, would be unthinkable. But it’s not just obvious, end-user-friendly tech that will be powering cities of the future: the use of data and data mapping specifically have important roles to play.
One of the biggest problems with cities currently is their space management. In order to utilize space efficiently, cities need to be able to visually map out where available parking spots, high traffic areas or a variety of other “problem zones” are located. Parking is actually already a big issue in many cities: there isn’t a lack of spots themselves, but existing spots are managed very poorly. In the not-so-smart cities most of us are living in today, drivers frequently waste time and energy - and burn resources unnecessarily - looking for empty spots in urban areas.
In smart cities, that problem will easily be solved with real-time data. An app that relays the availability of a parking spot or even allows for the pre-booking of that spot will minimize wasted time and space. Real-time data analysis will also help smart cities know how many commuters travel by bike, scooter or shared car to work as well as the routes they take. With the use of smart data, urban areas will effectively manage their space and cut back on congestion, creating a more breathable and efficient living environment for everyone in the process.
3. Multimodal transportation will be commonplace
Commuters in smart cities will think of the routes they take to work as a “complete trip” or a multi-step process that starts before leaving the house. They’ll use an app in advance to check when the bus is arriving, if an e-scooter is available for rent in the area, or if a shuttle service is driving around the neighborhood. After arriving at the trip origin, they’ll move to the first stop or station and maybe even make a few transfers in between before they reach their final destination.
It’s not hard to imagine that switching between vehicle types (taking a bus to the nearest e-scooter or exiting a shared car to get on an e-bike, for example) will be absolutely normal for smart city dwellers, and an integral component of the multi-step or “complete trip” process is micromobility. It’s small, environmentally friendly vehicle types like e-scooters that will allow users to comfortably get where they’re going and will slowly start replacing cars.
Of course, being reliant on a variety of combinable transportation modes is a complicated task without having a full range of integrated technology solutions that streamline the process. Apps that provide “one-stop shopping” for their users and offer multiple types of bookable vehicles for rent or sharing purposes will be the norm in the smart city of tomorrow.
If there’s one main theme holding these three predictions together, it’s the global shift in attitudes already in motion, leading to the widespread desire to share with others and replacing the allure of private ownership. As an example, free-floating vehicle sharing is an eco-friendly and practical alternative to private ownership. Smart data systems could never be properly implemented without the use of data sharing.
Some of these concepts have existed for many years, which is something we tend to forget, but they’re being reinvented and powered by cutting-edge technology to become ultimately accessible, user-friendly alternatives to driving a private car or using crowded and often unreliable public transportation. Advancements in technology will only continue to improve in the future, and smart cities will utilize these advancements in order to improve the lives of every city dweller impacted by them.
Societal shifts have already created cities that are smarter than most human beings ever thought possible, but to what extent will the “smartness” of our largest cities increase? We’re the agents of change that have already set these trends in motion, so perhaps our actions are already defining the smart city of tomorrow.