Leaders who actively bring citizens into the smart city conversation and consider the long-term impacts of solutions like AI have a better chance of success.
As cities grapple with environmental change and, in some cases, crumbling infrastructure, leaders are more open than ever to new solutions for handling challenges. They’re imagining ways to reduce the carbon output of cities, even by maintaining historical architecture, making cities safer for pedestrians and cyclers, and reinventing how we approach the concept of “city.” Let’s explore some of the most interesting smart city trends expected to ramp up this year.
Sure, everyone talks about data, and everyone knows that data holds the key to managing persistent challenges. However, 2022 should see cities coming in strong with new data solutions that integrate with the very foundations of city planning.
Cities already look to new data-gathering tools to create a baseline for funding grants. Moving forward, cities may also use data to capitalize on other types of change—fighting misinformation over elections or pandemics, for example—and to finally reach citizens wherever they are.
Data will continue to improve the delivery of services to citizens and others within city borders. Agencies can use digital modeling to highlight gaps in services and communication and strengthen outreach more efficiently. In return, these smart cities could see increases in civic engagement.
The work from home (WFM) move changed traffic patterns that had held true for decades. More people are walking to meet their needs for groceries or other services. Curbside delivery for food, groceries, and shopping has exploded.
These changes in movement patterns will create massive changes in how infrastructure is planned and maintained. Cities will need to rethink congestion from a localized perspective thanks to curbside services and could prioritize bike lanes and greater pedestrian access to previously isolated parts of cities. In addition, we could see green space priority to offset environmental impacts, provide local spaces for those staying closer to where they live and connect corridors.
Facilitating these changes are innovative data collection methods, such as GPS from connected vehicles or smartphones, AI-powered lights and signals, and other smart technologies. In addition, cities will be able to use these smart technologies for more equitable improvements and to get citizens involved in and connected to the planning process from the start.
There is so much potential in city infrastructure for AI to work its magic. While human intervention will still be necessary to ensure the city runs smoothly, AI could offer several key support features for providing timely service, safer infrastructure, and more people-friendly cities:
- Cybersecurity: Connecting services means more opportunities for threat actors. AI can monitor systems, learn patterns over time, and ensure that the city’s connected network remains safer than with manual monitoring.
- Automation: Cities require maintenance, but juggling those requirements with modern mobility needs can be challenging. AI has already proven in several cities that it can map out maintenance plans with the least interference in daily life, and we could see an increase in these types of tools.
- Proaction, not reaction: AI can help cities provide efficient services in response to unexpected disruption. It can take over predictive maintenance schedules to reduce downtime in things like public transit. It can even help model potential outcomes for disasters or trends in mobility to help cities plan for the future.
Asking the average person what causes emissions in cities, and the answer will probably center around cars. However, traditional buildings are responsible for about 30% of total emissions within a city. For cities to reach their environmental goals, they’ll need to find a way to reduce this.
We should begin to see an increase in building innovation designed not only to reduce environmental impact but to address new patterns in work and home life. These buildings can be water and resource-efficient, leverage machine learning to predict patterns, and provide an overall better environment for occupants without the environmental impact.
While this will require more than simply lip service for 5G, the 5G rollout will make this goal possible. With connected IoT devices growing, data collection can ensure that building operation is first automated and second maintained in the most energy-efficient ways possible—even with changes in overall work habits and mobility.
Cities grapple with connecting citizens to services while maintaining privacy. Cities want to monitor movements for better planning without resorting to surveillance. Leaders are under pressure to improve safety but also feel the disapproval of past policing methods. A significant driver in smart cities will be the balance between these concepts.
Technology is neutral; city leaders and citizens will need to hold meaningful conversations about the place of AI in security and human rights and establish the playbook for leveraging technology for safety. The same technologies that cause worry for privacy can also reduce wait times for essential emergency services. How cities leverage it requires careful consideration.
Regardless of the controversy, this application of technology will be at the forefront of cities in the coming years. Smart cities are ultimately people-driven—by people, for people, and invested in the long-term well-being of people. Once cities have worked to build public trust, technologies could provide a critical layer for policing and security that improves both systems.
Smart cities will require conversations about the technology layer because of the complexity and potential for misuse. Leaders who actively seek to bring citizens into the conversation and consider the long-term impacts of solutions like AI have a better chance of navigating these complexities.
What is clear is the impact that technology can have on the environmental impact of cities as mobility changes. With Net-Zero on the horizon, and a desire not to repeat the disruption of the past years’ pandemic, smart city topics will continue to be a hot topic of conversation.