The future's here! What is a smart city?

The cities of tomorrow are digitalised, connected and intelligent. They rely on information and communications technology to make them efficient, eco-friendly and safe, improving the quality of life for everyone who lives there. So, what exactly makes a city smart?

What is a smart city?

To put it simply, smart cities use the latest information and communications technologies to ensure that even huge urban areas remain desirable places to live. From public safety to cleanliness, healthcare, mobility and administration, hardly a single aspect of life will not be affected by digitalisation in the city of the future. As urban populations increase worldwide and the consumption of resources grows, this transformation is more necessary than ever.

Why cities need to become cleverer

The fate of the world's population will be decided in its cities. Over half of humankind already lives in urban habitats, a figure set to increase to 70 percent by 2050. Metropolises will become the main source of emissions and the main consumers of resources and energy. At the same time, cities will be faced with a whole range of daunting challenges. Their ability to use digital technologies to develop sustainable concepts that enable huge numbers of people to live comfortably side by side will have a key effect on the future of humanity.

Smart cities serve human needs

For this reason, politicians, researchers and companies all over the world are experimenting with ideas to make cities smart and fit for the future. Around 20 billion Euros per year are already being poured into smart city technologies. The focus is on complex questions such as how mobility can be preserved without private car use causing emissions to spiral out of control, how quickly and efficiently municipal authorities can meet the needs of residents and visitors, and how public safety, public spaces and the cleanliness of urban areas can be improved. Technology is not an end in itself, but a way of making life easier, safer and healthier for the people it serves.

Case study: environment and energy

Sensors which monitor and transmit air quality data can form the basis of intelligent traffic control systems. Devices which gauge how full recycling containers are lead to sustainable waste management concepts by ensuring that bins are only emptied when necessary. Smart offices and residential buildings generate their own electricity and feed the surplus back into the public electricity grid. As these examples show, urban planners and developers are working round the clock to reduce emissions and the amount of resources consumed in smart cities.

Case study: civic life

In a smart city, queuing up for public services is a thing of the past as apps and online forms replace piles of paper and official stamps. Online petitions allow citizens to participate actively in shaping society, and the internet is the perfect way for civic authorities to inform the town's residents about things that affect them directly. Which roads are currently snarled up in traffic jams? What are air pollution levels like today? What concerts and events are on next weekend? Smart cities make life easier and more efficient for residents and tourists alike, with everything they need to know available at the touch of a button or the swipe of a screen.

Case study: economy

Smart economy is not just about processes becoming faster and more efficient, it also refers to the individualisation of products and services. Think apps which, Tinder-style, automatically match job seekers with vacancies; assembly lines which exploit human-machine communication; shopkeepers who, thanks to a smartphone ID, know what the customer who has just come in has been looking for online; intelligent route planning in logistics and waste management. Alongside all this, concepts from the platform economy are providing new impulses and ideas for sharing which motivate people to become responsible consumers.

Case study: education and healthcare

Evening classes, night school - the very words conjure up stinky gyms, ancient desks and musty classrooms. Smart cities, on the other hand, offer a wide range of online courses which encourage inhabitants to continue learning throughout their lives - via apps, webinars or learning platforms. And hey, even if your yoga course does demand your presence at the local school gym - at least you can register electronically and from anywhere.

Healthcare is another area in which the benefits of smart technologies are already being felt. Finding the nearest casualty department or a chemist which is open on New Year's Day now takes mere seconds. Doctor's appointments can be made by smartphone, and you can even "see" a doctor remotely if that makes life easier. From psychologists to dermatologists, the number of healthcare providers offering virtual consultations is on the rise everywhere.

Digital all-rounder

What is a smart city? The opportunities afforded by digitalisation have radically changed the prospect of the city of the future. Until a few years ago, our planet's growing cities threatened to become inhospitable urban jungles, but the smart city has replaced this with a far more promising vision. Intelligently connected cities are somewhere it is a pleasure to live and work, rather than the backdrop to a struggle for survival. Smart cities are a digital all-rounders in which technology is used to serve the population and improve almost every aspect of life. They are low in emissions, careful with resources, green, healthy and timesaving. Smart cities provide hope for the future.