For the first time in history, more than 50% of the human population lives in cities.
Many of these are large or even mega cities, with populations of anywhere between 5 million and 38 million people.
Urban areas with such dense populations are extremely complex to manage, so it is no surprise that they are rapidly gearing up to become fully fledged smart cities powered by the Internet of Things (IoT).
Interconnected infrastructure is, without doubt, the way of the future.
At a Smart Cities Summit held in Boston in 2016, delegates explored some of the unfolding trends in smart city capability, and emphasised how critical it is to make vast urban areas efficient, responsive and enjoyable to live in.
“A good deal of this involves making cities more resilient; more capable of handling whatever comes their way,” says Agnat Max Makgoale, Vula Telematix Chief Executive Officer.
“Situational awareness and intelligence about exactly what is happening throughout a metro is a critical management tool, and this can only be obtained using IoT technology.”
So what are some of the most significant smart city trends in the world today?
As cities compete with one another to attract high-value businesses and residents, one of the most important drawcards is the quality of the services they offer. In cities like Boston, for instance, IoT technology is being used not only to manage service delivery, but to anticipate challenges. In just one example, cameras on vehicles such as post office trucks, which cover large areas, are being used to track cracks in road surfaces and to anticipate potholes even before they happen.
Allied to service delivery is cost management and, in this area, the roll-out of smart meters in big cities worldwide is helping businesses and residents alike to monitor and take control of electricity usage. The benefits extend to local and regional utilities, making demand-side management much more efficient and reliable.
Yet another smart city trend is the use of surveillance footage from video cameras to track, deal with and analyse crime.
“Video surveillance and analysis of crime trends based on the information gathered in this way is becoming one of the most powerful tools available to law enforcement,” says Makgoale.
In the UK alone, there are an estimated 1.9 million surveillance cameras – one for every 32 residents – and the number is increasing all the time. In the US, Chicago has the largest municipal surveillance system, which is made up of 15 000 cameras.
Surveys conducted in the US have shown that around 78% of residents are in favour of video surveillance systems, and that law enforcement agencies have reported significant results when installing or expanding these systems. Just one study, published in the Justice Quarterly in October 2009, found that the installation of video surveillance in parking lots led to a 51% reduction in crime. Surveillance systems in other locations delivered similar results, with video surveillance leading to a 23% decrease in crime on public transit systems and a 7% decrease in city centres.
“The trends are evident and there is so much to be gained from IoT technology,” says Makgoale.
“South Africa is the leader in smart city capability in Africa, but we still have a long way to go. Some of the challenges we face include underdeveloped infrastructure and skills deficits. On the other hand, there are tremendous opportunities. Creating smart cities here will not only improve service delivery and contain costs, but boost local economies and provide significant job opportunities.”