Smart City development isn’t just about boosting technology for technology’s sake.
The bottom line for every Smart City tech solution should be solving real problems and improving the lives of residents. Cities are embracing the digital revolution of citizen engagement and leveraging the interconnectivity that plays a relevant role in residents’ lives – through GovTech, Civic Tech, and Smart City Tech. Local government agencies around the globe are recognizing that the key to effective Smart City technology involves so much more than just great technology (although that’s certainly important too!). Rather, it’s about identifying and implementing the right technology solution to improve operational efficiency and enhance the satisfaction and quality of life for residents.
So what are the top 5 Smart City trends to keep an eye on as 2019 kicks off to a start? Here’s what we’re placing our bets on.
Trend 1 – Making Our Cities Safe(r)
Improving public safety is a top issue in Smart City pilot programs currently in place across the U.S. And after the school shootings and wildfires of 2018, we’re especially grateful for all those who are on the front lines, making our cities safer for all of us. So we’re excited about anything that helps the police officers, firefighters, and others who dedicate their lives to our safety.
In its 2018 Strategic Directions report, Black & Veatch pointed out that there are an estimated 20 Safe City pilot programs in the U.S., in addition to similar programs in cities around the world. The benefits of these kinds of programs include improved crime fighting and, in particular, safer conditions for first responders. For example, a public safety system can alert a police officer responding to a call that a specific address is the site of drug activity or the home of a previously convicted criminal.
But the trend we’re identifying in safety technology is that it’s being used on all levels of community life, not just in emergency situations. For example, check out the RFID (radio frequency identification tags) technology developed at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. In the smart, interconnected cities of the future, RFID tags have the potential to save lives, as the tags could be inserted in children’s or cyclist’s clothing so that if, for example, a child wandered on to a road or a cyclist entered a busy intersection, it would trigger signals and help keep people safe.
In a very different application of cutting-edge technology to improve public safety, AI tech in cities is often used to mitigate traffic density, but, according to Smartcity.press, the focus should be on leveraging this technology for accident prevention. For example, sensors installed in parking lots, on traffic signals, and at intersections could integrate AI in collecting useful information that can help governments plan city initiatives more efficiently. Examples include analyzing huge amounts of raw data to track the number of vehicles, pedestrians, or other kinds of movement at a particular intersection and keeping track of their speeds, carrying out face recognition, reading license plates, and processing any satellite data to establish patterns that can be used to inform city planning.
Trend 2 – Looking Out for the Elderly
As baby boomers are aging, the elderly are becoming the largest segment of the population, meaning cities need to find new ways to meet their needs. Innovative applications and cutting-edge technological solutions can provide both the elderly and the disabled with unprecedented independence – and a better quality of life. We believe 2019 will bring increased city efforts to find specific tech solutions for their aging residents.
For example, autonomous cars have tremendous potential in helping folks get around, giving them greater independence and mobility. The Conversation describes the extent of the potential change: the majority of people with a physical mobility impairment are currently reliant on others to help them travel; self-driving cars – and the more economic option of self-driving shuttles, would enable these individuals to travel independently, even far from home.
On a different track, a creative initiative by Nesterly combats the loneliness of elderly individuals living alone with a win-win proposition: using an intuitive, easy-to-use online platform for the “matchmaking,” it makes it simple for households to share an extra room with a young person, and to exchange basic help with grocery shopping, dog walking, or tech support for lower rent. We love this example which fuses technology with the sharing economy to potentially make a huge difference in the quality of life of the elderly, while tackling affordable housing at the same time.
Trend 3 – Making Us Food
The UN estimates that the world population will increase by 47 percent to 8.9 billion by 2050. The production in agriculture must double in the next 30 years to be able to sustain this population growth but at the same time, the amount of arable lands is decreasing.
This means that cities – where an increasing percentage of the world population resides – need to step up their game and find the best technological solutions to solve their problems. As part of Smart City planning, we think that in 2019 cities will begin identifying alternatives to conventional farming methods – alternatives that will give cities more control and the ability to grow their crops. The logic here is simple: cities are the ones who will need to deal with potential food shortages, and therefore it’s City Halls that needs to be talking about this issue.
One approach involves thinking more broadly about farming options, i.e., supplementing the food supplies obtained through conventional farming methods with community farming and using innovative methods that put the emphasis on local sourcing. There are many ways to do this. We love Farm from a Box, which is a comprehensive product that enables sustained food production without the need for an existing grid, containing all the core components needed for a 2-acre farm powered by renewable energy. Farm from a Box is interesting because it represents a way of providing communities both in the U.S. and globally with tools to grow their own food locally by means of sustainable farming methods, using regenerative agriculture techniques with precision farming technology that provide a highly efficient and easy mechanism for starting and maintaining planted farms and growing seasonal, regionally appropriate foods.
Another approach to handling a future food shortage uses cellular agriculture, or what’s known as “meatless alternatives,” an approach to replacing animal-based foods with lab-driven cell cultures. As pointed out by L’Atelier BNP Paribas, cellular agriculture facilitates the production of animal protein without the need to raise and manage livestock – an answer to the need for more food that avoids intensive industrial livestock farming, which is highly polluting. Why is this a city food trend? We’re slowly seeing these meatless meat sources and restaurants serving these alternatives popping up around the country – so a meatless burger joint could be heading your way this year!
Trend 4 – Digital Inclusion: Of the People, By the People, For the People
Digital inclusion is a term that refers to doing what’s necessary to make sure all individuals and communities, even the most disadvantaged, have access to information and communication technologies. The NDIA, which works to promote digital inclusion, defines it as involving the following elements: 1. Affordable, robust broadband Internet service; 2. Internet-enabled devices that meet the needs of the user; 3. Access to digital literacy training; 4. Quality technical support; and 5. Application and online content designed to enable and encourage self-sufficiency, participation and collaboration. 2019 should be the year where cities en masse finally start embracing and prioritizing digital inclusion.
Local governments throughout the U.S. are working harder towards greater digital inclusion. Pittsburgh, for example, has been named by the recent Brookings report as one of America’s most digitally inclusive tech cities, which explained, “To the region’s credit, it has tried to be proactive about fostering inclusion in tech starting with an earnest ‘Roadmap for Inclusive Innovation’ initiative launched in 2015.” New Orleans is also proactively working toward digital equality, bridging the digital divide – and addressing the lower rates of technology and Internet use among residents of historically underrepresented demographic groups.
Radio talk show personality and GovTech influencer Karen Hunter used an app to tackle African-American and Hispanic under representation in a massive voter registration campaign in 2018. She created an app to engage and empower these historically disadvantaged communities. “We kept hearing ‘our vote doesn’t matter’ from listeners who felt disenfranchised or disrespected,” Hunter explained. “The Party of Lincoln app is non-partisan. It has history lessons (why do we have an electoral collect, etc.), resources (the constitution and how to file a FOIA), and calls to action (run for office and contact your congressman). You can even register to vote through the app. It’s a one-stop shop for civic engagement…” This is a great example of digital inclusion, and a way of proactively working to ensure that all sectors of the urban population have easy access to the digital tools provided by the city.
Trend 5 – Rise of AI in Local Government
Many cities have invested resources in developing new technology systems for collecting large quantities of information. And now, they are looking for ways to make that information actionable.
AI is already part of our everyday lives, from Netflix recommendation engines to Alexa and Siri. But if AI was mainstream in 2018, than 2019 is going to be the year that artificial intelligence is truly everywhere including at City Hall. And that’s why converting large pools of data into action items using AI is a hot topic on the agenda for local governments.
At Zencity, we leverage data to understand wide-scale resident sentiment, and in this, we believe that we’re right on target with the trend of bringing AI into the realm of data-driven policy making. But the applications of AI in local government are diverse as well as numerous, ranging from predicting future car crashes to fighting crime. For example, Waycare’s unique transportation management platform allows cities to take control of their roads by leveraging in-vehicle data and AI for predictive insights that prevent car crashes and enable safer, smarter traffic operations.
The rise of AI innovation enables local governments tomaximize efficiency and proactively identify problems. It‘s also transforming the interactions of residents with City Halls, putting them on a par with the apps they use on a daily basis, keeping them safer and more engaged.
The Future of City Management in 2019
There are so many ways technology is changing our lives and our local governments. Trends that we look forward to seeing at City Halls across the country this year include a focus on improving public safety, assisting the elderly and the disabled, building local food economies, improving digital inclusion, and the full scale adoption of AI solutions.
And this is just the beginning. There are so many potential applications of cutting-edge technologies. But of course, our goal isn’t just to use GovTech, Civic Tech, and Smart City tech because it’s innovative. City Halls need to keep an “eye on the prize”: implementing technology always with the aim of improving the lives of city residents, thereby enhancing the level of service provided by municipalities around the world.