Smart cities aren’t all they are cracked up to be—yet. See how the circular economy could help us reach true smart cities in the near future.
Imagine a city where all devices are interconnected.
The GPS in your car connects to the traffic light you just passed. The street corner trash can where you threw your wrapper in has a sensor connected to the local waste management company.
The state’s electrical power grid connects to your company’s building. The cafeteria connects to the catering company that serves your food. Data is streaming, constantly, all around you.
Everything is synced up: from computers and elevators to traffic lights and pedestrian signs.
This is the reality of smart cities—where IoT data allows everyday conveniences to all be a small piece of the larger, connected puzzle.
This world is not as far off as you might think.
However, smart cities are not all they’re chalked up to be. In fact, many of the advancements in science have caused even larger hurdles. Instead of creating a dream world where technology streamlines everything, smart cities have fallen victim to environmental hazards and bureaucratic shortfalls.
But if researchers aim their sites at the right obstacles, a tech and human collaboration could be on the horizon. How can new technology help solve many of the smart city’s pitfalls?
Where Smart Cities Fall Behind
How “smart” is a smart city if the equation doesn’t factor in the majority of the individuals that live and work within its limits?
This is where the majority of the problems with smart cities lies: decision makers overlook individual needs.
State or national governments set the regulations, taking a top-down approach to the management of smart cities. Considering that large cities are made up of small-to-medium businesses, as well as major corporations and people, providing a blanket statement for emission regulations, energy use, and government expectations simply doesn’t cut it.
There is no one-size-fits-all solution. Instead, solutions need to be tailored to meet the needs of everyone: from small businesses to large, both within the cities and in their surrounding areas. Due to limiting governments and municipal city planning, they rarely do.
“For all its novelty, the smart cities discussion is operating with a vision of urban sustainability that dates from the 1990s, and an approach to planning from the 1950s,” said Alexander Aylett, researcher and former assistant professor at the Centre on Urbanisation, Culture and Society at the National Institute for Scientific Research (UCS-INRS) in Montreal, Quebec.
Government—local and national—is simply too far behind to accurately build a smart network for cities.
“It also ignores the ability of non-state actors to contribute meaningfully to the design and implementation of urban policies and programs,” he continued. “But that doesn’t need not [sic] be the case. In fact, if employed properly, new information technologies seem like ideal tools to address some of urban sustainability’s most persistent challenges.”
The most common example of this is the ever-changing car industry, and the potential for manufacturers to create social solutions to meet commuter needs.
Since the government can’t keep up with the ever-changing needs of the environment and technology, perhaps companies can help.
There is an inevitable shift happening towards driverless cars and the shared economy. Especially within larger cities, companies like Uber that offer ride-sharing options—with no pressure on public parking, insurance, or gas—are proving to become a powerful force against car manufacturers.
And in cities like Pittsburgh, the driverless car by Uber is revamping the very notion of a commute around town.
It is possible that if traditional car creators don’t join the shared economy soon, they could eventually be forced out of the car market entirely. Companies like Apple, Google, and the electric-car start-up Tesla could replace GM, Honda, BMW, and more.
These companies are not only utilizing IoT technology to create a new driverless solution. For cities like Pittsburgh, they are also working with local governments to rehabilitate the local economy.
A Potential Solution: IoT and the Circular EconomyWhen it comes to researching IoT solutions for smart cities, analysis often takes the reader back to transportation. Cars stuck in long commutes and congested public transportation all lead to higher harmful emissions in the city and poor air quality for residents.
Not to mention an overabundance of people situated in one area and the lack of infrastructure to cater to their regional needs.
Cities such as Columbus, Ohio, and select cities in Texas and California are beginning to tackle this problem with autonomous car solutions to help curb the rise in distracted driving as well as lower commute times.
Transportation is not the only problem within smart cities: it’s just the easiest one to solve now. Other issues include energy monitoring and waste management.
Large cities contribute to much of that waste, and without an infrastructure to properly recycle and reuse, smart cities are only furthering our waste crisis.
How can smart cities solve this problem? Enter the circular economy combined with IoT.
Currently, the circular economy is being implemented in the European Union, with a goal to fully recycle up to 65 percent of municipal waste and 75 percent of packaging waste by 2030.
The idea is to close the loop on production, to consumption, to reuse within a secondary market, with a focus on creating an economic and environmental impact. In addition, companies that prioritize environmentally friendly material will be given economic incentives, creating a whole new market that focuses on secondary-use raw material.
Smart cities can learn from the EU’s circular model and potentially build their own. Luckily, through IoT, cities now have the ability to accurately track the lifetime of an item, as well as create a fully functioning market for secondary raw materials.
“A vision for the built environment where a digital library of materials is sourced from connected buildings, which also provide information that allows predictive maintenance and effective sharing and utilization of space and energy consumption, is sketched out in [a report, Intelligent Assets: Unlocking the Circular Economy Potential].
“The multiplier impact, in terms of benefit, of resolving a number of challenges with a single systemic solution is assumed to be significant,” shard TechCrunch writer, Sebastian Egerton-Read.
IoT is often found in homes and businesses to help monitor local needs, but the implementation of IoT on a wider scale could have major benefits.
IoT offers an easy way to monitor, track, and implement environmental regulations that meet the needs of individuals, especially for smart cities that are trying to cut back on their environmental impact.
Luckily, some cities and companies are beginning to see this need to combine forces, and are stepping up to the challenge. One example is Johannesburg, South Africa, which has teamed up with IBM to monitor their city’s air pollution.
Over time, more collaborations will make headlines, and millions of citizens will benefit. The question is, how long will it take before it happens, and when it happens will it be able to reverse the impact these cities have had on the world?
Written by Katie McBeth