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How Smart Cities Will Give Future Generations a Better World

Tue, 12 April 2016

Contributed by Bristol Is Open, a joint venture between Bristol City Council and the University of Bristol
Above all else cities are the barometer of our time. Home to half of the world’s population (54% in 2016), our cities produce 80% of global GDP and consume the majority of the world’s energy and global greenhouse gas emissions (66% and 70%, respectively). 
At a time when modern cities are on the verge of a fourth industrial revolution driven by technology and open data, it is important to reflect on how the places we live in are making sense of these profound and unprecedented transformations. In this respect, smart cities and their technologies have a lot to offer to future generations. 
Smart City: Where Future Happens 
At the beginning of the eighteenth century, when the first industrial revolution saw the introduction of water and steam power as a means to mechanise production, just 3% of the world’s population was urban. As aforementioned, today half of the world’s population lives in cities and this trend is set to continue, with two thirds (66%) of the world’s population estimated to live in urban centres by 2050.
Bristol Is Open 
As drivers of the current fourth industrial revolution, digital technology and open data play an important role in shaping our today’s cities and those of tomorrow. 
One of the main questions that cities have to face concerns energy management. In response to this, the rise of the Internet of Things (IoT) will allow urban planners and private companies to plan the production, to programme the storage and to prevent the leak of energy. This could give life to what might be defined as a smart energy network.  As shown by the Ericsson Mobility Report, information and communication technology could enable a 15% reduction in terms of global greenhouse gas emissions by 2030. 
The benefits of smart city technologies, of course, do not end with the energy sector. Indeed, sectors such as health, public transport, public safety, economic development, sustainability and street maintenance have to gain from more machine-to-machine interaction. 
In particular, transportation and mobility are on the verge of large-scale transformations, with potential gains in terms of traffic reduction and air-quality improvements. An IoT enabled city would be able to use real-time traffic data to make suggestions to city-dwellers as to which road to avoid on the commute or point them in the direction of the nearest available parking space. 
But a smart city is, first and foremost, about community building. In this sense, with the urban population growing at an unprecedented pace around the world, thinking smart is the only sustainable way to promote social, cultural and linguistic inclusion. Indeed, as shown by the Migration Policy Institute, the digital age offers local authorities new opportunities to welcome groups of newcomers. By gathering, analysing and making sense of the overwhelming amount of data that surrounds our society, city planners will also be able to fight against the 21st century’s biggest urban and social danger: inequality. With almost 900 million people living in slum conditions around the globe, this is probably the greatest challenge that needs to be addressed. 
Smart City and Global Goals
As cities are crucial in shaping the world we live in, their role is of paramount importance when it comes to assuring that future development will be sustainable. When setting the new Global Goals for Sustainable Development, the United Nations called for more inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable cities. This is what a smart city is all about, and technology and open data will help us reaching these goals. 
About Bristol Is Open
Bristol Is Open is a joint venture between Bristol City Council and the University of Bristol. Bristol Is Open is developing an open programmable city region that provides citizens with the ability to participate and contribute to the way their city works. The initiative uses dedicated fiber, mesh and wireless networks especially deployed across the city to create an experimental high-speed, high-performance software defined network.

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