By Corrine Bresky

With the rise in global urbanization comes new opportunities to transform city functioning in response to population shifts. In 2020, approximately 56.2% of the world’s population resided in urban areas. This number is expected to continue to grow, with projections for 2050 showing an additional 12% of the world in these areas

With this urban population growth comes massive implications for the infrastructure of these metropolitan areas. City planners are attempting to rethink how they can provide services to the growing number of people and implement policies toward more efficient city functioning. An increasingly popular solution is the adoption and investment in smart city technologies. These investments are expected to reach $2.7 trillion by the year 2027 according to the market research company Global Industry Analytics, Inc.

Smart cities utilize a wide variety of technologies, including electronic sensors, to collect real-time data on city functioning to better understand and address infrastructure needs. Some cities, such as Seoul, South Korea and San Francisco, USA, implement sensors to measure fill levels of garbage bins and reduce collection costs. Other places, including Coventry in the United Kingdom, aim to improve traffic infrastructure by using air pollutant sensors to suggest alternative routes to reduce pollution. 

Though many of the conversations regarding smart city initiatives focus on more highly populated areas, these technologies are also becoming more popular in smaller municipalities. According to a survey from the US Conference of Mayors, over 30% of smart city projects have been implemented in cities with populations of less than 150,000. Included in this grouping is the city of Valdosta, Georgia, which implemented a smart city project to improve transportation with the newly available data from traffic signal technology. With this information at their disposal, common traffic issues in Valdosta were identified along with tangible solutions. For example, the city developed an app called TravelSafely to notify drivers about hazardous road conditions.

While many people recognize the benefits of these smart city initiatives, some citizens continue to express significant concerns. A major point of contention involves the security risks and accountability standards associated with this data collection. Governments and private companies collect enormous amounts of data from individual users to build these platforms. To address privacy and data breach concerns, officials emphasize working with experts to implement the best cybersecurity tools to mitigate threats. 

Advocates and critics of these technologies alike stress the importance of open data as a way to encourage driver and citizen engagement. These platforms can be used as a method for promoting greater transparency and productivity

Allowing greater accessibility and greater public knowledge of this data can provide a more direct approach to enhancing citizens’ quality of life. For example, startup companies could use this data to generate creative, new services to support the community’s needs. Some research initiatives, such as MIT’s Senseable City Lab, started with the sole focus of applying information from these tools to optimize city design. 

The crux of smart city data collection comes in its applications; with greater details on the intricacies of a city’s functioning, an opportunity emerges to generate creative, evidence-based solutions to allow citizens to reap greater benefits and transform city functioning.

In a world of rapidly evolving technology, the costs and benefits of emerging technologies must be weighted to leverage them to improve the overall quality of life. While the smart city model is still in its infancy, and is not without its challenges, the future of these tools may prove a worthy candidate for utilizing data-driven insights to positively transform cities, big and small.

About the Author:

Corrine Bresky is a recent graduate from Florida State University with a bachelor of science in Economics and Psychology. In the 2021-2022 academic year, she lead the Data Analytics Group (DAG) at the DeVoe L. Moore Center. In her role as DAG manager, Corrine worked with a multi-person team and the center’s partner DataMadeUseful, LLC to update, maintain, and interpret data available through the transparency website

Corrine’s hobbies include playing tennis, reading, and editing creative videos. Corrine hopes to combine the insights she has gained from the fields of economics and psychology with empirical tools to conduct meaningful research for effective solutions of social issues.

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