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The Key Markers of Smart Cities

The future of Smart Cities

The last couple of decades has seen the emergence of smart cities. Deploying technology to improve the economic, social, cultural, and environmental quality of life for a city’s businesses, residents, and visitors. Cities are becoming smart through initiatives to address traffic patterns, mobility, and the functionality of public utilities such as lighting, parking meters, smart traffic lights, transport, and waste collection.

However, there are no blueprints to create a smart city as every city is unique in its geography, infrastructure, and population. Cities are highly crowded areas with a complex web of operating systems. A city has to contend with the challenges of private utilities and legacy infrastructure. Government officials are subject to regular election cycles and the views of the elected public. Cities are influenced by the health of the local and federal economy, local provisions such as schools and universities, and the needs and challenges of tourists – many of whom cause significant overcrowding and a strain on local resources. However, there are several key priorities which cities that have successfully deployed smart city technology share.

Citizen decision making

Without care, city spending and building can benefit  those with a vested interest, like prosperous residents and investors with a vested interest. Thus, one of the critical tenants of smart city success is participation in decision-making. In Barcelona, Decidim is a free, open-source participatory democracy platform for cities and organizations. From 2016-2019 over 40,000 residents participated with 8,142 ideas approved. Ranging from new tram routes and increased bike lanes to a ban on sexist advertising. Since then, Decidim has been rolled out to several cities worldwide. 


Successful cities are typically part of research programs, pilot studies, and funding recipients of more significant Government investments or the involvement big companies such as Cisco, Intel, and various telcos and utilities. This provides municipalities with access to knowledge, funding, and innovation, which they would otherwise lack. In 2020, The Mayor’s Office of Resiliency and NYC CTO partnered local universities to develop a real-time flood-monitoring system. The project deploys Internet-connected sensors in flood-prone neighborhoods to measure the number of flooding incidents, as well as their depths.

As part of the pilot, the City is testing the efficacy of the network to identify whether it can be a useful tool for future sensor deployments. The aim is to create a software tool to enable residents, NYC infrastructure, and emergency management agencies and researchers to directly monitor incoming data and receive real-time weather alerts. The data will help inform residents, flood mitigation efforts and calibrate future flooding models.


While computer simulation and digital twin help create new technology, there’s nothing like the opportunity to test your ideas in their natural environment. In 2016, the City of Amsterdam launched the  Amsterdam Open Beacon network spreading over 300 beacon sensors around the city near public transport hubs. It enables developers of startups can use the network for free, integrating it into their own applications.

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At last year’s CES, Toyota revealed plans to build a prototype “city” of the future on a 175-acre site at the base of Mt. Fuji in Japan. Its called the Woven City and is a living laboratory for residents and researchers to test and develop tech such as autonomy, robotics, personal mobility, smart homes, and artificial intelligence in a real-world environment.

Open data 

Open data is a key pinnacle of successful smart cities. Access to data provides transparency and accountability of government decision-making and planning. It also provides a factual evidence base to enable startups and companies to use that data to create useful applications such as transport planning apps, micromobility services, and tourism resources.

Smart cities are tasked with not only responding to the current infrastructural challenges but anticipating those to follow. If futurists are correct future cities will include autonomous vehicles, vertical take-off and landing aircraft (aka flying taxis), hyperloop transport, drones, and delivery robots. A smart city must anticipate and prepare for these even before creating laws governing their use or public adoption.

Future planning of Smart Cities

South Korea aims to introduce flying taxis in 2025 to ease ground traffic congestion. Chinese company Ehang, has successfully flown their aircraft across three cities in South Korea. 

A “K-drone Traffic Management System” is under Government development, a three-stage, vertical zoning system. The airspace between 300 and 600 meters will be reserved for flying taxis, and from 600 meters will be exclusively for aircraft. The first phase in 2025 includes building “vertiports landing pads at which passengers will get on and off on top of buildings, followed by their additional after 2030 to ground transport hubs and terminals. 


As more of the world’s population migrate to cities for work and study opportunities over the coming decades, the opportunity to create a smart connected city is even more pressing. The creation of new technologies and the convergence of technologies such as IoT, AI, and 5G creates a city that is smart as well as anticipatory and responsive to the needs of its people.


Theo Giannopoulos, Davra

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