Get Smart About Smart Cities | Onlia

Get Smart About Smart Cities

Toronto's becoming a Smart City. What does that mean for you?

Alex Kelly
by Alex Kelly

Chances are you’ve already adopted technology for many aspects of your life: your communication, transportation, occupation may all rely on it. Technology is rapidly changing the way we work and play, but more importantly, it’s evolving how we live. 

Smart Cities, a new way of integrating technology into our communities, is a hot topic as municipalities and industry race to design public spaces for the future. Onlia recently attended the Smart Cities Summit, hosted by the Toronto Region Board of Trade and the Elevate Tech Festival, to hear from the experts on how this can shape our future. 

 

What is a Smart City?

 

A Smart City harnesses the power of technology, connecting devices via the internet to create a digital network that impacts every facet of life, from environmental to economical. Known as the Internet of Things, this connectivity enhances day-to-day operations, providing real-time feedback, rich data capture, and meaningful improvements for all system users.  

 

Smart City networks have been designed to improve the quality of life for residents and visitors by reducing inefficiencies and leveraging the latest technology. In real life, this can help mitigate traffic jams, expedite delivery shipments, report potholes, find a parking spot, or notify city staff when a garbage can is overflowing. 

 

Making cities smart 

 

Columbus, Ohio has embraced Smart City technology for its Smart Columbus initiative, using mobility data to inform transportation planning and deployment. Columbus has made the data open-source, inviting the public to help “solve mobility challenges in innovative ways.” This approach opens up the transportation sector to new ideas, with tremendous potential to solve mobility issues.

 

Smart Cities will require municipalities to reimagine how they function. They’ll need to cut across departmental administrations horizontally, rather than the traditional vertical operations, says George Karayannis, VP of Panasonic’s Smart Cities Solutions initiative. This change in operations can be a tall order, and require support throughout the government to ensure sustainable change happens.

 

They’re smart, but will they last?

 

Smart Cities represent a community’s commitment to innovation and technology, with a strong potential to help advance infrastructure improvements. Proponents of Smart Cities point to opportunities for efficiency while leveraging private partnerships to solve pressing issues within municipalities.

 

However, this vision for the next generation of cities is not for everyone. At the Summit, Dr. Shoshanna Saxe urged cities to rethink how they make infrastructure improvements, and to focus on proven, long-term strategies over exciting and new innovative ideas. Dr. Saxe points out that not every city problem requires a technological solution – current solutions may still be the better way.

 

Technology has demonstrated that it can be unreliable, full of glitches, and reliant on regular software updates, which can be a vulnerability for cities dependant on integrated solutions – like water and utilities. Traditionally, cities have been built to last generations. Dr. Saxe highlighted that while Smart City solutions are exciting, we may not be as supportive when innovations fall victim to hacks, system failures, or become obsolete.

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The future is closer than you think

 

Despite the controversy, Smart Cities aren’t a thing of the future – they are here, now. Think about your daily interactions and how technology plays into them. Perhaps it’s when you swipe your transit pass, use an app on your smartphone to navigate, or pay for parking with your phone. These are data points that help create smarter cities.

 

Toronto has launched Smart City TO, designed to help the city “become smarter through the innovative use of data, technology and policies.” While it doesn’t exactly mean that robots are running the city, it does mean that the city is modernizing with an eye towards innovation. Currently, this includes smart solutions for transportation, water use, restaurant inspections, and civic issues.

 

While Toronto’s city council determines what its Smart Cities strategy will continue to look like, the private sector has already started to sketch out plans for a smart Toronto neighbourhood. Alphabet, the parent company of Google, has launched Sidewalk Labs, which aims to improve urban infrastructure through technological solutions – a Smart City in the making.

 

Get involved 

 

To be successful, cities need to validate where and how to apply the Smart Cities ideology to their unique problems, and work with the innovation sector to develop enduring solutions. The goal of Smart Cities is to improve on individual quality of life, while optimizing the urban infrastructure. 

 

As a citizen, this is a great opportunity to help guide the future of your community by engaging in consultations and staying informed on how your neighbourhood is going online. The future is evolving, and where it leads is still being designed.

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