What is a Smart City in 2024?

February 5, 2024

Smart Cities often get associated with large-scale data and technology, but this perspective obscures what a Smart City actually is in 2024.

Since becoming popularised in 2010 with IBM’s Smarter Cities Challenge, the term Smart City has been used to paint with a broad, technology-heavy brush.

Smart Cities are often associated with futuristic technological networks, the Internet of Things (IoT) and large-scale data capture. However, this input-focused view has, in recent years, turned toward a more outcome-focused space that’s potentially changed what the ‘smart’ in Smart City means.

The idea of a Smart City has often been focused on Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) and the Internet of Things – objects embedded with sensors for data exchange – as well as mobile solutions and big data to help the government improve operational efficiency. Some examples of Smart City infrastructure include:  

  • Using sensors in bins to amass data and make waste management and collection more efficient
  • Smart parking that directs commuters to available parking spots using real-time data (and helps identify overstay)
  • Management of lighting networks and fault identification, which can also be combined with air quality sensors and CCTV
  • Monitoring energy consumption to understand how much an asset, such as a BBQ, is being utilised
Australian cities like Melbourne are activating Smart City projects.

This is the more traditional interpretation of what ‘smart’ means: network intelligence. Today, however, the definition is less technological and more aspirational – the ‘smart’ in Smart City is more focused on providing sustainability and liveability outcomes.

To put it another way, Smart City initiatives have pivoted from visions of large-scale digital interconnection to more holistic problem solving that uses technology to achieve a higher quality of life for communities.

Some current Smart City initiatives include:  

  • Contactless payments in public transport networks to make planning and paying for trips easier
  • Building charging infrastructure to support the growth of private EV use across a city
  • Digitising government forms of ID to speed up and simplify citizen access to city services
  • To assist deaf and blind people navigating the city, Melbourne is trialling beacon technology in Cambell Arcade to transmit location-specific information to smartphones
  • To improve urban water quality and assist in the protection of the Great Barrier Reef, the Cairns Regional Council collaborated with James Cook University and other partners to commission a network of environmental sensors in Cairns’ Saltwater Creek to obtain real-time water quality and flow data
  • Using multiple datasets and machine learning, New South Wales’ Smart Beaches initiative is saving lives by providing surf life savers with real-time readings on tide conditions and wave patterns
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This shift in perspective puts the attention on the ‘what’ and ‘why’ of modern Smart Cities, but it doesn’t necessarily mean the ‘how’ – using technology and data – has shifted from what it was before. The conversation has simply changed to become more concerned with solving real-life problems for citizens than talking about the means of achieving it.  

Since the ‘how’ of building a Smart City has remained relatively unchanged, Smart Cities still put significant focus into raw data capture. This means that device networks, as well as the means to monitor them through platforms like Planwisely, will remain a real and impactful part of any Smart Cities strategy. The benefits that ‘smart’ infrastructure can have within the realms of transport, energy and the environment, health, education, governance and more indicate that all levels of government can get tangible benefits from a 'smart' approach to planning for the future.

For governments and councils, it’s clear that technology has a role to play in improving people’s lives. This means that Smart Cities initiatives will continue to grow in importance and, hopefully, efficacy as time goes on.

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