Cities are evolving, and innovation plays a huge role in this transformation. Almost 10,000 years ago, hunter-gatherers learned the secrets of selective breeding and agriculture and managed to grow their food. For the first time in history, humans found a way to survive without moving to a different territory to find new food sources. And that’s how everything started.
It wasn’t until the Industrial Revolution that modern cities as we know them appeared. New technologies deployed on a mass scale allowed these vast communities to grow faster than ever before.
Innovation has always been vital to improve and prevent communities from collapsing. Cities need sanitation systems, properly-built homes, and secure public transportation. And the list goes on forever. Even if we’ve evolved a lot since hunter-gatherers changed the course of history, there’s still much left to be done.
What is the future of cities?
As cities become increasingly populated and resources more and more sparse, cities need to focus on achieving smart growth. There’s no time for it to be a thing of the future - the future of cities is now.
Thankfully, many cities are already focusing on becoming smart and sustainable cities by implementing practices such as the circular economy, and smart mobility, helping reduce carbon footprint in urban areas.
Check out this short video of our action-packed Travel & Smart Cities EXPO 3 in Vienna, which brings fresh perspectives to the innovation landscape in the CEE region.
The city of the future: What are the challenges?
What will the city of the future look like? There is not one good answer.
Cities are made by the people inhabiting them, and people are profoundly affected by culture and the city itself. Thus, two cities facing the same problem might need two different solutions.
And that’s the main challenge encountered when developing a smart city. A smart city is not just a city that uses cutting-edge technology. It’s a city that carefully studies the habits and the needs of its citizens and tries to fix them in the most suitable way.
But even though the solutions might differ, some main challenges affect most cities:
Smart mobility for the city of the future
Traffic consistently ranks as one of the main problems affecting cities. If there’s ever such a thing as the perfect smart city, smart mobility will play a key role. But let’s clarify something before anyone gets confused.
How 21st-Century Planning is Different
Governments have always tried to foresee potential problems and fix those already happening. However, the approach to solving these problems is radically different. For example, some decades ago, the solution to busy highways was to add a new lane.
Simple, right? Well, maybe not so much.
What seemed like an excellent way to reduce congestion brought, in fact, poor results. Adding a new lane didn’t reduce traffic, instead, it attracted new drivers who didn’t use that route. Cities ended up with equally congested roads (only, this time, they had an extra lane full of vehicles.)
The city of the future will face problems differently. Those trying to create a smart city should look at the main challenges of mobility from different points of view and ask questions like: Do we need that many cars? Should we own cars, or should we share them? Would it be preferable to have autonomous vehicles? The possibilities are endless, and the answers vary depending on the city.
So, back to mobility.
Some of the main elements that will shape mobility in the city of the future are:
- Shared Mobility: Ride-hailing services have been growing steadily for years. And every indication suggests that they will keep doing so. The city of the future is, without a doubt, a city where people will share transportation methods such as cars, motorbikes, or scooters. Why own a car when there’s such a thing as Mobility As A Service or MaaS?
- Electric vehicles: Electric cars are becoming more popular every year, but cities have a long way to go until they’re fully prepared to “host” these types of vehicles. The number of charging stations available is still low, and grid capacity needs to be improved (nowadays, it still needs to be fully prepared to charge vehicles such as electric buses.) These are some of the problems that get in the way of the mass adoption of electric cars, and cities will need to face them soon.
- Traffic Management: Traffic is one of the main problems for urban areas worldwide. Fortunately, new solutions are coming up daily to try to fix this problem (or at least mitigate its consequences). Cities are developing systems to try to address this issue. Pittsburgh, for example, deployed a video and radar to analyze traffic in 50 intersections and adjusts signals in real-time. This AI-based system has reduced travel times by 26% and vehicle emissions by 21%.
Buildings in cities of the future aren’t just buildings
Nowadays, 50% of the total human population lives in cities. Studies predict that 35 years from now, that percentage will rise to 75%. That means we need to find a home for 3 billion people in just 35 years.
And, if we want future cities to be smart cities, only some buildings are good enough. We need our skyline to be made up of buildings that are, amongst other things:
- Sustainable: The buildings where we work and live create almost 50% of CO2 emissions on the planet. Smart buildings are designed with sustainability in mind. This means low-energy houses, natural materials (like cork, clay, or recycled paper), renewable energy use, or waste reduction.
- Secure: We’re discussing buildings with integrated fire prevention systems or intrusion and access control - Protecting the building’s systems from hackers is also essential.
- Cost-efficient: There are many ways in which a smart building helps its inhabitants save money. It detects occupancy patterns and adapts to how much energy it consumes. Cooling and ventilation are regulated automatically. Sensors can see potential maintenance problems and stop them before they happen. And so much more.
IoT: The core technology upon which a city in the future is built
Without the Internet of Things, smart cities wouldn’t exist. These intelligent, interconnected cities rely on data collection for everything. And that is what IoT sensors do: they collect data and feed it into a platform to be analyzed.
In the city of the future, devices must be able to communicate with each other so that decisions can be made. Authorities must work hand in hand with network operators to position several connectivity points throughout the city to ensure proper communication.
The cities of the future will be sustainable (and this is not an option)
Sustainability is key in the development of any smart city, and it’s related to other challenges:
- Waste management: Smart cities need to face different problems related to waste management, such as overfilled trash bins, unoptimized truck routes, or the need to separate mixed materials for recycling. Smart waste management can help solve these kinds of issues. Sensors attached to trash bins can measure fill level, send an automatic alert if it reaches the limit, and optimize trucks’ collection routes.
- Energy: “The city of the future will definitely be energy-efficient. It might even produce energy instead of consuming it. The main challenge is convincing companies and governments to invest more in this area," said Daniyar Tanatov’s, Partner Account Manager at Spaceti. Cities can produce more energy than they consume by using turbines, solar panels or even solar walls - buildings with solar panels incorporated into their facade.
- Working hours: Unexpected, maybe? Current working hours vastly exceed what we could consider sustainable, concluded research conducted by the think tank Autonomy. Fewer working hours would mean less commuting, fewer products manufactured, and fewer resources used. Technologies such as Artificial Intelligence could help make the future of work sustainable.
The city of the future: Who is behind it?
Startups play a crucial role when it comes to finding new solutions to build the city of the future.
Smart cities' challenges are endless, and public institutions and large corporations can’t come up with all the solutions we need. Some of the most brilliant (and passionate) minds are in startups like Gaia Smart Cities, Recycle Smart, and Smart Air. For corporations, these startups are a threat but also an opportunity.
At Plug and Play’sSmart Cities accelerator, we match large corporations with top-tier startups that are changing the world as we know it. Together, they’ll build the cities of the future. Want to know more? Join our platform today.