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What is a smart city?

USA – A Penn State-led team of international researchers has been busy categorising smart cities in a move designed to better inform policy making.

On the term smart city, Krishna Jayakar, professor of telecommunications, Penn State, said: “Smart cities are those that use new information and communication technologies to solve pressing problems–such as housing, transportation, and energy–in urban planning and governance. Yet, the term ‘smart city,’ remains more of a buzzword than a clearly articulated program of action. Our research seeks to identify models of the smart city from the bottom-up, by looking at programs municipal planners have actually implemented.”

Comparing 60 smart-city plans devised in urban locations worldwide using a statistical tool, labelled cluster analysis, the team pinpointed which types of projects are most commonly used together. Which generated four groupings of smart cities: the Essential Services Model, adopted by the likes of Tokyo and Copenhagen, is characterised by the ‘use of mobile networks in emergency management programs and digital healthcare services’. The Smart Transportation Model – favoured by cities including Singapore and Dubai – incorporates initiatives to ‘control urban congestion – through smart public transportation, car sharing and/or self-driving cars’. While the Broad Spectrum Model – think Barcelona, Vancouver and Bejing – ’emphasises urban services, such as water, sewage and waste management, and seek technological solutions for pollution control’. And the Business Ecosystem Model – examples include Amsterdam and Cape Town – ’emphasises digital skills training as a necessary accompaniment to create a trained workforce and aim to foster high-tech businesses’.

“Our findings can provide city planners with information on specific projects and templates implemented in the field by other planners,” added Jayakar. “Cities hoping to implement smart city plans may also consult the four models to identify cities that match their socio-economic circumstances the most closely to use as an aid in devising their own plans.”

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