What will population centres look like in 20 years' time? Innovations in transportation, energy production and technology will have to keep pace with a host of challenges.
What will population centres look like in 20 years' time?
Demographers predict the planet will host 9bn people by 2050. Close to 60m new urban dwellers are added each year. The 21stcentury will be dominated by the city.
Today’s cities can barely handle the burden of their current populations: core services like energy, water, communications, transportation and public safety are wasteful, inefficient and decrepit. Even though cities only occupy 2% of the landmass of the Earth, they consume over 75% of the Earth’s resources. The only way to prevent rapid urbanization from being an environmental disaster is to operate cities in a brand new way: faster, smarter, cleaner.The Smart Grid
The ultimate means to maximize efficiency remains the most speculative and that is the use of information technology for ubiquitous awareness and intelligence. Even as prices rise for concrete, steel, oil, coal and water, one commodity gets steadily and inexorably cheaper: computing power. As sensors and microchips become smaller, less expensive and more powerful, they will be integrated not only into the power distribution system (the "smart grid") but into countless appliances, buildings, vehicles and public resources. A city becomes “smart” when all parts of its infrastructure and government services are digitally connected and optimized.
The smart city’s intelligent infrastructure is powered by three key technologies that share environment and citizen data constantly: sensors, the cloud and smart interfaces. Residents can also change the city experience, tailoring it to themselves by entering their preferences in touch screen smart applications. Adding such layers of intelligence to the bloated legacy systems of cities like New York, San Francisco and London will be slow and painful. However, new cities have no such constraints.
In South Korea, 40 km from Seoul, a new city is being built that promises to epitomize the smart city. Songdo offers residents green living in LEED certified buildings, smart homes with Telepresence monitors, a state of the art school, a park modelled on Central Park in Manhattan and a 15 minute ride to Incheon airport. And from there, less than a 3 hour flight to all major cities in Asia.
Songdo is the first of a string of smart cities that are either in planning or development stage. Not to be left behind, existing cities in the US, Canada and Europe are all trying to quickly insert intelligence in pilot projects.
Market demand for intelligence services for retrofitting cities and building new ones is estimated at trillions of dollars. And the fight to capture it is on: Microsoft,Cisco, IBM, Hewlett Packard, Siemens and Phillips, are just some of the big technology firms racing to get a piece of the action.
Smart Cities was originally published in Future Perspective, a Burson-Marsteller newsletter.Download Future Perspective