They call it City 2.0—that is cities that are IT enabled with all sorts of sensors and smart technology.
- Cameras monitor traffic flow.
- Sensors test water quality and monitor sewage runoff.
- Smart meters keep track of energy usage.
- Acoustical systems monitor structural integrity of bridges and other infrastructure.
- Building management systems control ventilation, lighting, power, fire, and security.
- Environmental monitoring tracks weather, smog, and even potential natural disasters.
And I think this is all probably still just the beginning…
Governing Magazine, April 2010 has an article entitled “The Sentient City” by Zach Patton” that describes how systems are helping cities “send resources to the street corner where gangs are converging, manage traffic before it becomes congested, and respond to emergencies seamlessly—automatically—before they’re even reported.”
With technology, we are able to be not only more aware of our surroundings, but also be more proactive in managing them.
There are many critical technology elements that come into play for a sentient city:
- Sensors—for awareness of what is going on
- Networking—for linking together the sensors with the backend systems
- Storage—for housing all the incoming city data
- Business Intelligence—for making sense of it all
- Alerting—for notifying authorities and citizens of important happenings
According to analyst Rob Enderle, with technologies for a sentient city, “you can run a city cheaper and have happier and safer citizens.” Further, according to the article, the city “becomes a more efficient place for people to live and work. It also means a government can do more with less.”
Obviously, there is significant investment that needs to be made in city infrastructure, systems, and people to make this next generation of city living a complete reality.
But with the investment will come rewards of more and better information for managing all the people, places, and things interacting with each other in the environs.
The flip side of a sentient city is a certain degree of risk to people’s privacy. For example, where cameras and other sensors abound, people’s comings, goings, and doings could become subject to invasive scrutiny.
In this case, a little information can become a dangerous thing without adequate safeguards as to what can be monitored, when, and with how much personally identifiable information. For example, this issue is currently being dealt with at airports full body technology scanners that are programmed to hide a person’s facial identity.
The benefits of sensing and monitoring our environment are great in terms of efficiencies, safety, and security of our citizens, and I believe that this capability will grow from discrete sensing systems into more holistic city management systems that monitors all the city’s functions and operations, feeds this information into dynamic knowledge centers, and provides real-time information for managing day-to-day city living more intelligently and proactively.
As our population grows and our major city centers continue to have to deal with the ever greater potential for overcrowding, traffic, dirt, crime, and other facets of close knit metropolitan life, our need for more and better information for managing these will become ever more critical to support the continued livability and likability of our cities that we call home.