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When Cities Become Connected Spaces

A look into the cities working to create a more connected living ideal.

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In every store, office, school and business we’re beginning to see the effects of a more connected system. Led by the internet of things (IoT), it’s easy to see how the places we work and visit are becoming more joined up. But all of these feeds and networks don’t stop there. Now, and in the future, they will branch out even further, into what many are calling the “smart city’ of the future.

These cities are huge networks made up of lots of individual (yet connected) spaces in a system where everything talks. As an example, think about a healthcare centre which talks to a pharmacy for you, or a physical retail store that talks to your online shopping accounts and takes note of preferences. A transport system which works to get you to where you need to be on time and in the fastest, cheapest and most economical way possible.

All small, compartmentalized parts of our lives, becoming joined up in a way that makes things easier and more fluid.

As Daniel Termont, the Eurocities president, comments:

“We need to find new ways of working together so we can make the most of everyone’s expertise. Public administrations, citizens, businesses and research institutes: we are all part of the same urban ecosystem and we all have something to offer. By pooling our resources, we can create better solutions that truly address our challenges and are owned by the entire city.”

The key here is being part of “the same urban ecosystem”. At the moment, the only real connection between infrastructures such as healthcare, education and the workplace is that they’re all related to us, the individual. Yet this still leaves them feeling fragmented.

When we think of a “smart city’ we often think of futuristic, self-driving cars zooming along the intersection. The reality is much less cinematic. Scott Cain, chief business officer of the government’s Future Cities Catapult suggests that:

“A future city is one that is adaptive to the changing needs of its citizens. It’s about how it understands those needs and responds to them using innovations, some of which would be digital, while others would be to do with governance, finance, business and any number of other factors.”

The key will be the subtle merge between data and technology, systems and people. How you connect and how these systems communicate, in light of each other.

To take tourism, a key aspect of any city, it’s easy to see the benefit of a smarter city. At the moment, a tourist visiting another country has a series of completely disjointed systems connecting their one trip. From the plane they take, to the hotel they stay in and the trips they book, everything is segmented. Yet all are part of one ecosystem and all have equal effect on the tourist in question. When cities become more connected, you begin to join up the dots and make lives easier.

The visitor’s plane talks to its taxi driver, which talks to its hotel, which ties in with its trip advisor to ensure everything runs smoothly and on time. At each step of the way, data is passed and shared. This has no effect on the visitor other than the next step of their journey being more informed. Their experience becomes more fluid and for once, they don’t have to remain in charge of every aspect of their trip. Instead, a smart system with smart sensors, tracking and data management does it for them.

On the other side, the data this provides is invaluable. The city itself is able to map out the route many millions of visitors take and how this affects its businesses, revenue and transport systems. As a result, all can be optimized to perform better and make travel within the city easier.

This may be just one example, but it gives insight into what the future connected city space may look and feel like to someone visiting.

Some of the best examples of smart cities at current include London, Singapore, Oslo and San Francisco. While London is known for its innovation in making parking and transport systems more connected, somewhere like Singapore is better known for its crack-down on cleanliness. A series of sensors across the city track everything from inhabitant smoking levels and areas, to where trash is being discarded in an unauthorized way. SF is leading in its ability to offer contactless and cloud-based payment systems across 90% of the city, although due to it becoming one of the most popular tech hubs in the world, needs some work to ensure its transport systems can keep up. Then you have Oslo, one of the wealthiest cities in the world, whose focus is firmly on sustainability. From banning private vehicles, to increasing carpool options and introducing a sophisticated car-charging network to power electric vehicles, its approach to energy conservation has made it one of the cities most aggressively pursuing the benefits of the connected space.

Despite the differences in adoption, all are working towards a somewhat more joined up city and as a result, a more fluid life for inhabitants.

The potential of cities becoming connected spaces is huge. How long it will take to get there is questionable, but the pop-up of individual connected spaces that contribute to the whole, can only help speed things up along the way.

 SC Gradient

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