By Ed McCue on 11/04/18 

According to the United Nations’ World Cities Report, almost 70 percent of the worlds population will be living in cities by 2050, providing future challenges for policy makers, planners and the environment alike. However, urban density can provide a platform to a lower carbon footprint. Smart cities can use technology to intelligently provide low or zero carbon areas by supplying carbon-free public transport, smart grids, green infrastructure and more energy efficient homes.


Urban visionaries have helped drive the “smart city” rhetoric in the past decade. A smart city is “characterised by the integration of technology into a strategic approach to sustainability, citizen well-being and economic development.” Current technology is set to combine with the Internet of things (IoT) to manage a city’s assets and improve the efficiency of services. Computerised sensors will be built into the urban fabric so that CCTV, traffic lights, home appliances or waste management systems become integrated within the IoT.


New York is classed as the world’s “smartest” city, according to the IESE Cities in Motion Index 2017, which analyses aspects such as sustainability and quality of life in 180 cities. London takes the second place, closely followed by Paris in third.


Meanwhile, Manchester is the 57th smartest city in the world in 2017 according to the index, and the 5th smartest city in the UK, according to data provided by Juniper Research. The smartest cities are generally found in Europe and North American, accounting for 43 of the top 50 cities.


But it is the cities of the future that could become world leaders for smart technology. Asian countries are likely to be the future of smart city agglomerates. Building new cities using a blank canvas and implementing smart technology is easier than forcing it into existing infrastructure.


Whole new cities have been built with the smart city concept in mind, such as Songdo in South Korea. Built from scratch, the “experiment city” offers innovations with the environment in mind – sensors for energy use and traffic flow, increased charging stations for electric cars, and a water recycling system that prevents clean drinking water being used to flush office toilets.


The city’s waste is sucked from individual kitchen units, through a network of underground tunnels to waste processing centres, where its automatically sorted and treated. Fleets of rubbish trucks are non-existent, reducing carbon emissions. The waste is now planned to produce renewable energy in the future.


Meanwhile, India plans to build 100 smart cities from scratch. China can dwarf that figure - it has around 500 smart city pilot projects in place for the future and is expected to account for 50% of smart cities that exist in Asia.  Emerging markets will be at the forefront of smart city development. With hundreds new cities of over 1 million people to be expected in the next decade, a huge opportunity is present to combat climate change and achieve carbon neutrality through technology and innovation.


Inspiration can be drawn from Singapore -  a city that champions sustainability. It boasts some of the lowest rates of congestion of a city of its size because of its Intelligent Transport System, which incorporates a wide range of technologies, including real time traffic information delivered through GPS-enabled taxis, an Electronic Road Pricing System, and highly integrated public transport.


Closer to home, Manchester was chosen out of 30 UK cities for a £10m government boost to invest in smart technology. It is one of the first UK cities to be chosen for a Smart City innovation project.


CityVerve, a team of 21 organisations led by Manchester City council, aims to use smart city technology and the Internet of Things to create a more connected, engaged and empowered Manchester.


CityVerve plan to use smart technologies to retrofit buildings in order to reduce the demand for energy.  Through the deployment of a ‘smart grid’, CityVerve will be reassessing the storage of energy, reducing reliance on the energy grid at peak times and being able to accurately predict next day energy demand.


Higher quality air monitoring techniques are being explored by CityVerve that can deliver real-time data at a reasonable cost. It can then be collected to make more informed decisions and make a positive impact on our health and the environment.


The organisation is also analysing different modes of transport and smart parking methods to assess whether the city is successful in moving people from private to public transport and cycles. 


Manchester’s other smart city initiatives includes re-engineering the Oxford Road corridor. The area is currently one of the demonstrator sites for the Triangulum Project, a Horizon 2020 Lighthouse project, to demonstrate innovation and sustainable growth across the energy sector. It is hoped that certain smart city initiatives lead to a significant reduction of energy demand and local GHG emissions, whilst enhancing quality of life and encouraging sustainable economic growth.


Technology is instrumental in transitioning to a low carbon economy and in doing so contributing to climate adaptation and mitigation. Close to 70 percent of energy gets wasted before reaching the pace of consumption. ICT enabled solutions in smart cities in the form of smart grids and meters have the potential to deliver energy more efficiently. Smart technology can be used to target congestion and bolster the use of electric and hybrid vehicles.


Away from the slick, hi-tech future potential of defining our cities using technology, it is often the knowledge, vision and ethos shared by cities that underpins the progress a smart city can make.


The most ambitious and innovative actions to reduce carbon emissions are happening at the city level and through collaborative actions and sharing knowledge and best practice. C40 is a global coalition of cities that aims to drive sustainable action on climate change. The Sharing Cities lighthouse programme fosters international collaboration to make successful smart cities a reality.


However, the seemingly simplest of measures can be planted in combination with smart technology to achieve healthier cities. Green roofs and walls is a nature-based solution to help cities become more sustainable. Sydney already has about 100 buildings with green roofs or walls. This approach indirectly reduces urban heat by cooling the building itself and reducing its air-conditioning requirements, which, in turn, reduces the amount of heat released into the environment.


Air quality has the potential to improve too. They have the potential to clean outside air of pollutants, helping to offset carbon emissions. Interior air can also be cleaned by removing VOCs and other harmful toxins.


The demand for living in cities is already high, but that is only set to increase. The smart city, combined with green initiatives, should help cater for that demand and the environmental constraints that come with it.