People have always sought to tackle the problems of the cities in which they live. With the emergence of highly-advanced information and communications technologies (ICT) in the 21st century, the concept of the “smart city” has been formed.
Since 70% of the world’s population will live in cities by 2050, it is certainly a concept pertinent to cities, governments, businesses, investors, and citizens alike. A “smart city” is a city that uses technologies embedded in roadways, buildings, and grids to offer sustainable solutions for community services. Because no one has more information about a city than the city itself.
Public administration archives retain geographic data, statistics and research results, and every day they accumulate new ones on the age of population, construction projects, the opening of new businesses, green spaces. All this information can be of great use to administrations: it allows them to make a more efficient planning, to save money for taxpayers and offer better services. All data collected is used to improve these services, which are used by both the city (transport optimization, rapid emergency response, water and waste management) and citizens (traffic maps, crime reports, bus stop locations). Smart cities feature progressive infrastructure and communications, bringing with them the ability to offer viable solutions to the real challenges of life in the 21st century and beyond. Besides efficient, a smart city also seeks to be attractive and fun.
Let’s take an example. Helsinki – which is also the leader of the “Open & Agile Smart Cities (OASC)” initiative, gathering cities from all over the world in order to define the basis for interoperability and standardization of future “smart city” data’s, even thanks to FIWARE – it is now one of the smartest cities in Europe, thanks to the recent decision of its administration to start a massive use of the open data (which is all the information in some way already present in the archives) to make the Finnish capital a much better place to live in. But it’s not always been like that.
Until not long ago, despite endemic habit to a rigid climate, Helsinki inhabitants did not know what to expect after a heavy overnight snowfall. Would the snowplough pass in time to allow them to reach their place of work? Since the winter of 2015, however, there is no need to speculate: the City of Helsinki has equipped its vehicles with transmitters that indicate their location on a digital map. So everyone can find out where the nearest snowplough is in that very moment, which itinerary is following and even if they are clearing the bike path or spreading salt on it. The same principle works to follow in real time the location of all public transport in the city, but the examples – not only related to Helsinki – can go on forever and include the real-time situation of traffic and pollution, precise and fundamental guidelines for the visually impaired, various parking payments and services via smartphone, and so on.
The European champions of innovation are medium to small cities (between 100 thousand and 500 thousand inhabitants) in the north – on the first five places we find Luxembourg, Aarhus in Denmark, Turku in Finland, Aalborg and Odense, in Denmark – but the trend is exponentially rising, and eight major cities, including Rome, Barcelona and Istanbul, are moving fast towards a “smart direction”, even if each one is focusing on a specific sector, such as tourism or mobility. Because open data – that are the basis of the “smart cities” – also have the effect of increasing the capacity of an area to activate business, and if a company uses the data to improve services offered to a customer or a startup uses it to develop an application, tax revenue increases, as well as it does the transparency of any operation, since the open data – including those related to administrations investments – can be consulted by anyone at any moment.