December 6, 2019

Rapid Urbanization: Smarter Cities of the Future

Open data & smart cities

I recently attended an event in Gothenburg about the future of cities and how both the private and the public sector can use open data to create new innovations. The timing was perfect: more than half of global populations are already living in urban areas, and the United Nations (UN) predicts that number will rise to 68% by 2050. With this trend in mind, we should be asking ourselves how cities can sustainably prepare and manage these changes? And how can Information Communication Technology (ICT) contribute?

The City of Gothenburg, on Sweden’s west coast, has been actively working with sustainability for many years, and has been awarded the Most Sustainable Destination on the Global Destination Sustainability Index every year since 2016. The vision for Gothenburg is to be a Sustainable City – Open to the World.

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But how can Gothenburg – or any city – cater to the growth caused by urbanization, while still honoring its strong commitment to sustainability?

Gothenburg, like many other cities, is facing a lot of challenges when it comes to both growing and ageing populations. According to the Swedish Association of Local Authorities and Regions (SKL), Sweden will have to recruit more than half a million new employees by 2026 in order to address and service changing demographics – but successfully recruiting and funding such a massive increase in public services will be difficult.

The takeaway is that cities need to look into new ways to provide the services needed, whether that means for residents or visitors. SKL recommends strategies that both streamline services and retain current staff – and sees technology at the heart of all future efforts.

Addressing the challenges

One of the steps taken by Gothenburg is to look into how open data – perceived as an important new city asset – can contribute. The two main aspects for a city like Gothenburg to consider are:

  • How to manage data: privacy and confidentiality must be key considerations
  • How to create new value: understanding and controlling what is happening while predicting, forecasting, and testing new city development

To address how to create new value Gothenburg is building a Digital Twin as part of an international research project. This will provide new tools enabled by simulation for city planning, including traffic planning. It will also be a tool that will increase dialogue with citizens about planned new developments.

Can one City do it all alone?

Today, many urban areas consist of a number of clustered municipalities. The Stockholm region, for example, consists of 26 Municipalities. Both residents and visitors come and go from the city multiple times each day – and they expect the same level of service, independent of location. How can the city address this?

One way is to collaborate – nationally and internationally – in order to share experiences, investments, innovations, and ideas.  Gothenburg participates in the SCORE Smart Cities and Open Data re-use initiative SCORE partners are working together to improve efficiency and quality of public service delivery (i.e. traffic flow, pollution, drainage, flooding) based on smart, open data-driven solutions. These innovations can then be re-used for free by other North Sea Region cities, encouraging collaboration between partners and thereby expanding their understanding of open data usage. The aim is that each solution will be demonstrated in living labs in the cities where they were first developed. Examples of what can be share in this initiative are the open data applications the Department of Environmental Management has successfully developed while also reducing the workload on the department:

  • Map of geo-thermal heating installations
    Because geo-thermal heating is based on heating in the ground it will suffer from too dense deployment. So, if most of your neighbors already have it in place, yet another installation in the same area might not give much value. As this heating alternative is popular in Sweden many people living in private housing are investigating this option but a published, up-to-date map showing all approved installations has significantly reduced the number of inquiries to the department
  • Map with air-quality
    The sensor data from fixed and mobile connected installations are shared on a map where concerned citizens can monitor air quality in locations they visit often. This is important because even if air quality in Sweden is perceived to be good the Swedish Environmental Protection Agency estimates approximately 7 600 people die annually, primarily due to exposure to NO2 and particles.

Using your own data to manage your business makes sense to everyone. But what if quality data can be easily shared? One interesting hypothesis asks: Is it possible to maintain an accessible city and at the same time reduce air pollution from personal transport? The idea to be tested is dynamic pricing based on real-time IoT data. How this will impact both the travel patterns and air quality will be interesting to follow – no one can predict before it is tested with users and their behavior can be measured.

Next steps

Many cities have started open data projects, but it is early days in most areas. Efficient exchange of data depends on standards and those are yet to be developed in many areas related to the city data assets. But the trend is clear – going forward, open data will be the foundation of providing better service and transparency for cities. It will enable third parties to add value and create applications in many different domains. The value is difficult to forecast but the European Union has concluded that Open Data has the potential of saving 1,425 lives a year (i.e. 5,5% of the European road fatalities). Furthermore, applying Open Data in traffic can save 629 million hours of unnecessary waiting time on the road in the EU.

If you would like to learn more about IoT and how it can enable your business or city, please get in touch

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