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The Internet of Things: What’s A Smart City?
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The Internet of Things: What’s A Smart City? - Executive Leadership Articles

The Internet of Things: What’s A Smart City?

Executive Leadership Articles

The Internet of Things: What’s A Smart City?

The proliferation of WiFi, standardization of the way devices speak to each other, and decreasing costs in sensor technology are making it easier for multiple areas of our lives to work together toward improving out quality of living. You can now purchase, for just a few bucks, a button that, when connected to your wifi and attached to your refrigerator door, will order a delivery of your favorite beverage with just a quick tap whenever you’re running low. Because the buttons are inexpensive, you can have an assortment of them for all manner of consumer goods. On a very small, personal scale, this is the Internet of Things at work: customizable, easy, seamless, and reducing multi-stepped processes to a single push of a button.

Smart cities take this concept to a grander, municipal scale involving not only your needs as a resident and citizen, but the needs of everyone in the community. It is still true that in many local governments, individual departments still contract their own information and communication systems, but standardization and a movement toward open and shared data is quickly turning such silos of information and service into a quaint anachronism, and good riddance. The days of renewing your driver’s license, registering your car, paying for a long-forgotten parking ticket, and passing an automobile safety inspection in four different locations may be numbered as governments and private businesses find it easier (and less costly to taxpayers) to provide service and to process financial transactions in one spot.

Definitions vary, but the underlying principal of smart cities is the use of technology to allow the sharing of information across multiple platforms for the improvement of a city’s quality of life. In Amsterdam, a citizen-developed mobile app connects drivers looking for somewhere to park their cars with residents willing to rent their spaces for a few hours. The shared data enables the government to keep an eye on parking demands and traffic flow. In Barcelona, sensors in public greenspaces let caretakers know when plants need watering, rather than automatic sprinklers going into action whether the plants need it or not. In Stockholm, parking spaces may be booked ahead of time so residents can save time in getting to their appointments. In Santa Cruz (California), the city uses data to predict when and where police coverage is most likely to be needed, maximizing the effectiveness of its forces at any given time. Each of these examples is a mere scratching of the surface in how a community, its government, and its service providers can work together to decrease waste and inefficiency to improve everyone’s experience in ways inconceivable just a generation ago.

Smart cities come with the cautions inherent in any new technology. First, there is the ever-growing tension between privacy and utility. How much privacy are people willing to give up in order to ensure the safety of fellow citizens they don’t personally know? And how transparent can governments be without having to give up procedures or agreements too nuanced for most citizens to bother learning about? Knowledge can be a powerful tool, but a little bit of knowledge can be a destructive weapon when someone is unwilling to look at the whole picture. Additionally, central, shared storage of enormous amounts of data come with all kinds of security concerns, not to mention the possibility of catastrophe when there is a technical glitch, and there is always a technical glitch. It hasn’t been written about much, but there is also the possibility of a kind of Haves-vs.-Have-Nots social realization that can be unhealthy within (and among) states. There is already some degree of this shaky imbalance in the realms of public education and public assistance; how it might it be exacerbated by differences in local information infrastructure is an issue that should be considered and discussed well in advance of possible consequences.

Still, there is a growing movement toward better harnessing of new technology. Last fall, the White House announced its Smart Cities Initiative, designating $160 million for research and collaboration, toward solutions in traffic, public safety, economic growth, public health, and environmental protection. An emphasis on federal research in partnership with community-led solutions suggests a conceptual framework that practical application might hope to mirror. All this great technology has made teenaged videogame players joyful; imagine what it could do for us all as we apply it to the game of life.


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The Internet of Things: What’s A Smart City? - Executive Leadership Articles

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