Scenarios for connected urban life.
Local social, economic, and political forces will shape the urban information explosion in every city over the next decade. Five technologies that matter—broadband connectivity, smart personal devices, open data infrastructures, public interfaces, and cloud computing—will lay the foundation for urban development and inclusion in the years ahead. The scenarios to come illustrate the challenges and opportunities for global cities in both Northern and Southern regions when urban information becomes accessible to city dwellers. On the one hand, smart devices extend information and democratize municipal decision making. On the other hand, there will be an intense centralization of data, most likely consolidated by a private company deploying cloud services and the devices to access it. The question becomes, who will hold the key to enter this data?
Smart cities are wired with IT infrastructure that can report, filter analyze and share urban information. Information can be of a municipal quality like energy consumption and transportation routes that greatly improve efficiency and sustainability issues. Corporations pioneering smart infrastructures are IBM's Smarter Planet and Cisco's Connected Urban Development. Smart cities also integrate real-time social media functionality that will increasingly be used by local government to crowd source civic projects. The UK's G-Cloud estimates a 3 billion Pound savings between 2014 and 2020 with it's cloud infrastructure, and over 100 municipalities in the USA have open data sharing structures for solving civic issues. And finally, from a business perspective, smart cities will enhance what business networks do best: deepening trusted relationships, expanding business opportunities and reducing costs with collective buying.
The driving force shaping smart cities is the access to infrastructure, both in terms of laying down the connections and launching satellites as well as how the end user experiences and pays for the data. Globally, video communications will drive an exponential growth in bandwidth consumption. A new round of investment in long-haul fiber optic networks will bring the needed capacity to cities in the Global North. The linking of coastal cities in the Global South into undersea fiber grids will reinforce their integration into the global economy.There will be cultural, economic and political differences between Northern and Southern cities.
When there is an open social agenda communities will leverage urban information to improve service delivery, transparency, and citizen engagement. This sounds optimistic, but in reality the realization of government cloud services is in reaction to national debt and shifting costs to the citizen in the name of community engagement. What will emerge is that micro enterprises and activities will be super local: day care, rooftop gardens and car pooling today; rapid prototyping, green energy and device manipulation tomorrow. In turn the city block or neighborhood maybe fall into the hands of a local strong man characterize by patronage and extortionary practices. Lets not forget that policing will also be increasingly a Do It Yourself (DIY) civic responsibility.
Building the smartest cities of tomorrow will be financed by partnerships between municipal and corporate stakeholders. In many cases the corporate stake will outweigh the municipality and therefore having ultimate decision making power. When the commercial agenda takes the foreground there will be price exclusion for poorer groups, but for those who are able to pay, wow. Greener, effcient and instant access to data from anywhere. In fact, geopolitical borders will become less import than network connections. Within cities themselves, smart networks will resemble castles, with defenses, exclusive trading partners and a unique culture.
Smartest of the smart cities will be able to make sense of all this new data. Already today, the Watson supercomputer by IBM is able to answer any question asked to it in normal language in a few seconds. What's so amazing about this is that the entire human wealth of knowledge can be articulated and given to you within a few seconds in conversational english. More powerful that Google's algorithms, Watson like supercomputers that sit on top of centralized data can revolutionize industries flooded by information such as medical, finance and surveillance; further polarizing those who are not connected. In the scenarios that follow, try imagine which direction your city will go and consider how emerging cities will handle things differently. According to leading world economic reports, all of the major cities in the next decade will be in the southern hemisphere, let's ask Watson what to do about that.
If you want to know more about IT integration in urban development here in Amsterdam and across Europe visit New Urban Media at www.studionum.com