Smart Cities: A Journey, Not a Destination

Smartness is not a destination. It is not a "certificate" that you will get at the end of project or a series of projects that will declare that you as "SMART". Cities don't become smart because they got an allocation of funding from the "Smart Cities Fund" from some country. They do not become smart because they happen to be one of the '100' cities.

The world is experiencing extreme urbanization that is leading to constrained resources. On the other hand rural economies are trying to automate more and more as they experience shortage of manpower who are migrating to cities. Everyone is actively trying to improve their quality of life. The concept of ‘Smart Cities’ providing sustainable and efficient solutions to both urban and rural economies, has evolved as one of the most popular policy themes that is pursued by Governments, researchers and projects across the World.

I define Smart City as a city which makes use of Electronics, Communication and Information technologies to manage infrastructures more efficiently, offer services provided rationally, provide a higher quality of service to citizens, wherein all its players (citizens, local companies and local Government) interact with each other to evolve and improve their quality and quantity of activity. This interoperability requires the support of smart networks and platforms. It is also a city (and its citizens) committed to its surroundings, across environmental, cultural and historical elements. It is a complex 'ecosystem' in which multiple players are closely linked by processes that enable new models of business services, relationship with the surroundings.

The involvement of citizens to accept and drive the process of improvement is of utmost importance. Smartness is a process of measurement, analysis, correction, and improvement and repeating this process over and over again. Unfortunately, many initiatives die because we lack the tenacity to keep doing something - instead looking for quick-fixes that will suddenly make us "smart".

To start this process:

  • We need "Sensors". Sensors measure things, count things, see things directly or indirectly telling us about the state of movement, health, energy, location of anything.
  • We need "Collectors". Collectors help us bring these signals back to the brain. It is the nervous system of a smart city - weaving through the entire fabric of the city - roads, houses, buildings, trees, people, vehicles. Different sensors need different collectors.
  • We need "Thinkers". Thinker is the brain where information is processed and the city 'decides' what it needs to do. It takes into account how it sensed and collected the information and mixes it with previous history. It forms a quick opinion and responds.
  • We need "Actuators". Actuators - act on the information of the brain to change the state of whatever was being measured.
  • We need "Analyzers". Analyzers are above the system looking at this open-loop feedback system and keep making changes in the "Thinkers" so that the desired outcome is obtained.

Internet of Everything allows us to look at Smart Cities as a "Network". The Smartness of a "Network" is not in its nodes; it is in the links. Linking things, information, action and thought makes us smart. Linking people, communities, Governments, Global cities makes us smart. We are in the midst of a extraordinary research and development and breakthrough solutions involving sensors, collectors, actuators, analyzers. There cannot be a better time to leverage these to add 'smartness' to our cities.

“Getting smart is a process and not a destination. It is the achievement of a mindset which gets developed incrementally over a period of time. Smartness is when as a civilization, we become more contextually aware of the problems and put measurable solutions in place to overcome the challenges".

Any city can become smart when it starts the PROCESS and puts in structures that enable it to leverage information to improve their own lives. They do not depend on the Central or State Government or some foreign government to declare or choose them to start this process.