The Future Smart City

How Smart Cities can help tackle climate change

“Even in darkness it is possible to create light and encourage compassion. That it is possible to feel free inside a prison. That even in exile, friendship exists and can become an anchor. That one instant before dying, man is still immortal.”

― Elie Wiesel, Open Heart

Starting this blog with my favorite quote from Elie Wiesel, I will discuss global climate change and sustainability. Climate change has been a familiar topic that most people have read about and know many facts about this matter. Yet, it is also a problem too big for an individual to solve that we tend not to feel the urgency and forget our responsibility to be part of the solution.

With much noticeable evidence such as shrinking ice sheets, glacial retreat, and more extreme events in recent years, businesses have built a new focus for sustainability, so as countries. Our nature of constant improvement will not lead us back to the lifestyle before the industrial revolution. We can only move forward to find better technological solutions for the current problem. Just like Elie said, even in darkness, it is possible to create light.

Based on the comparison of atmospheric samples contained in ice cores and more recent direct measurements, there is significant evidence that atmospheric CO2 has increased since the Industrial Revolution.

The good news is that countries around the world have set aggressive targets for cutting greenhouse gas emissions. Building smarter cities are one crucial way to achieve this goal. Today 55% of the world’s population lives in urban areas, with this share expected to grow to 68% by 2050. Cities are responsible for most of the world’s economic activity, energy consumption, and greenhouse gas emissions. Therefore, to significantly reduce emissions, urban centers will need to use less energy and take advantage of periods when renewable energy is available. “Smart cities” are expected to play a pivotal role in achieving these objectives.

Here is some potential smart city applications. I will explain these with a current examples of smart cities in the process of building in Egypt.

Egypt is building a smart city with a population of 6.5 million in the middle of the desert. As the capital and the heart of Egypt that hosts 21,000,000 people, Cairo is highly congested, polluted, and overpopulated, making it unfit as Egypt’s financial and administrative capital. To solve this problem, Egypt has started construction on the New Administrative Capital, a megacity located 30 miles east of Cairo in the middle of the desert. Showing below is a blueprint plan for this new smart, green city. This city will be built in three phases, with the first phase consist of eight residential districts, a business district, and an administrative district. Phase two and three will then add other districts such as a green park double the size of New York City’s central park, a 6.5 square mile entertainment district, and a business district with 20 skyscrapers. This city is expected to be completed around 2022.

Orange Egypt to build digital infrastructure for 'smart' capital city - DCD
A Plan of The New Smart City

On the smart part, the city will utilize a cashless system for services, a smart traffic network, a unified digital infrastructure, and a massive recycling system. This new capital is developed with a smart city’s strategic vision integrating its smart infrastructure to provide many services to citizens. Including smart monitoring of traffic congestion and accidents, smart utilities to reduce consumption and cost, smart buildings and energy management, a focus on renewable energy and using IoT to save power consumption, as well as “building optical-fiber infrastructure connecting every building using FTTX technology.” FTTX, also called Fiber to the x, is the key method to drive next-generation access (NGA). It is a significant upgrade to the Broadband available by making a step-change in the service’s speed quality. A 90-square-kilometers solar (35-square-miles) farm is also part of this plan. 

Now, imagine it is already the year 2022, and you are driving your electric car from Cairo with much excitement about visiting a friend who lives in this new smart city in Egypt. You cast a glance at your car’s control panel and notice that the car is going to be out of power in 30 minutes. As you are worried about finding a charging spot, you have passed the smart city’s toll gate. Immediately you noticed that your car starts to charging while driving on the highway, thanks to the solar panels built in the road that enables all electric vehicles to charge as they run. As the sensor detects your car, it automatically connects the car system to an AI program that controls the city’s traffic and starts autopiloting the car. Autonomous vehicles have not yet available due to technical and legal difficulties. However, with a city’s traffic system build with sensors, cameras, and other IoT-enabled devices that monitor traffic volume, movement, congestion, roadway conditions, and data about pedestrians and bicyclists, it is possible to safely autopilot your car. You have noticed that lots of autopiloting taxies are running on their way to pick up/ drop off guests, and citizens are so used to transport with such a shared taxi system that the city has much fewer parking lots compared to Cairo. All the spaces that are needed for parking have changed to parks. The city has amazed you with its excellent safety on the road and its abundant greenery coverage. You wonder what other places will it continue to surprise you.

Related Readings:

<How Smart Cities can help tackle climate change>

http://www.frontier-economics.com/uk/en/news-and-articles/articles/article-i4604-how-smart-cities-can-help-tackle-climate-change/#

<Egypt’s building a new capital: Inside the smart city in the desert>

https://www.zdnet.com/article/egypts-building-a-new-capital-inside-the-smart-city-in-the-desert/

<Climate Change: How Do We Know?>

https://climate.nasa.gov/evidence/

<From smart meters to smart cities>

https://www.smart-energy.com/magazine-article/from-smart-meters-to-smart-cities

12 comments

  1. Nice post. I think there’s alot of promise in smart cities, but I wonder how much political will there is to actually make them happen. Likely requires alot of central planning and investment.

    1. Chuyong Liu · ·

      I agree! It might be easier for countries with desperate needs and government control power to build a new city from the ground up. For well-developed countries, this could be harder even with enough funding. It is hard to make changes if the current environment is good. But I am happy to find some countries are really doing it! If they succeed and create good examples for the rest of the world, it could be easier to push for it politically.

  2. alexcarey94 · ·

    Interesting concept- this feels like something futuristic that you would see on a TV show. Agreed with the statement above it would be pretty hard to build this type of city unless you start from scratch or incrementally update things within a city over a span of many years (the problem with this is some technologies may be outdated after this). My question is how are these paid for? Would it be through tax dollars or individual companies putting this in place in a typical city like Boston?
    I guess it will be good to see this implemented in other spots of the world to understand best practices and get people excited about the concept so it will be an easy transition.

    1. Chuyong Liu · ·

      I know for Egypt the government sold the land of this smart city to other countries to get the funding. I am also curious how to get funding if the city is not built from scratch. I believe to properly make such a big change will require the top-down approach with the government announced such a plan as tactical.

  3. conoreiremba · ·

    Great post, really informative, and also it was nice to imagine what life may hold in the future. I echo the comments above with regard to the challenges of implementing a project of this scale but it is definitely not without its merits, particularly when it comes to things like autonomous vehicles. I think one of the major challenges right now is the global skepticism around incorporating autonomous vehicles safely into the existing infrastructure of urban areas. By building a smart city from scratch, it would enable the infrastructure to be built to adapt to AVs which may allow safer integration.
    Also, I really liked the climate change angle. It is so hard to change people’s behavior at scale but as we have seen with COVID, the best way to change behavior is when people are left with no other option, just like those who thought they would never be able to work from home. When it comes to being environmentally friendly, making it the status quo comes down to increasing the friction associated with living in a non-environmentally conscious way, and a smart city is certainly one way to engrain these positive behaviors from the beginning.
    Of course, the success of this idea will take time, and as the article you shared refers to out, it will also be difficult for many people to afford to live there. But after all “Rome wasn’t built in a day” (although maybe this new Admin Capital in Egypt might get close!) and it’s certainly exciting to see that countries are thinking about these things.

  4. Great post Chuyong, I’d love for there to be case studies done on smaller cities in the US as part of president Biden’s infrastructure program. A lot of the ideas that you are presenting will be necessary to lower carbon footprint and provide cities with the ability to be better at accommodating growth.

  5. lisahersh · ·

    Great use of imagery, I felt like I was stepping into a science fiction model towards the end there! While I think we’re a long way away from seeing smart cities fully developed or utilized (I’ll need to take a trip to Egypt in 2022 to see what they’ve come up with for myself!) there is definitely huge potential here from a sustainability, efficiency, and quality of life perspective. Do you think current cities could be or will be adapted into smart cities? While I’m all for the smart city concept, I do wonder how converting a current city, such as New York City or Paris, into a smart city would impact its historical character and personality and whether that should be viewed as more or less important than the benefits gained by being a smart city… Definitely something for future architects and city planners to keep in mind.

    1. Chuyong Liu · ·

      Love the thought! I am from a city full of historical characters, I definitely loved the historical feeling that tells the story of a city! I didn’t put it in the blog but China is also building a smart city, Xiong’An, which meant to be super futuristic and located very close to Beijing. Xiong’An is a very small, undeveloped city and the government incentivizes people who originally lived there to move out to make the city an experimental city. I think for cities such as New York, Paris, and Beijing it is better to only add sensors and small devices that useful for data collecting and machine learning to help the city become greener. Smart Traffic light and smart energy systems apply to each household can be the first step. The building from the scratch model could be applied to more rural areas near those large cities. Which after a smart city is successfully built, can incentivize people to move there and decrease the crowdedness of large historical cities. Working from home/distance will also play a role in this plan.

  6. shaneriley88 · ·

    Well done! You pulled most of my thought in your response to Lisa. While many of the aspects of SmartCity “tech” might not be feasible in total, specific uses could have massive impacts, especially in large metro areas like Beijing/NYC/London/LA/Dubai. Buildings that leverage advanced HVAC controls in metropolitan areas would have considerable impacts on climate degradation. I read that our buildings’ heat waste and energy demand have a much more significant climate impact than automotive emissions. Intelligent electrical grid technology could have a multiplicative effect in this regard as well. I could nerd out on smart cities for hours.

  7. lourdessanfeliu · ·

    Really great post!! This reminds me of a video from the world economic forum (i’ll tag you in it) that talked about how Japan is building a smart city full of AI, self driven cars etc! I wonder how fast and widely adopted we will see the smart cities popping up everywhere.

  8. changliu0601 · ·

    Great Post!!The smart city images for me are all from Zootopia! Hahaha.I read a article about Singapore smart city.In Singapore, the government collected data through its “Trace Together” contact tracing app and Bluetooth token is also available to police for some criminal investigations, despite promising otherwise.People are worried about their privacy and rights.

  9. Awesome post! I never thought what a smart city would look like considering so much infrastructure will be built and the way people live will be completely evelutionalized. Cyberpunk is my favorite genre. I am glad that government starts to test the theories about smart cities. Will any smart cities be “cyberpunk” in the future? I always think cyberpunk city is the coolest city that someday can be brought into reality.

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