The world is rapidly urbanizing. As populations increase and technology brings everyone closer together, more and more people are becoming urban dwellers. China alone is on track to have a staggering 221 cities with over one million inhabitants within the next five years.
With the importance of cities on the rise, it’s worth considering how this trend in urban size and scope will impact the development of the modern phenomenon commonly referred to as the “smart city.”
The Historical Importance of the Metropolis
Historically, cities have long served as the central hubs from which most human advancements took place. The Roman Republic conquered the ancient world from a single urban center. The Renaissance flourished as it rapidly spread throughout Europe from one major city to another. Christianity found incredible early success primarily due to the urban contingent of its followers.
The point is, cities have been instrumental throughout the human narrative, as they have often served to concentrate political and industrial power, nurtured forward-thinking development, and pioneered advancements and ideologies that have shaped what the future will look like.
When you bring the subject up to the modern era and take the IoT and the concept of the “smart city” into consideration, the sheer vision of what’s possible begins to grow exponentially.
That said, here are a few of the ways that smart cities may help to forge a technological path into humanity’s future.
Smart Food for Smart Cities
While the concept of a “smart city” typically invokes a sleek, metallic, Asimovian cityscape with flying cars and solar panels galore, an actual “smart” city looks to incorporate more than just a simplistic sci-fi decor.
Along with the flashy, cutting-edge technology, smart cities of the future must look to embrace a holistic, sustainable mindset that takes all aspects of life into account — including food. Until humanity can figure out how to build replicators in Star Trekkian fashion, growing food, the old fashioned way will have to do.
Traditionally, this has been done in rural areas. The food is being harvested and shipped into cities to feed urban populations that are primarily focused on the industry. While this has worked in the past, it has hardly been an ideal system, as countless quantities of resources and man-power are required to transport and sell the relocated food. In addition, this naturally creates a “jugular vein” that leaves overly-dependent cities vulnerable.
Smart cities of the future must look to overcome this handicap by increasing their own food production. Urban agriculture is already commonly practiced by many individuals and can include a variety of different approaches, such as:
- Rooftop gardening.
- Container gardening.
- Window and balcony gardening.
- Green wall and vertical gardening.
- Raising chickens.
While there is no doubt that urban agriculture is diverse and can be quite effective, currently, the bulk of the urban gardens in existence consist of small, hobby-level operations that have been created by individuals or small communities.
With this untapped potential in mind, smart city governments must learn to harness the power of urban farming and scale it in order to increase the sustainability of entire urban centers.
This concept of growing “smart food” right in the heart of smart cities can also be extrapolated to include the entire biodiversity of a city-center. By protecting greenery, maintaining parks, and legally and financially supporting urban agriculture on a government-wide scale, smart cities of the future may be able to successfully create what would, in effect, equate to healthy, self-sustaining biodomes.
A few years ago, the carbon-reducing agreement known as Paris COP21 set cities on a path towards environmentally sound objectives. This emphasized climate change, sustainability, and resilience as key performance indicators (KPIs) in their efforts to improve in the near future.
Initiatives like these have a clear and obvious target in the transportation industry. Fossil-fuel vehicles are already a bane on the environment in general. However, in cities, the concentration of gasoline-burning cars, trucks, planes, trains, ships, and so on has had a devastating effect on both the local and the global environment.
Fortunately, developing technology such as electric cars, efficient public transportation, and even ride-sharing services have already helped to dramatically reduce the number of vehicles being used to commute on a regular basis. Future smart cities will likely be able to take advantage of this trend — coupled with the dawning era of self-driving vehicles — to steer their metropolises towards effective transportation solutions that require little to no vehicle ownership and minimal emissions through ultra-efficient use.
Urban agriculture and sustainable transportation are both rather specific ways that smart cities can develop in the future. However, one of the less tangible yet arguably more important developments that bode well for the smart city of the future is the concept of conscious capitalism.
Modern business trends like corporate social responsibility have helped to bring awareness in recent years to many irresponsible and harmful business activities. However, conscious capitalism takes this concept of businesses looking “beyond the bottom line,” a step further.
While they can and should still value profitability — after all, that’s why they’re in business — companies that practice conscious capitalism adopt values and ethics that reflect humanity’s progress, needs, and current condition as a whole. It takes into account silent partners like the environment that cannot speak for themselves and functions on four guiding principles:
- Having a higher calling beyond simply making a profit.
- Considering the entire ecosystem of their business and not just the upper echelon of investors and owners.
- Leading with a “we” mentality.
- Purposefully cultivating a culture of trust, care, and cooperation.
What does all of this have to do with the future of smart cities? Urban centers are dominated by businesses, many of which have historically given little heed to their surroundings. However, as more and more companies see both the short- and long-term value of adopting a conscious capitalist mindset, they will likely become more open to proactively improving the cities that they cohabitate.
This may lead to a greater focus on development, charitable work, and investment in sustainable practices like Fair Trade all, of which can be crucial to the further development and health of smart cities across the globe.
New Frontiers in Energy Efficiency
Smart cities have already become nearly synonymous with efficiency. In fact, there are many energy-efficient best practices already in use, such as:
- Using energy-efficient appliances.
- Washing clothes in cold water and hanging them to dry.
- Installing smart thermostats.
- Taking cooler, shorter showers.
- Lowering the temperature on water heaters.
One way that the cities of the future will likely take the concept of energy efficiency to the next level is through the common application of thermal energy imaging via drone (dronegenuity dot com). As the price of the equipment needed to use it has dwindled, thermal energy imaging has become increasingly accessible to smaller operations and even homeowners.
This remarkably simple yet effective practice uses the thermographic camera to scan a building and find precisely where the most energy is being lost. The increasing use of this technology will enable smart cities in the future to continue to increase their energy efficiency and, by extension, both their sustainability and their eco-friendly nature.
Smart Cities Leading the Way
It’s impossible to accurately predict how the future will unfold, especially in detail. However, observing modern trends like urban gardening, thermal energy imaging, and sustainable transportation can help to project an approximate idea of what the future could hold.
In addition, when one takes into consideration the growing trend of conscious capitalism, it’s difficult not to conclude that cities, in particular, will see unprecedented breakthroughs in sustainability and efficiency in the years to come.
The concentration of business leaders and forward-thinking minds that takes place in urban centers leads to a natural convergence of progressive thinkers. This creates an incubating effect that leads to a constantly-evolving, cutting edge pattern of development that will likely lead to some of the most sophisticated, efficient, environmentally friendly cities possible in the not-too-distant future.