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Cities of Future: Smart and wired or urban dystopias?

Smart cities is no longer a buzzphrase in 2020. But this time it is being revisited by multinational corporations which are keen to cook up inspiring solutions. Will it benefit us all? and how?
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Cities of Future: Smart and wired or urban dystopias?

Smart cities is the new buzzword being touted by many as the answer to all the problems inherent in an exploding urban scenario straining at the seams with depleting natural resources, deteriorating and hazardous environment, and unhealthy climate changes.

Smart cities with better transit systems, energy-efficient buildings, and efficient waste management could cut down carbon emission equivalent to India's and save up to $22tn in costs, according to The Global Commission on Economy and Climate.

Already governments and municipal bodies, along with big technology giants like IBM, Intel, Cisco, GE, Samsung, and Accenture are working to provide the groundwork for efficient delivery of smart city systems.

Woven City of Toyota

Another new entrant to join the smart city brigade is Toyota, the auto giant, which plans to build a smart city called Woven City at the base of Mt Fuji in Japan, which it announced at CES 2020 in Las Vegas. They plan to power the city with hydrogen fuel cells, robotics, and artificial intelligence technology. Akio Toyoda, president of Toyota Motor Corp. called it "a unique opportunity to develop future technologies, including a digital operating system for the city's infrastructure.”

Toyota_SmartCity_Ariel_View

Image: Toyota Smart City - Aeriel View

Toyota, along with automaking, is involved in artificial intelligence, robotics, and personal mobility research, which it plans to utilize for building the city.

Toyota intends to populate the city with its workers and families, business associates, researchers, and scientists.

Toyota_Smart_Cities_Courtyard

Image: Toyota Smart City - Courtyard

The master plan includes:

  • Three types of streets with fast vehicles, low-speed personal mobility, and pedestrian traffic, and a park promenade. Fully automatic zero-emission cars will be used. Toyota e-Palettes will be used for transport, delivery, and mobile retail
  • Buildings will use traditional Japanese architecture and be mostly of wood to cut carbon footprint.
  • Solar power plus hydrogen fuel will be used to power the city.
  •  Native vegetation and hydroponics will dot the entire city.
  • Smart homes will have internet of things devices and robots with artificial intelligence and sensors to check security, health, and other daily needs.
Toyota_Plaza_Festiva_SmartCities

Toyota 'Woven City' - Plaza Festival

Woven City will be designed by Danish architect, Bjarke Ingels, CEO, Bjarke Ingels Group (BIG).

Toyota also has plans for a 700,000-sq.-meter prototype "city of the future" in Japan. It will be built on the site of a former factory near Mount Fuji and is scheduled for groundbreaking in 2021.

Advantages of smart cities

Cities occupy 2% of the landmass of the Earth but consume over 75% of the resources. And the only way to prevent rapid deterioration and depletion of these resources is to come up with innovative ideas to avert a disaster through faster, smarter, and cleaner cities.

Primary focus areas to build smart cities are better transit facilities, health, education, and waste management. The cascading effect of smarter services and utilities will be felt in a significant manner.

A transport system where vehicles run on low emission fuel, usage of public transport is high, and better navigation systems direct traffic flow, can result in lower pollution levels, savings in energy costs, and time.

A smart city's intelligent infrastructure is governed by three key technologies--sensors, cloud, and smart interfaces. And social cohesion among other parameters.

Internet of Things

The Internet of things is the catalyst to drive the smart cities forward with the multiplier effect of its utilitarian functionality.

Connected devices are seen increasing to 56 billion by 2025, roughly seven for each human, Intel CEO Bob Swan told reporters at CES 2020.

smart_cities_of_the_future

The Internet of things is the catalyst to drive the smart cities forward with the multiplier effect of its utilitarian functionality.

“IoT simplifies smart cities. Cities already understand the process of sensing and actuating to collect and act on data. IoT has been happening for years with traffic light systems, automatic number plate recognition and the like, it’s just increasing scale and reach,” according to Charbel Aoun, senior vice president for smart cities at Schneider Electric.

But a city needs more than technological inputs. A wholesome dynamic and organic approach to what constitutes a city have to be followed. A conscious effort to incorporate the social capital of a city in urban planning will make smart cities more organic. Public spaces, recreational and sporting centers, schools, retail- all add dynamics to a living city.

There are also safety and security issues because of the vast amount of data being collected and stored in cloud computing

Urban Dystopia

The vast data and information that will be available will need to be moderated and filtered. Who will decide on the process? There are fears of an Orwellian type of Big Brother control with ordinary movements being tracked 24/7. There are always chances of someone becoming a “Person of Interest”.

Cities are not empty urban landscapes that need to be rewired and rebuilt. They are made up of the populace with their own unique needs and experiences, and aspirations.

Governments and institutions gearing up to turn cities smart should remember that all the changes and advances need to be aligned with the needs of the citizenry.

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