Technology has always been a critical force deeply intertwined with the evolution of cities. From the first human settlements millennia ago to the industrial revolution to today, technological breakthroughs have impacted the buildings we use, the way we get around, and how we live, work, and play in the urban space.
Now, as we are on the cusp of further rapid shifts in cities precipitated by technology, it is worth imagining what the connected smart city of the future will look like — and the associated impact it will have on our everyday lives.
Take a typical day in the life of a community member in this hypothetical future, who wakes up in their connected house with artificial intelligence automating everything from temperature preference to light levels to health monitoring and more — and scale it to the city at large.
Cities are beginning to, and will continue to, integrate technological dynamism into municipal operations, from transportation to infrastructure repair and more. The back ends of these systems are not always apparent to the end user — but as the integration of smart cities technologies becomes more visible in our everyday lives, we could begin to see large scale changes in our cities.
Autonomous vehicles on our roadways and the data that they provide could create environments where traffic lights become obsolete, traffic itself becomes a thing of the past, and cities can once again be for people rather than cars, as different modes of transportation work in tandem and communicate with each another. Wi-Fi hotspots at scale like we are already starting to see in New York with LinkNYC could help transform the way we access information and help alleviate the digital divide.
Thinking even further out, we can imagine that security protocols like facial recognition technology could help transform building security in cities, making entrances and building design more fluid as we move away from the need to usher people through front doors.
Similarly, as we move toward greater usage of shared vehicles, we can move away from parking either below buildings or on streets, enabling cities to recapture land for people and allowing developers to reduce the costs of buildings since parking garages will become an unnecessary expense.
Energy sources could be completely renewable in the smart city of the future as well, with technology paving the way for better integration into our cities and thereby helping to create a cleaner environment for everyone.
At the same time, the smart city of the future can be safer with streetlight networks that use embedded sensors to detect gunshots or flash their lights during emergencies – and the further integration of these systems will allow cities to collect information from sources such as smart water, electric, and gas meters.
All of this is predicated on the premise that technologies can help make people’s lives better in cities. At the end of the day, technological developments will enhance our urban experience — but they also risk leaving more people behind. To this end, we must be deliberate in the development of smart cities and imbue equity as a primary goal so that the city of the future is a city for everyone.
Cities are focused on these goals right now, and they are beginning to think about how these systems can be integrated to create feedback loops that improve operations and enhance the experience of community members. Fully connected smart cities are coming, and we want to help cities prepare for their arrival and provide local leaders with best practices in this arena.
Learn about the future of urban tech in our 2017 report, Trends in Smart City Development.
About the author: Brooks Rainwater is the senior executive director of the Center for City Solutions at the National League of Cities. Follow Brooks on Twitter @BrooksRainwater.