Ask most people to picture the smart city of the future. It will look something like this: towering, self-sustainable building blocks, massive transportation infrastructure, smart billboards flashing neon colours day and night. We might see these future cities pop up soon. In fact, a few of them already exist!
But smart cities of the future aren't just metropolises. They're also small-scale, decentralised projects—what we call smaller smart cities or smart spaces—that are part of the larger smart city ecosystem. The next-generation smart cities are smaller than you might imagine, and their scale has some surprising benefits. Here's what you need to know about the world of small smart cities.
Smart cities are a new generation of cities in which technology plays a central part. These sustainable cities have embedded digital technologies to help them optimise operational efficiencies, reduce costs, and manage their carbon footprint—all while providing better, safer, and environmentally-friendly places for their citizens to live, work and play.
Smart cities are powered and managed by the Internet of Things (IoT) as they transition from traditional to smart to sustainable. IoT technologies are central to smart cities because they connect the physical world with the virtual world. With over 8.74 billion physical devices connected through IoT today, this number is predicted to double by 2025 and triple to 25.4 devices by 2030.
IoT applications are at the heart of the smart city ecosystem, receiving and analysing data from connected devices to drive smart city operations forward. The massive amounts of data collected from connected devices need to be processed via an IoT platform. And then, assets and IoT-based applications need to be managed through a Smart City Operations Centre (SCOC).
To understand what a smaller smart city is, you need to forget what you know about the concept of a city. When talking about small smart cities, we're not really talking about technological towns or villages. We're talking about smart spaces where IoT serves the community in achieving specific goals. These smart spaces don't have to be centrally managed municipalities. They can be any space where technology is used to connect objects and people in a way that fosters sustainability, resilience, and development.
A smart city isn't just about efficiency—it's about responsiveness and convenience too. Thanks to its enhanced connectivity and connectedness, a smart city can deliver better public and private services to its citizens. For example:
To date, there are hundreds of plans to turn major cities around the globe into sustainable smart cities. The problem with many of these plans is that they require time, major capital investments, and the right political conditions to be implemented. By contrast, smaller smart cities can transition from traditional to smart faster because of their size. They also involve the influence of fewer external factors and the perks of internal teams' faster decision-making, making them easier to launch. In a world of rapid climate change, transitioning to resilient, technology-based cities is more important than ever. Countries around the world have already invested billions into that endeavour. Small-scale smart cities and spaces could speed up that process, especially considering they can work within the larger smart city ecosystem. Just like larger sustainable cities that use IoT technologies, smart spaces can achieve:
These technology-heavy spaces don't fit the traditional notion of a "city." Still, they're what we consider smaller smart cities or smart spaces because of the way they inscribe themselves into the smart city ecosystem.
Gated communities are safety-heavy spaces that mainly serve as residential areas. Today, many gated communities already use IoT applications, including security alarms, smart lighting, smart metering, and smart irrigation systems, to enhance homeowners' living experiences and optimise operational efficiencies for infrastructure and utilities. In the future, gated communities will rely even more on IoT applications to minimise energy consumption, increase sustainability, and become self-sustainable.
IoT technology is coming to educational campuses to improve the experiences for students, staff, and administrators. In so-called smart campuses, research facilities, lecture halls, and even student accommodation use IoT applications. For example, smart campuses can leverage smart access technology and smart device management to monitor who enters campus and how devices are moved or removed from their places. Surveillance cameras and smart fire alarm systems can be used to improve safety measures. In terms of sustainability, smart campuses are learning to use applications like smart lighting and smart waste management.
Technology parks are silicon valleys: places that house startups, technology companies, and the businesses that provide services to them. Technology parks are the model "smaller smart city" because they use IoT technologies as their everyday centre points. Because they're so involved with technology, these parks are often the first to try innovative IoT applications like smart water management, smart access control systems, and smart surveillance technology. These high-tech working places also use IoT technologies to ensure the safety and optimal condition of all machines. For example, connected equipment can send maintenance reports to city administrators in real-time, which decreases the chances of a breakdown or accident.
Environmental efficiency doesn't have to require intensive effort and inconvenience. From power outage detection and notification of damaged lights to supply outages and more, the smart city concept keeps the roads and sidewalks safer for drivers and pedestrians during the day and night.
Centrally managed, billion-dollar development projects are not the only path leading to the smart city of the future. Smaller smart cities offer the possibility of starting small, starting local, and gradually building up to an integrated smart city ecosystem.
To meet challenges to come, smart spaces need to stay flexible and innovative. For small smart cities, this is much easier to do. Their size gives them the unique ability to try out IoT applications on a smaller scale and see what works or doesn't. That's why IoT-based, sustainable cities of the future depend on smaller smart cities to show the way. Quite simply, smaller smart cities are paving the way for the next generation of mega smart cities.