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Smarter Cities,
Happier Citizens

The new wave of smart city and city management
collaborations seeks to solve social issues

We are now in the midst of history's most rapid population expansion. When coupled with increased urbanization, the strain on public services and resources is inevitable. Meanwhile, the amount of data generated from technological advances have grown in volume. Consequently, cities are adopting Smart City initiatives like waste disposal, building maintenance and crowd control to provide better lives for urbanites.

What are the cities facing?

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  • Maintaining large infrastructures

    Inhibit the deterioration of infrastructure caused by the environment, inner-city decay and breakdown of neighborhoods. Contending with the legacy of poorly designed and maintained public housing, increasing costs and diminishing tax bases.

  • Gap between population segments

    Inhibiting the downward spiral of degradation and poverty faced by the unemployed, elderly and ethnic minorities.

  • Innovation as engines of growth

    Building cities as hubs for education, healthcare, culture, technological innovation, entrepreneurship, social services, government administration and global communications.

  • Environmental Impact

    Rise in air, water, noise, chemical pollution and impact of toxic waste.

  • Urban traffic/transportation

    Growth in vehicle numbers and the need to regulate emission standards, distribution of lead gasoline, fuel efficiency, traffic management policies and landscaping.

  • Food security and agriculture pressure

    Over-dependence on food purchases while the poor suffers from decreasing purchase power and rising food prices.

  • Demand of Natural Resources

    Pressured by growth in global economy and population.

  • Enabling Communication Technologies

    Through development of various hetgen communication technologies, thousands of objects within cities can interact with each other while ensuring network connectivity. Maintenance of communication technologies is imperative in order to ensure impeccable connectivity.

What is a smart city?

Technology forecasting consultancy, Juniper Research, defines a smart city as "an urban ecosystem that places emphasis on the use of digital technology to drive efficiencies in existing social, economic and environmental processes."

To create a smart city that functions like a smooth-running machine, this urban ecosystem relies on data. At its simplest, a smart city is built upon Internet of Things devices collecting and analyzing data from sensors, lights, and meters throughout the city. Based on that, city managers make decisions about improving infrastructure, services and utilities.

Where early programs focused on establishing foundational systems for compartmentalized concerns, like energy supply and traffic congestion, new initiatives feature cross-domain data utilization to help leaders solve social issues and foster health and happiness of citizens.

How data is the new oil

By opening up data, governments can help drive the creation of innovative business and services that deliver social and commercial value.

Data-centric Smart City (Source: NEC)

Happiness First

A smart city's purpose is to make people happier, says Dr. Aisha Bin Bishr, Director General of the Smart Dubai Office.

"Each city defines its smart city program according to its own needs and objectives," says Bishr. "But at the root of it all, a smart city uses innovative technology to solve problems."

"When you no longer have to wait in line for 30 mins to pay a bill, can renew your visa from the comfort of your living room, or coordinate an upcoming event in real time with colleagues, problems are solved, and stress is reduced. You become happier," says Bishr.

Dubai Smart City was announced in 2013 by His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, whose vision is to transform Dubai into the smartest and happiest city of the future.

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In order to become the happiest city, Smart Dubai needed a data-backed approach to collect, monitor and understand people's happiness with city services. In February 2015, the Happiness Meter was launched--the first city-wide tool capturing customer satisfaction data at interaction touchpoints.

Today, the platform is open to the government and private sectors, the data allowing Smart Dubai to measure the impact on happiness and introduce new programs across the city.

"In Dubai, we believe happiness can be achieved and measured, and that we can aid our leadership to positively impact happiness through science and technology," says Bishr.

Striving to become the world's smartest city by 2021 and achieve 95 percent happiness, Dubai is pursuing one of the most ambitious ICT integration programmes ever.

Key goals include: transforming over 1,100 government services into primarily online smart services; introducing autonomous vehicles and smart transportation; providing free, high-speed wi-fi across the emirate; and developing a data-driven economy estimated to generate an additional AED10.4 billion (US$2.83 billion) in GDP by 2021.

Bishr points out the technology is not a quick fix, but is utilised to address emotional needs of residents. "We recognize technology is only a tool-a means to an end. What matters most is people's happiness," says Bishr.

Bristol is Open

Similarly, in Bristol, city management authorities and citizens are implementing technologies beyond purely tackling issues like productivity, efficiency and traffic. When it comes to smart cities, "we hardly ever talk about play," says Stephen Hilton, Director of Bristol Futures Global Ltd.

Bristol is a "creative, open, quirky, unorthodox sort of place," says Hilton. Bringing out the city's character is important. He stressed smart cities should not be implemented by a top-down blueprint but should respect each city's unique culture and character.

"Bristol's take is to harness all that potential for innovation and creativity and apply it to a local place to make it more distinctive, creative, fun, engaging and inclusive."

The city has implemented smart technologies in the intersection between creativity, media and technology, such as the Playable Cities program, which works with creatives and artists to use city infrastructure to create experiences that connect people, particularly younger generations, to the city and inspire them.

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    Driverless cars

    Safer and more efficient autonomous vehicles, relying on high-bandwidth mobile networks for data sharing.

  • We The Curious (At-Bristol)

    An experiential indoor venue that invites school children to explore the endless possibilities that can happen when boundaries between science, art, people and ideas are removed. A "Data Dome" takes viewers through a journey of real-time city data visualization.

  • Smart Energy Management

    Deliver energy and infrastructure projects that benefit the social, economic and environmental health of the city, partners, and the region. Such as, renewable installations (wind, solar, tidal), energy efficiency, low carbon heat networks, smart energy, marine energy and managing energy usage.

  • Air Quality and Weather

    Bristol's citizens are able to monitor individual exposure to air pollutants using services and applications.

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    Design and visualization experience that promises to engage people within cities using creative technology to playfully rethink public spaces.

  • OEM Testing

    With the city as a test lab, researchers are able to study and develop telecommunication, software, hardware, data and sensing technologies.

  • Engine Shed Connection

    An enterprise hub providing workspace for a range of high-tech, creative and low-carbon businesses.

  • Sensors

    Distributed sensors across the city will supply the network with information about city life - energy, air quality, temperature, humidity and traffic flows. Bristol University's supercomputing and cloud infrastructure are able to conduct real-time analysis of information flows and provide accessible data for development of applications and services to improve city life.

One such program is Hello Lamposts, where people talk to street furniture and the street furniture 'talk' back through text.

"We're using technology to bring people into a conversation about the city and to consider opportunities to do things differently and think differently," says Hilton. "It creates a collective experience of a place that's different."

It was also crucial Bristol be able to use data to address pressing societal issues, enable citizens to interact with the council and benefit from public services. The ultimate goal was to tackle challenges such as social isolation and healthcare in a non-invasive and stress-free way.

"Bristol has always been a distinctive smart city because we place citizens at the heart of our strategy and take a playful and engaging approach to tackling serious urban challenges," says Hilton.

It is this very distinctive culture of collaboration and the coming together of different skills and perspectives that has created some very unique values for Bristol. The result of which is that the people feel like they have a stake in the decisions that are being made in the journey to becoming a smart city.

Bristol Mayor Marvin Rees said: "The challenges we face to beat congestion, support vulnerable people in their homes and secure safer streets require new approaches and new ways of working. Blending state-of-the-art technology and a collaborative approach to sharing operations, we're taking a positive step towards meeting these challenges."

The Perfect Collaboration

Bristol City Council collaborated with NEC and Bristol University to equip the city with the latest sensor and smart city technology. NEC developed the Cloud City Operation Center (CCOC), a smart city platform and consolidated dashboard supporting the data utilization of city management. It is also linked to the city's fiber network and is combined with the university's £12m supercomputer that powers the network.

This allows the center to explore communications and data that could eventually provide services such as health protection and assisted living. The efforts are paying off; a 2017 UK Smart Cities Index placed Bristol ahead of London. Hilton adds, "Bristol's reputation has evolved in the last decade. They're widely recognised as a place for people to visit and start a new enterprise."

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    Four node active network
    Providing full fibre connection with ultra-fast speeds connecting 4 network nodes - We The Curious, Watershed, Engine Shed and University of Bristol. Providing local businesses a digital head start over competitors.

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    Wireless network

    Wireless heterogenous network along Brunel Mile area of Bristol providing Wi-Fi, 3G, 4G, 5G and LTE experiments.

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    IoT Meshed Lamp-post Clusters

    Could potentially solve issues around traffic congestion, smart parking, smart lighting, smart roads, improve communications for emergency services and waste management. 2400 lamp posts connected via a range of radio frequency - enabling data flow into open places and able to accommodate a large number of sensors distributed throughout the city.


Solutions for Society

In Japan, cities like Tokyo, Takamatsu and Hiroshima collaborated with NEC to solve problems related to disaster preparedness and to analyze crowd behavior. The company also collaborated with Tigre, Argentina, automatically analyzing AI-generated images to reduce auto theft by 80 percent. In Santander, Spain, cross-domain data was utilized to streamline the collection routes of garbage trucks.

NEC, a leader in the integration of IT and network technologies, has collaborated with city governments globally to help work towards targets set out by the UN Sustainable Development Goal No 11, which aims to 'make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable.'

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NEC's applies their expertise in three ways. Firstly, through physical security solutions to improve the safety of the city - proficiency honed via NEC's in-house research around biometrics and video analysis capabilities.

NEC can also integrate with specific verticals, applying their technology to public transport, smart parking and waste management systems. While those are useful, the real value lies in building and operationalizing data platforms in partnership with city governments.

Mr Shinya Kukita, NEC's Chief Engineer, said while they can provide infrastructure through digital systems, the greatest value smart cities provide is data. The data are collected and prepared by the city, and that could be very good resource for the city. NEC can build and operate the data utilization platforms jointly with the city.

In these cases, an essential ingredient for success, Mr Kukita notes, since the utilization of various data across the boundaries of organizations and business is important for the implementation of smart city, strong national government leadership and a solid organization overseeing the adoption of technologies is critical for success. This ensures investment and knowledge is shared across agencies and efficiencies are maximized.

Listen to these predictions of Smart City future initiatives from NEC Corporation’s Chief Engineer, Shinya Kukita.

Kukita specializes in technology marketing of NEC’s international business solutions that include Software Defined Networking, Big Data, IoT and Smart Society.