Commuter Kate: What is a Smart City?

Published: September 2, 2018

As with many industries, certain terms get used so often and become mainstream that we forget this industry jargon can be confusing for the average person. “Smart city” is one of these terms. Below, you can find some simple explanations for a complicated concept.

What is a smart city?

There are many ways of defining a smart city. Simply put, it’s a city which uses technology and data to shape its urban development.

Why do we care about smart cities?

According to the United Nations, by 2050, 66 percent of the world is expected to reside in a city. Therefore, the majority of us should take an interest in improving our cities.

What investment is going into smart cities?

The IDC forecasts smart city spending to reach $158 billion by 2022. The top-investing cities include Singapore, Tokyo and New York City.  

What are the benefits of a smart city?

A smart city should alleviate problems relating to the likes of traffic, transportation, security, connectivity and waste management. By improving the city’s ecosystem through the use of data and the Internet of Things (IoT) technology, citizens benefit from improved efficiency, which results in improved health, environment and safety. It also means more free time.

What are some examples?

The idea of smart cities came about with several conceptual projects, but it has now become a popular topic of discussion and investment. Smart cities aren’t just pipedreams. You can already reap the benefits of some of these projects. Here are some examples:

  • Air quality: CityTree, a special type of moss installation provides the same effect as 275 trees — this is a solution for improving urban air quality without the luxury of lots of space to plant trees. This a concept from German company Green City Solutions who say a CityTree is able to absorb some 250 grams of particles per day, removing 240 metric tons of carbon dioxide every year.


  • Parking: Even if all our vehicles turn electric, they still need somewhere to park, so smart parking is still a requirement for now. You may have already seen things like parking sensors in car parks that signal when a parking space is free or not, and you can even see this information via an app. Smart street parking also alleviates the need for parking attendants and payment booths, streamlining the experience.


  • Electric vehicles: With more and more people choosing electric cars, cities have to keep up with the demand for charging stations. San Diego have over 1,000 charging stations which helps entice people over to electric as it’s no longer an inconvenience to charge their car. Other cities will follow.


  • City issues: No longer do residents in Boston have to go through an arduous process of complaining about issues like potholes, graffiti, faulty traffic lights or street lights — there’s an app for that. Residents can instantly submit their issue via their smartphone.


  • Public transit: Through the free Moovit public transit app, Moovit is already making riding transit simpler and more convenient for riders, offering multimodal solutions for getting directions from A to B. Moovit uses anonymous data gathered from its users to understand people’s movements so that it can work with the governments and local transit authorities to feed this back into the system and improve routes and quantity of required vehicles. Another key factor to improving the public transit experience is the availability of real-time arrival times. But not all transit agencies can afford GPS trackers attached to their buses. Moovit has a cost-effective solution. TimePro is a bus driver app that allows for accurate bus tracking. Learn more about these solutions here.

If you are interested in learning more about smart city projects, you can find a great list here.

Who’s the driving force being investment in smart cities?

Anyone who benefits from improving the city — this includes governments (city, state and federal), as well as private and public companies. Like the Moovit example above, many public transit agencies are using data from private companies to implement smart solutions into their cities.

What does this mean for the future?

Smart cities rely on the connectivity across multiple layers of the city’s infrastructure and ecosystem. This means there will be a lot more collaboration across the public and private sector required to ensure more efficient solutions are found to improve the lives of the city-dwellers.

The rapid urbanization of cities means investment in the future. No longer can we rely on decisions that we think are right, we need to use the data gathered by specialists to ensure the decisions that are made in a city are based on facts and known patterns.

Eventually, I hope we will find ourselves with

a) Improved health, due to improvements in air quality and waste management as well as making cities more pedestrian friendly and encouraging people to move more.

b) Less stress, as there will be less traffic and problems finding parking spots.

c) Less frustration as we will be more efficient in many ways through things like universal wi-fi and better connectivity (even in San Francisco, a tech hub of the world, I find my wi-fi sub par at times).

d) A better environment for all. With these improvements and investments, hopefully we can right some of the wrongs we have done to the earth and leave something positive for future generations.

e) More spare time, given we will have shorter commutes.

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