3 Ways Your City Might Be Smarter Than Donald Trump

It’s the buzz-phrase of the moment, but what is a ‘smart city’, exactly? 90degrees’ Jules Shale is here to explain all. (Basically, picture Donald Trump as a city — now picture the exact opposite…)

As you’ll doubtless be aware, last week President Donald John Trump decided, in his infinite wisdom, to pull out of the Paris Climate Agreement, thereby turning America’s back on global efforts to combat climate change. Donald doesn’t believe that climate change is a real thing, so that’s that and sod the rest of us.

He reportedly justified his scepticism over last weekend – while on the golf course, naturally – by pointing out that TV weather forecasters sometimes make incorrect predictions. Righty-oh, then!

Several high-profile US mayors and governors came out in direct defiance of Trump

Immediately following Donald’s abandonment of the 195-country-strong accord, several high-profile US mayors and governors came out in direct defiance to announce that, actually, they’d prefer that the world not become a Mad Max-esque deathscape by Christmas 2020, and therefore they’d be using their powers to keep the Paris Climate Agreement honoured within their respective cities.

An extraordinary move, but these are extraordinary times, and he’s an, uh, extraordinary president.

Some of these rebellious mayors and governors preside over urban areas so forward-thinking and un-Trump-like that they qualify as ‘smart cities’. That may sound like the kind of vapid buzz-wordery that gets tossed around during more pretentious TED Talks, but the smart city concept is very much real, here to stay, and a key tenet of urban planning in 2017.

The smart city concept is very much here to stay

In fact, if the city you live in meets the following three criteria then it’s already a bona fide smart city – and a great deal sharper than The Donald.

1. A City Braced for Climate Change = A Smart City

Trump may hold no truck with the concept of climate change, but plenty of smart cities do, and are preparing themselves accordingly. In Melbourne, for example – where 374 people died during a particularly intense 2009 heatwave – city councillors are working hard to counteract a phenomenon known as the urban heat-island effect.

Here’s what happens: intense sun beats down all day, and the resulting heat is stored in the dense, dark surfaces that characterise city centres – i.e. the materials used to create roads, skyscrapers, pavements and so on. This heat is then released when the sun sets, meaning that the city never gets to fully cool down – a recipe for disaster.

Melbourne’s solution? Trees –thousands of them – in order to massively increase the amount of shade in public spaces. The city plans to double its tree canopy cover by 2040, and is achieving this by planting 3,000 new trees annually. In all, almost 70,000 trees will be added to the streets – a smart and entirely natural solution to a manmade problem.

2. A City Running Extra-Smoothly Thanks to Data = A Smart City

IBM defines a smart city as “one that makes optimal use of all the interconnected information available today to better understand and control its operations and optimize the use of limited resources.” (IBM would probably define a smart president as one who doesn’t consistently refer to the internet and everything relating to it as “the cyber”.)

A smart city ‘learns’ from the reams of data constantly generated by its citizens –whenever they use public transport, or visit a museum, or fill out an online request to have their old fridge disposed of –and adjusts itself accordingly. This web-connected network of people, data, objects and services is often referred to as the ‘internet of things’, or IoT.

A smart city ‘learns’ from the reams of data constantly generated by its citizens

An example of how the internet of things can work: in Copenhagen, buses running behind schedule will signal to the traffic lights at upcoming intersections, which respond by timing green lights so that the vehicle can make up time. Everybody on-board gets to work on time, unaware that it’s the smart city surrounding them that made that possible.

Here in sunny Manchester, 22 companies – including Cisco, BT and Siemens – have partnered for CityVerve, an ambitious, £10 million project that will transform the local infrastructure to create one of the world’s most advanced smart cities. Pioneering use of IoT will interconnect everything from transport to health services, reaping great rewards – including a 3% reduction in energy costs across the city, and health and social-care improvements worth £30 million over the next ten years.

Once again, Mancunians lead the way…

3. An Efficient City Running on Sustainable Energy = A Smart City

Trump’s plans for dealing with America’s energy needs are centred around a return to the days of unregulated fossil fuel-drilling and coal-fired power plants. Unsurprisingly, not everyone – in fact, hardly anyone – thinks this is a great idea. “Many of his proposals don’t seem to appreciate the complex forces that drive the energy system,” commented noted energy economist Richard G. Newell, possibly while holding his head in his hands.

Smart cities, however, have an altogether more forward-thinking approach to energy production. The era of ‘energy 3.0’, as it’s known (the people behind smart cities love cool-sounding buzz-phrases) will entail not only an increasing reliance on sustainable energy – solar- and wind-power and so on – but will see the deployment of the aforementioned ‘internet of things’ to greatly reduce inefficiency and energy consumption.

‘Energy 3.0’ will entail an increasing reliance on sustainable energy

At its most basic level, this involves sensors turning off lighting, air-conditioning, escalators in public spaces etcetera when nobody is around to make use of them. On a more in-depth level, progressive energy companies in some US cities now offer reduced billing rates to customers who allow their Nest-controlled thermostats to be remote-varied by a couple of degrees during surge periods, while many are preparing to offer similar discounts to customers whose homes feature intelligent fridges and washing machines that only ever use the minimum amount of energy required at any given moment.

Which means that, yes, there are now fridges that are smarter than Donald Trump.

Jules Shale is the Managing Director of 90degrees, a Manchester-based independent creative communications agency

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