May 2, 2018 · 4 min read

Nowadays, everything is getting smart — even our cities. In order to understand what a smart city is, the following article will help define the term and the technology behind the current trend in urbanization.

Urbanization is a never-ending phenomenon. Today, 54% of people worldwide live in cities, and this number is expected to reach 66% by 2050. Combined with the overall population growth, urbanization will add another 2.5 billion people to cities over the next three decades. Environmental, social, and economic sustainability is more important than ever to keep pace with the rapid expansion that is taxing our cities’ resources.

Thankfully, more than 190 countries have agreed upon goals for sustainable growth; smart city technology is paramount to successfully meet these goals.

Credits: Volkswagen


There exists no general consensus about what “smart” really means in the context of information and communications technology. Although the term has become trendy, it is also widely used as a synonym for almost anything considered to be modern and intelligent.

Moreover, the term smart refers to ideas and people that provide clever insights, but it has been adopted more recently in city planning through the idea of smart growth. Growth can be seen as city sprawl, population increase, or local economic upgrade, while smart growth implies the achievement of greater city efficiency through coordinating the forces that lead to growth: transportation, land speculation, conservation, and economic development.


A smart city provides a framework, predominantly composed of Information and Communication Technologies (ICT), to develop, deploy, and promote sustainable development practices to address the emergent challenges of urbanization. A major effect of this ICT framework is essentially an intelligent network of connected objects and machines that transmit data using wireless technology and the cloud. Cloud-based IoT applications receive, analyze, and manage data in real time to help communities, enterprises, and citizens make better decisions in the moment that can improve their quality of life.

Citizens can engage with smart city ecosystems in a variety of ways by using smartphones and mobile devices, as well as connected cars and homes. Pairing devices and data with a city’s physical infrastructure and services can cut costs and improve sustainability. Communities can also improve energy distribution, streamline trash collection, decrease traffic congestion, and even improve air quality with help from the IoT.


Some of the challenges to a smart city include: providing an economic base, building efficient urban infrastructure, improving the quality of life, ensuring social integration, conserving natural environmental qualities, and guaranteeing good governance. Moreover, scholars can conceptualize a smart city with alternative approaches. These models synthesize a smart city ecosystem, which consists of eight components that establish a cyber-physical integration:

  1. Smart Infrastructure: city facilities (e.g., water and energy networks, streets, buildings, etc.) with embedded smart technology (e.g., sensors, smart grids, etc.).
  2. Smart Transportation (or smart mobility): transportation networks with enhanced, embedded real-time monitoring and control systems.
  3. Smart Environment: innovation and ICT incorporation for natural resource protection and management (including waste management systems, emission control, recycling, sensors for pollution monitoring, etc.).
  4. Smart Services: use of technology and ICT for health, education, tourism, safety, and response control across the entire city.
  5. Smart Governance: smart government establishment in the urban space, accompanied by technology for service delivery, participation, and engagement.
  6. Smart People: measures that enhance people’s creativity and open innovation.
  7. Smart Living: innovation for enhancing quality of life and livability in the urban space.
  8. Smart Economy: technology and innovation for strengthening business development, employment, and urban growth.
Credits: Understanding Smart Cities: A Tool for Smart Government or an Industrial Trick? — Anthopoulos, L.G.


Secure wireless connectivity and IoT technology are transforming traditional elements of city life, like streetlights, into next-generation intelligent lighting platforms with many more capabilities. These may include integrating solar power and connecting to a cloud-based central control system that connects to others assets in the ecosystem.

All of these solutions shine far beyond simple lighting needs. High-powered embedded LEDs could alert commuters about traffic issues, provide severe weather warnings, and provide a heads-up when environmental dangers like fires arise. Streetlights can also detect free parking spaces and EV charging docks, as well as alert drivers where to find an open spot via a mobile app. Charging might even be possible from the lamppost itself in some locations!

Having an entire ecosystem that facilitates growth is as important as the technologies that power it. Therefore, it is essential to evaluate and analyze novel technologies alongside those already in place before designing an infrastructure. That’s why in the next article of this series we are going to have a closer look at the technological aspects of IoT — stay tuned!


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Ed Yong
Mar 25 · 22 min read


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