2012-06-04

Co.Exist

Baking Innovation Into New Smart Cities

Portugal is the latest country to create a development based entirely on the ideas of city 2.0. Will these new cities—purposefully designed to avoid the urban planning mistakes of the past—be the model for the future?

Projections suggest there will be more than 136 new cities containing over 1 million people by 2025. While most of the cities will be in China, they will spring up all over the world. It is one thing to explore how existing cities can gradually (or relatively rapidly in the case in Singapore) get smarter. But what about when you have a blank canvas?

Given today’s technology (and keeping an eye toward the future), how might governments collaborate with the private sector to plan and build cities of the future in a way that eliminates all the dumb things we did in the 20th century, like designing cities around the car and designing buildings around the air conditioner?



Last week, I learned of a new planned city in Portugal called PlanIT Valley. PlanIT will be located near Porto and, by 2015, will house up to 225,000 inhabitants. One of the most interesting aspects of the city is that planners are expecting to install more than 100 million sensors. If you are doing the math, that is equivalent to nearly 450 sensors per capita.

The sensors will be used for a whole range of services, including smart transit and parking; emergency services dispatching; energy monitoring and management in smart buildings; and monitoring infrastructure condition and performance. Sensors in homes will be set up to identify water leaks and will be capable of autonomously notifying a plumber.

While most smart-city experts recognize the central role that sensor and ICT technology will play in making cities smarter, not all smart cities have made major investments in sensors. Buenos Aires, for instance, is on a trajectory towards being a smart city, yet they have a relative lack of sensors and real-time date utilization.



I have been to Silicon Valley numerous times and generally hold it in high esteem, but I think some of these new smart-city initiatives have the potential to go way beyond what the Valley does as far as baking innovation into the DNA of the region. San Jose has been doing a lot recently to promote smart, sustainable development, but in general there is a disconnect between the innovation in the technology and investment community in Silicon Valley and the actual development of the region. There is a lot of low-density sprawl in the Valley, and the application of innovative technologies in the towns and cities of Silicon Valley is not overly impressive.

Like many of its new city peers, PlanIT Valley is inserting innovative technology into its master plan. Furthermore, like Russia’s Skolkovo, PlanIT intends to integrate research universities focused on emerging, smart technologies into the entrepreneurial ecosystem. The city is also being designed to act as a living laboratory for new technologies, thus providing a great opportunity for local and multinational companies to test out emerging smart innovations. Many big names are already involved in the planning and construction of PlanIT, including Cisco, Microsoft, and Philips.

How the world addresses rapid urbanization is one of the most important challenges we have ever faced. The development of fully planned smart cities is an emerging trend worth noting. It will be interesting to see what the future holds for these new cities and how existing cities can learn from these experiments. It will also be interesting to see how cities like PlanIT balance the power of one million sensors with citizens’ privacy needs, while also embracing diversity and feeling alive—not just like robotic, high-tech laboratories.

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  • Betsy Medvedovsky

    As far as I know, PlanIT Valley is currently on hold because of a lack of financing.