The world has come a long way from a mainly rural and agrarian society just a century ago. Today, over half of the world’s population lives in urban areas. According to the World Health Organization, up to 70% of the world’s population will be living in cities by 2050. If you’re reading this, chances are, you live in a city yourself. Each day you probably face first world issues like poor connectivity, traffic jams, long queues and crowded public spaces. The lesser privileged urban population faces more basic issues like access to food, water, sanitation and living spaces. Our cities and urban population have indeed grown at a rapid pace over the last 50 years or so. Yet even with the major advances in technology during the same period, we have not quite managed to effectively provide for the needs of the large urban population.
The Cities Get Smarter
In order to truly make progress on this front, it is important to understand that cities and urban areas are complex ecosystems that require sustainable development initiatives to provide quality of life to citizens. Over the last decade, with the spread of technology and the encompassing power of the internet, many cities are looking towards technology and innovation to create a modern infrastructure that fuels sustainable economic growth for cities, while ensuring quality of life for residents through wise management of natural resources.
Smart Cities, as they are called, work to create smarter communities that are information rich and interconnected by effectively leveraging technologies such as the ubiquitous smartphone, wearable devices and others, to ensure smooth and efficient functioning. It’s not all futuristic. Some cities have already started exploring these options. A study by IHS Technology reported 21 smart cities in 2013, and the number is expected to quadruple by 2025. The global spending on smart cities is expected to be $40 billion annually by 2016.
Open Innovation: Driving the Growth of Smart Cities
Open and collaborative innovation has emerged as the key driving factor behind the growth of smart cities. As many cities and municipal corporations have found out, a top down, central planning approach to public governance has its limitations. In addition, the increasingly complex landscape of technologies, data, applications and business models that is emerging in a connected world poses a challenge for most city authorities.
Experts believe that a bottom-up, collaborative, people driven, innovation model is better suited to drive technology advances towards smarter cities.
Smart Cities and Collaborative Innovation Across the Globe
Boyd Cohen’s popular list of the top 10 smartest cities on the planet shows a global distribution across the Americas, Europe and Asia. While the American approach towards smart cities has been more focused towards specific, single functional areas like transport and mobility, Europe has been experimenting with leveraging open innovation methodologies in its smart cities initiatives, across all major areas in the public sector.
The Open Cities Project is one such initiative that attempts to bring open innovation into the public sector and governance. It is a 30 month project that will attempt to leverage existing collaborative tools and platforms such as Crowd sourcing, Fiber to Home, Open Sensor Networks and others across 7 major European cities. Future Internet is another European public-private partnership program geared towards fostering innovation, development and adoption of internet enabled technologies and their application for smart infrastructure and business processes. Forbes summarizes how major US cities are leveraging technology to become ‘smarter’.