Engineers are a Perfect Fit

If the 21st century had a signature buzzword, “smart” might be it. From smartphones to smart homes, everything is getting smarter and, in doing so, opening up a near-endless range of new possibilities. One of the most intriguing developments in the shift to all things smart? Smart cities. Here’s a closer look at the state of smart cities, along with why engineers are positioned to lead the smart city movement.

The 411 on Smart Cities

The global market for smart cities is projected to skyrocket to US$1.2 trillion by the year 2020, according to a report from Global Industry Analysts, Inc. The potential benefits of smart cities are many, including higher quality of life, more equitable opportunities for all; unparalleled social, environmental and economic growth; increased participation from smart citizens; massive consumption reductions in both energy and water; and enhanced interconnectivity, communication and response, including during natural and manmade calamities.

All of which begs the question: What, exactly, is a smart city? In setting out to answer this question, The Pew Charitable Trusts ultimately came up with the following conclusion: It depends on who you ask.

Brooks Rainwater of the National League of Cities told Pew, “The concept of a smart city is somewhat amorphous, but it’s focused on cities leading with technological innovation,” while Jesse Berst of the Smart Cities Council said, ““It’s just using digital technology to improve community life.” Kansas City’s innovation analyst Kate Garman summed it up as “a paradigm shift in the way we think.”

The Hindu Times, meanwhile, offers the following, more specific definition: “A ‘smart city’ is an urban region that is highly advanced in terms of overall infrastructure, sustainable real estate, communications and market viability. It is a city where information technology is the principal infrastructure and the basis for providing essential services to residents. There are many technological platforms involved, including but not limited to automated sensor networks and data centres.”

While the definition may be somewhat slippery, we can all agree that smart cities do share some common characteristics, with mobility and connectivity at their core. But these bedrocks of smart cities ultimately serve a higher purpose: the wellbeing of inhabitants.

In discussing smart city features which not only make our environments more efficient, but also safer, friendlier and cleaner, David Perry, Director of Development and International Affairs at Lille, France’s HEI: Hautes Etudes d’Ingénieur, told Masterstudies, “We need to find solutions to what 20th century urbanism has left out, that is urban life metabolism and the flows that connect us to nature. What we take in, what we give off — circular economies.”

Where Are the Smart Cities?

Smart cities may seem like the stuff of science fiction, but the truth is that they’re alive and well all over the world. When asked to name a few of the globe’s smart cities, Perry rolled off an impressive list: “To name just a few prominent examples which demonstrate the variety of Smart Cities worldwide, we could mention: Digital Greenwich and London, England; Sao Paulo, Rio de Janeiro and Curitiba in Brazil; Paris and Lille in France; Yangon and Mandalay in Myanmar and Thessaloniki, Greece.” He continued, “There are many more. Barcelona, Amsterdam, Marrakech and others on all continents. Let’s not forget the great cities of Mumbai, Singapore and Jakarta or the cities of Mexico City and New York.