It’s easy enough to imagine the potential problems of the global boom in urban populations, including a higher cost of living, more crime and pollution, culture clashes, and increased burdens on infrastructure. Envisioning the solutions is more challenging. In many cases, it demands changing the very paradigms of how we think about living together in our cities.

Take traffic, for instance.

Download this article in .PDF format
This file type includes high resolution graphics and schematics when applicable.

When we think about all of the possible technologies for transportation that we could implement to improve the efficiency of traffic in a rapidly crowding city, we might integrate sensors on the road with systems that link with traffic lights—or systems that connect with graded speed limits. We might install more sophisticated systems for road tolling. We could deploy emerging, more intelligent technologies and make improvements to optimize existing infrastructure.

But let’s take a broader view of the problem to be solved and reconsider the initial paradigm that we’re working on. Where is value provided and accessed in a city’s transport paradigm? It’s not in the physical transport of people or goods. If you go to visit friends, for example, the value you are seeking to achieve is in the actual good time with those friends. What are the basic requirements for realizing that definition of value in a transport or mobility paradigm?

For civil engineers, rethinking the questions like this might change the way investments are considered. If financial or physical limits prevent a city from simply constructing more train lines or roads, you need to be smarter about how you are going to find new efficiencies and deliver value. Today, most people own their cars. Could the desired value, however, be achieved in a mobility system in which people are not only users but also service providers who share empty seats in their cars at peak times of the week for traffic to avoid so many cars on the road?

Reconsidering the questions in this way might also provide smarter answers for engineers for a car manufacturer, too. A car intended for service provision might have different requirements—in terms of lifecycle, functionality, and more—than a car intended for ownership.

This is just one example of a technology area in which global evolution to “smart cities” figures to influence innovation over the next decade. We also can imagine how a similar scenario might play out in energy, food and water, public health and safety, communications, and other fields.

But reducing the concept of smart cities to those technologies is not sufficient. The most important material of the smart cities is the people who live in them. Cities are complex, and many resources are wasted because of a lack of coordination across people and services. Evolving to smart cities will demand behavior innovation, too. Helping cities around the world undertake such a multi-faceted journey is the work of the IEEE Smart Cities Initiative (http://smartcities.ieee.org/).

Accommodating The Boom

Half of the world’s population already lives in cities.1 The United Nations has forecasted that the number of city dwellers will nearly double by 2050.2 Ensuring a clean, economic, and safe environment where inhabitants can live, work, and play in the future will demand more intelligent and sustainable systems of transportation, energy, communications, construction, economy, mobility, environment, governance, and living—an evolution toward smart cities.

IEEE—the world’s largest professional association dedicated to advancing technological innovation and excellence for the benefit of humanity, with more than 430,000 members in more than 160 countries and across an unmatched array of existing and emerging technology spaces—is uniquely positioned to assist municipalities in managing their transition to smart cities. Through the global, multi-discipline IEEE Smart Cities Initiative, announced in March 2014, IEEE is providing education, insight, and expertise and creating a forum for collaboration of all stakeholders in smart cities on the technological and behavioral innovations that will be entailed.

Not only has IEEE assembled a powerful, talented team and Web portal to assist municipalities in addressing all essential services that need to be managed in unison, it also is providing investment to selected municipalities in developed and developing countries through strategic and practical advice from a dedicated team of IEEE experts, as well as education and training.

IEEE aims to engage with 10 cities through 2016 through the IEEE Smart Cities Urbanization Challenge. The effort in each selected municipality will consist of an inaugural workshop, graduate student support, funding to develop content for massive open online courses (MOOCs), organization of an international conference on smart cities, and access to IEEE Distinguished Lecturers. 

Sharing Expertise

One requirement for municipalities that are selected as participants in the IEEE Smart Cities Urbanization Challenge will be to share lessons learned with businesses, citizens, city planners, elected officials, and non-profits in other cities and with IEEE team members. This is intended to help all project participants make better-informed decisions and avoid “re-inventing the wheel” in their transition to smart cities.

Guadalajara, Mexico, is the initial participating municipality. A comprehensive city-specific workshop, “Smart Cities of the Future,” took place in Guadalajara in October 2013. The city of about 1.5 million people established an organization, Ciudad Creativa Digital (CCD), to coordinate its transition.

“IEEE Smart Cities Initiative support is integral to our city’s comprehensive strategy to revive and regenerate its historic city center,” said Victor Larios, who heads the IEEE Smart City Initiative Pilot in Guadalajara.

“IEEE is planning to work with 10 cities that have very different contexts and different goals, in order to build a diversity of best practices from which other developing smart cities can draw. Each smart city will have different requirements and different priorities in its evolution—for one city, the Internet of Things (IoT) will be very important. For another, the Smart Grid might be a more urgent concern,” Larios said.  

“IEEE provides an invaluable forum for global expertise to work together, exchange information, and advance innovation, and that’s critical because there is so much we can learn from each other around the world,” he said.

Gilles Betis is chair of the IEEE Smart Cities Initiative and leads the Urban Life and Mobility action line of EIT ICT Labs. He has been involved for more than 20 years in the design of complex systems, first in the filed of military air defense and then in transportation systems. He can be reached at gilles.betis@eitictlabs.eu.