Smart Cities: Implementing the future today

Today, cities around the globe are forced to redefine how they operate and support their citizens. Multiple drivers, such as rapidly growing urbanization, aging infrastructures, the need to better serve all communities, increasing competition between cities and the introduction of innovative technologies, are fueling this re-evaluation of tomorrow’s urban environments. As the pace quickens, cities are responding by developing plans to become a Smart City.

What is a Smart City?

Simin Zhou, Vice President and Managing Director of UL Ventures, boils a complex answer down to the basics, “Simply put, a Smart City utilizes information and communication technology to enhance its livability, workability and sustainability for the benefit of all of its citizens. The citizens themselves play a key role as their evolving needs and feedback is critical to the continuous improvement and success of a Smart City.”

“However,” Zhou continues, “there isn’t a recognized ubiquitous solution that makes a city ‘smart.’ Rather, each city is unique and the creation of a Smart City program or implementation depends on an individual city’s objectives and goals. As a result, the Smart City landscape is evolving in real time with market complexities, safety, security and sustainability challenges presenting themselves daily.”

For cities to be successful with Smart City initiatives, they need to aware of three critical factors.

First, a city must have a laser-like focus on identifying their problems and challenges. In many cases, cities pursue technology as a “magic bullet” then look for problems to be solved rather determining opportunities to improve their communities and broader infrastructure.

Second, once the challenges have been identified, a city must collaborate, and even co-create, the solutions with their citizens. This ensures the solution – whether technology, transportation, planning, etc. – is a “fit” for a city’s unique needs.

Finally, as an extension of the second point, a city must ensure solutions are safe, accessible, inclusive and equitable for all.

Pittsburgh mayor, Bill Peduto, when asked what his single greatest fear was about pursuing Smart City solutions for the Steel City, didn’t hesitate with his reply, “Leaving my people behind.” Pittsburgh is now a demonstrated leader in the Smart City space, rallying behind the call, “If it’s not for all of us, it’s not for us.”

Though a city’s needs are unique, solutions are being developed and innovated in a few key areas. Zhou believes the main types of technology systems that make up today’s Smart City includes digital infrastructure and data, mobility, connected technologies, and energy systems. Each of these solutions presents new risks to safety, security and sustainability.

“That’s where UL comes in,” states Zhou. “UL, throughout our 125 year history, has fostered safe living and working environments for people everywhere through the application of science to solve these very same challenges. UL helps bridge the gap between numerous stakeholder groups, such as manufacturers, insurers, retailers, distributors, consumers, integrators and cities, by instilling trust in the Smart City marketplace so related innovative technologies will find acceptance and realize wider adoption.”

Ultimately, city leadership, communities and solution providers need to collaborate from conception to implementation and beyond to satisfy the unique needs of a city and how they choose to adopt smart technologies.

Third-party organizations, such as UL, will continue to play an important role by bringing to bear an understanding of the needs of these different sectors and delivering on the promise of tomorrow today.

The interview was filmed with Sarah Lockett, Business Correspondent of The Business Debate and Simin Zhou, VP and General Manager, UL.

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