Digitization of all sphere of life has reached social dimension and is more often referred to as digitalization – the process when the digitized data is used to simplify specific operations, including the cities’ management. The more digital data the cities use to operate the smarter they are. But does smart also implies circular and environmentally responsible?
More than 50% of population lives in cities and by 2050 this number will grow to 70% posing a great challenges for infrastructure, services and current job sector. Cities are also the biggest polluters which produce 70% of greenhouse gas emissions and waste globally. Solutions which may ease the environmental and economic burden of cities may be the better or smart management which includes wider use of technologies and focuses on reducing the environmental damages.
Technologies in smart cities stem from the Internet of Things, data and devices connected to network. The network enables data-gathering from smart devices to develop products which can be used to improve efficiency. For instance, in some cities in India IT companies are bringing AI technologies and machine learning to accelerate plastic recycle and reduce its cost. Spanish city Pontevedra completely banned the use of cars which solved the problem of pollution and traffic and introduced more efficient public transport. In some cities vendors are making garbage collection smarter by installing sensors on garbage cans to optimize collection.
The idea of circularity challenges the traditional “take-make-dispose” model of production and consumption and intends to promote the idea of economy where nothing goes to waste. So far no city has managed to become truly circular, however the rapid digitalization can change it. We need to think how AI, machine learning, AR and VR as well as 3D printing, distributed ledger technologies and robotics can assist humans in addressing the economic, social and environmental challenges the cities are facing today.
Smart and circular cities also tend to be more resilient meaning being able to recover from any damages or catastrophes. Smart city solutions such as sharing technologies or data aggregation can contribute to monitor and evaluate risks and take better informed decisions based on reliant data.
Another aspect of the modern smart cities or smart cities 2.0 is the broader involvement of citizens and communities into local level decision-making processes. The famous triple helix model of innovations and first smart cities which involves government, private sector and academia in achieving and sustaining economic growth and innovations has evolved into quadruple model by acknowledging the role of civil society and active communities in forcing innovations and creative thinking that are essential for the new smart cities.
Smart, circular and resilient cities are an important prerequisite to achieving Sustainable Development Goals. The SDGs were approaved by the United Nations in 2015 to achieve sustainable development in three main areas: economy, environment and social inclusion. Since more than half of world’s population is living in urban areas smart and circular cities could be the main agents of change which will help to achieve ambitious UN program.