15.5 Urban Design: Smart City

Author: Danielle Zinniger

ABSTRACT: According to the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) and the International Telecommunication Union (ITC), the definition of a ‘smart sustainable city’ is “an innovative city that uses information and communications technology and other means to improve quality of life, efficiency of urban operation and services, and competitiveness, while ensuring that it meets the needs of present and future generations with respect to economic, social, environmental as well as cultural aspects.”

Image Credit: aliga.sk (2018)


1.1 Brief Summary of Smart Cities

Tracing back to Los Angeles in 1974, the first urban big data project, “A Cluster Analysis of Los Angeles,” a data-filled image of various regions of the city was used to informally categorize neighbourhoods by their demographics. 20 years later, the city of Amsterdam produced a virtual ‘digital city’ in an effort to popularize the use of the Internet. Since then, the use of data and information technology have exploded in urban planning and urban design. More recently, 197 countries signed the Paris Agreement at COP21 in 2015; an agreement to drastically cut global carbon emissions and limit global warming to below 2, or preferably 1.5 degrees above pre-industrial levels. Since then, urban centres around the world, (which currently are home to 56% of the world’s population), have been racing to halt carbon emissions, to adapt and mitigate the catastrophic effects of a changing climate. Using new telecommunication infrastructure to support Information and Communications Technology (ICT) – based programs, such as the Internet of Things (IoT), Artificial Intelligence, and Smart grids, cities are using data to compete against both nature and one another in an effort to be smarter, cleaner, more liveable, and sustainable.

1.2 Technology and Modes of deployment in Smart Cities

Built around an information network relying on user participation, the smart city functions through the sharing of information and data through a deeply interconnected system in an effort to optimize resources. By implementing technology into city operations such as public transportation, solid waste management, water, urban mobility and power supply, smart cities improve quality of life, efficiency of urban operations and aim to improve and monitor urban environmental conditions.

By collecting data on daily living, certain cities in Asia, the United Arab Emirates and Europe are now amongst some of the ‘smartest’ cities in the world. In Singapore, the government has deployed systems to monitor littering from high-rises, and that can tell when citizens are smoking in prohibited zones. Sensors and cameras are installed to improve the city’s digital system, Virtual Singapore, and allow the government access to closely supervise areas from traffic, infrastructure dangers or crime; over 62,000 cameras monitor public housing blocks and carparks (ITU, 2019). In Dubai, over 50 smart services deployed by 22 government entities took part in the ‘Smart Dubai Initiative’, in which the official app “DubaiNow” allows citizens to be engaged in a simple, connected manner. The app allows residents to perform tasks such as pay speeding tickets, which are sent directly to their phone, or pay bills, manage registrations and official documents, track mail, call taxis or report crime/violations. An implemented eComplaints program allows users to provide regular feedback on various public services. In Barcelona and Copenhagen, “smart streetlights” are user-based public lighting that responds to motion, and dims with a lack of activity. Efficient lamps connected by a wireless network optimize energy and lower risk of crime and traffic accidents. Parking sensors that locate free parking via light and metal detectors, allow residents to track through their devices parking spots available in real-time, which reduce search times and trip durations. Garbage sensors, or “drop-off containers”, (CNBC International, 2017) are a vacuum-activated system that suck trash below ground and transport it through a network of pipes, in consequence, lowering noise pollution, costs and odor. Other smart city functions around the world are among smart waste containers which update waste collection companies the level of emptiness, weather sensors that manage automatic watering system to detect potential leaks, monitors for air pollution and air quality, river levels and cameras that detect traffic incidents or blockages that send out alerts and transmit updates to drivers. Traffic lights also can adjust and vary by time of day to help with the flow of traffic and specific lighting for low-mobility residents can help with safety issues.

As discoveries and growth in the ICT and big data sectors continue, other elements and functions of smart cities will likely be developed for years to come, as two-thirds of the world’s population are expected to live in cities by 2050.

1.3 Smart Cities and Carbon

The sharing and interconnection of data and information through ICT-based systems in smart cities is not only more efficient, but also sustainable and can help urban centres reduce emissions, analyze and monitor as well as mitigate and minimize the effects of climate change. In Barcelona, experts estimated the city saves billions of dollars a year in energy costs by way of smart systems, such as smart lighting. Reduced traffic, smarter commuting via real-time updates and facilitated parking cuts carbon emissions from automotive vehicles. Data collection via wireless communication manage traffic, reduce energy consumption and improve services. Artificial Intelligence processes large data to be processed and analyzed which can help governments identify patterns and enhance decision-making (ITU, 2019). Smart grids, as previously mentioned, use digital communication technology to react to local changes in usage and in turn optimize energy use, in cohesion with smart meters and sensors. In 2016, the UNECE launched the global platform “United for Smart Sustainable Cities”, which immediately signed more than 50 global cities.


“Secure, Sustainable Smart Cities and the IoT.” What Is a Smart City? Technology and Examples, https://www.thalesgroup.com/en/markets/digital-identity-and-security/iot/inspired/smart-cities

“Smart Sustainable Cities.” ITU, www.itu.int/en/mediacentre/backgrounders/Pages/smart-sustainable-cities.aspx.

TheVINCIEnergies. “What Is a Smart City?” YouTube, YouTube, 24 Aug. 2015, www.youtube.com/watch?v=Br5aJa6MkBc

CNBCInternational. “What Is a Smart City? | CNBC Explains.” YouTube, YouTube, 8 Feb. 2017, www.youtube.com/watch?v=bANfnYDTzxE.

“Sustainable Smart Cities.” UNECE, unece.org/housing/sustainable-smart-cities. Research, GlobalData Thematic. “History of Smart Cities: Timeline.” Verdict, 6 July 2020, www.verdict.co.uk/smart-cities-timeline/.

223365397749948. “How LA Used Big Data to Build a Smart City in the 1970s.” Aζ South Asia, Architexturez Imprints, 4 Oct. 2019, architexturez.net/pst/az-cf-169297-1435054977.


Danielle Zinniger is a first year Creative Industries student from Montreal, Quebec. She hopes to pursue a career in creative and art direction.

Leave a Reply