Super Cities

Nov 5, 2014

[pullquote]How the way we live will be transformed by the Internet of Everything[/pullquote]

The Internet has already transformed the world a great deal; but it’s the next stage in Web’s development that will offer the biggest opportunities, and revolutionize how we “live, work, play, and learn.”
This point is brought home in a recent Foreign Affairs article by John Chambers and Wim Elfrink. 

What they call the “Internet of Everything” – or IoE – involves making smart connections between people, processes, data, and things. They note that while today, half the world’s population has Internet access; by 2020, that percentage will leap to two-thirds and in the future not only traditional devices will be connected but also “parking spaces and alarm clocks, railroad tracks, street lights and garbage cans.” 

The amount of digital data being collected enormous and expanding exponentially, this means that the new technologies now being developed will be able to collect and share that data so that we can all make improve decision-making, productivity, and enrich our experiences in a multitude of areas.
Chambers and Elfrink cite Cisco’s data, which indicates that the “Internet of Everything has the potential to create $19 trillion in value over the next decade.” 

They propose that both the private and public sectors will benefit as the digitization of cities and countries makes substantial improvements in efficiency and trimming costs. Meanwhile, it appears that the IoE is already being used to deal with some of the world’s biggest challenges: population aging, growth and urbanization; the increasing demand for increasingly limited natural resources and the major economic shifts caused by the boom in developing economies accompanied by the slowdown in established ones.


The urbanization of the global population is an established fact and as Chambers and Elfrink note, “more than half of the world’s population now lives in or near a major urban area and according to the United Nations, the global population is expected to grow to 9.3 billion by 2050.” However, our resources and space are limited. 

If we can’t resolve these challenges with the traditional ‘build and expand’ strategy, new ways of incorporating technology will be needed in order to provide adequate urban services for roads, utilities, work spaces, schools, and healthcare.

At the same time, with limited funds, urban centers must try and cut costs. Technology can provide some easy solutions by automating street lighting systems, which improves safety and creates a more favorable business environment. Solid waste will become another challenge for cities worldwide as the quantity of municipal solid waste is expected to reach 2.2 billion tons by 2025. The IoE proposes new ways to reduce these costs by changing from fixed-route systems to on-call systems as sensors in full trash containers could alert waste management. 

The savvy and efficient management of expanding cities is crucial and the IoE is an essential tool in the process. Connections between things and people will enable those in the public and the private sectors to turn data into useful information to improve the livability and functionality of the new ‘super cities’.


The public sector is already utilizing the Internet of Everything to transform empty fields and shabby urban centers into what Chambers and Elfrink call “Smart + Connected Communities, or Smart Cities.” These are cities, they tell us, that integrate information and communications technology across three or more functional areas to help reduce traffic, parking congestion, pollution, energy consumption, and crime. These technologies have also been used to generate revenues and lower costs for both residents and visitors.

The article cites an excellent example, pointing out that one-third of the world’s streetlights still use 1960s’ technology, it makes clear that, “cities using new, networked motion-detection lights save administrative and management time as well as electricity and costs—as much as70–80 percent. By using such energy-saving technologies, cities can drastically lower their municipal electricity expenditures.” 

The article also mentions that that smart street lighting has the ability to lower area crime by seven percent. Furthermore, ‘smart’ light poles can function like access points for wireless networking, making it easy for citizens and city managers to benefit from expanded connectivity. Smart Cities can save energy inside as well; buildings using intelligent sensors and networked management systems can gather and evaluate data on energy-use.
These same ‘smart’ systems can be used to dynamically manage traffic, parking, public transport in order to reduce urban congestion and pollution, improve traffic flow and help keep citizens informed so that they can avoid needless delays. 


Chambers and Elfrink showcase two star examples of Super Cities at work; one a historic city with existing infrastructure – Barcelona, Spain – and another more contemporary example – Songdo, South Korea – a new city designed on the smart city model. As Spain’s second largest city, Barcelona has incorporated connected technology into major city offices, water management, waste management, parking, and public-transportation. And, the city has profited from these technologies, becoming one of the few European cities to have a budget surplus). Among other initiatives, the city has invested in smart street lighting and embedded parking sensors that can inform drivers where to find open spaces.

Meanwhile, in Songdo, South Korea, we find the first ‘green field’ city designed from the beginning with sustainability as a primary goal. Through the city’s network, citizens can access a host of urban services from real-time traffic information to remote healthcare services and information while remotely automated building security makes the city safer and less expensive. 


A path towards implementing the smart city is set forth by John Chambers and Wim Elfrink:

1. Establish a process for prioritizing potential IoE initiatives based on the problems to be addressed. City leaders should also consider replicable initiatives that have functioned in similar jurisdictions. 

2. Reconsider IT investments by focusing on end-to-end solutions that integrate connected technology across disparate systems including water and waste management, municipal processes, smart buildings and energy systems.

3. City governments should see IT as a value creator rather than a cost center. In many instances governments and their agencies can improve employee productivity, attracts talent and jobs, generate new revenue (without raising taxes) while creating measurable benefits for citizens. 

4. It’s time to think of the contract with citizens and the services IT firms and governments provide them in a new way. As the IoE evolves, the technology industry must continuously improve security and privacy measures.

5. Smart Cities need five things: innovative and bold city leadership; hyper collaborative partnerships between the public and private sectors; information communications technology master plans to develop specific projects; and maintaining deadlines—perhaps one of the most important priorities. 

6. Start pilot programs now. It’s clear that IoE solutions can solve difficult problems and improve the lives of citizens. Perseverance in the face of technical and political challenges can be the key to long-term success.

The Internet of Everything has already revolutionized how our cities work. In the future, everything and everyone will be connected.
If we embrace the technology of Super Cities the IoE can help the public sector to have safer streets, smarter homes, healthier and better-educated citizens while the private sector can employ more information, to make improve decision making, implement agile supply chains, and responsive manufacturing with the end result of creating economic value. Future cities will be built around the Internet of Everything, and smart city planners and companies are already leading the way.

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