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November 16, 2016

Why Today’s Cities Need to Get Smart with Data

The ongoing process of urbanisation continues to impact countries across the developed and developing worlds as the switch from a predominantly rural and agricultural economy to a more industrial, city-based infrastructure continues apace.

By Ellie Burns

The latest UN World Cities Report  finds that the number of “megacities” – defined as those with a population of more than 10 million – has more than doubled over the past 21 years, from 14 in 1995 to 29 this year. Although they currently only occupy an estimated 3% of the planet’s land mass, cities are already home to half of the world’s population, consume 75% of the energy produced and generate 80% of global CO2 emissions.

Combined with other phenomena (the projected phase out of fossil fuels; scarcity of

François Mero, Senior VP of Sales EMEA at Talend.

François Mero, Senior VP of Sales EMEA at Talend.

water resources, climate change, etc.), this acceleration in urban growth has a very significant impact on citizens’ quality of life. For example, the constant increase in car numbers (associated with the increase in population and the increase in GDP) is saturating the roads, mainly in cities. A 2014 study shows that the total cost of congestion will reach 350 billion euros globally over the period 2013-2030.

Against this backdrop, preparing for the future by striving to make cities more intelligent and sustainable necessitates an approach capable not only of decreasing the environmental impact of human activities, but also redefining the conditions for accessing resources, waste management, transportation, building insulation and energy management (from production to delivery). The success of this kind of methodology therefore has to be based on the quality of decisions made by the cities themselves. Their awareness of the key challenges and their involvement in helping to overcome them are therefore crucial when it comes to improving the quality of life of their inhabitants and preventing urban life from becoming increasingly difficult to bear.


Big Data and IoT: Key future trends

If Big Data contributes to revolutionizing the commercial approaches of companies, with a particularly high potential for transformation in tourism and distribution, an Atelier BNP Paribas study reveals that “Smart Cities will be the veritable El Dorado of Big Data”. The concept of a Smart City – “a city using information and communication technologies to improve the quality of urban services and reduce costs,” according to Wikipedia – is a project-based approach aimed at optimising transportation, energy distribution and services provided to residents, by installing sensors in parking lots, public transportation stations, garbage dumpsters, the urban lighting system, etc., in order to collect data which will assist cities in decision-making.

Digital technologies – at the heart of the Smart City – are not an end in and of themselves, but offer an important potential for transformation. The increased popularity of the concept of “smart cities,” as well as the variety of projects implemented express a new way of thinking about cities and their future, made possible by digital technologies. Faced with the new hazards brought about by urban transition, the real-time collection and analysis of massive volumes of data continuously generated by the sensors – operated by municipal services, urban service operators, businesses and even citizens – become essential. Indeed, beyond the technological aspects, the Smart City is also based on a collaborative and participatory vision.

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Masdar City in Abu Dhabi and Songdo in South Korea are prime examples of connected cities that, using a local energy optimisation system, materialise the promises of a zero emission, zero waste model. In developing such cities, the ultimate goal should be that all of the data from the sensors, spread throughout the city, are analysed in real time to optimise a number of aspects of inhabitants’ lives.

Nrman Foster - Masdar City rendering

Masdar City, Abu Dhabi rendering by Nrman Foster

Due to the variety of types and sources of data, the multiplicity of players (with citizens, first and foremost) and the almost unlimited nature of the volumes of data available, the city itself must implement and pilot a Big Data strategy to become, sustainably “smart”. Ultimately, Big Data contributes not only to a better understanding of how cities work and how their inhabitants behave, but also to removing the barriers between the various players and operators and creating new services which are better suited to new uses.

Faced with the potentially problematic consequences of urban transition, we urgently need to make data available for the benefit of citizens. The “loT-data sensors” trilogy could prevent a predictable and premonitory catastrophe… Thus, the question of data governance becomes a central one for municipalities in search of urban renewal.


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