Why Smart Cities Are about People Not Technology

Your phone is smart. Your speaker is smart. Your car and home are becoming increasingly smart. But what about your city?

The prefix ‘smart’, while much-loved by marketers, is far more than just a marketing term. It represents cutting-edge technology, generally using a combination of internet connectivity, data, and artificial intelligence to increase functionality and user experience in many areas of our lives.

At Arcadis, we focus on the creation not of smart devices, but of Smart Cities. We plan and help to deliver urban areas that utilise Internet of Things (IoT) sensors and AI to manage resources, assets, and services efficiently. This might be for specific urban systems such as water networks, transport operations or energy infrastructure. More and more, we are looking at urban precincts and city-level developments, integrating infrastructure and built environment elements to create smart, community centric cities

The most common words people use around smart cities are ‘technology’ and ‘data’. But I believe we need to consider Smart Cities as first and foremost about people. The human element should be the driving force behind every Smart Cities project. 

In that context, Smart Cities are those places which use technology and data as tools to:

1. make decisions that are human-centred, and
2. deliver efficiencies, freeing up scarce resources to be used for other things.

The role of technology in building a smart city

Typically, people look to technology for automation and efficiency in city operations – using tools to undertake repeatable processes, monitor the environment, and alert asset operators to issues.

Technology is playing an increasingly significant role in planning, design, and delivery too. Digital Engineering tools such as building information modelling (BIM) enable designers, constructors, and engineers to:

1. explore a broader set of options or solutions to specific design or delivery challenges, and
2. free up time and resources to focus on higher-value activities.

The widespread adoption of Digital Engineering tools has resulted in a greater focus for clients to ‘build smart from the beginning’. This establishes the digital foundations for urban assets and infrastructure at the planning and design stages, before following through on their delivery and commissioning. When compared to retrofitting data and digital platforms, ‘building smart from the beginning’ makes for a far simpler and smoother delivery and transition into operations, which is where Digital Twins then offer significant value.

Arcadis has embraced Digital Engineering tools and techniques. We are now leading the way with integration and collaboration platforms that enable clients to orchestrate work across various designers, engineers and deliverers, granting them a single view and putting them in a position to make better project decisions.

A great example of this is our Dynamic Engineering Hub, which uses Systems Engineering techniques to reduce risk in complex design, construction and infrastructure programs. It does this by linking all design, delivery and assurance decisions to structured program objectives and client success metrics.

People: the real focus of Smart Cities

All of the technology mentioned above is simply the enabler, granting Smart Cities the opportunity to deliver a higher quality of life to their residents. So how exactly does a Smart City enhance the lives of its residents? A few recent projects help to paint a picture.

Arcadis has been working with the Greater Manchester Combined Authority to enable human-centred town planning and housing design using a city analytics platform. Our approach leverages data and digital tools to re-imagine the town planning process. The result is a new digital platform and planning framework that enables planners to prioritise liveability and citizen outcomes for new residential developments.

In the Netherlands, we have been working with ModelMe3D, a startup from the Arcadis City of 2030 Accelerator, on a new real estate development to leverage open source and user generated data in the design and planning of the city. This approach, which enables planners, citizens, municipalities and stakeholders to collaborate digitally on real-time, works to improve and accelerate urban planning, ensuring that a people-centric approach is maintained. 

In New York, we partnered with the Department of Sanitation to help them in achieving their target of zero waste to landfills by 2030. The department needed a way to increase the amount of material diverted to reuse and recycling, ultimately delivering significant environmental benefits for the citizens of New York and beyond.

The team devised a solution that provides transparency for business owners, self-enforces all stakeholders and offers rewards for achieving zero waste progress. The outcome was a smart billing system for business owners that lets them know exactly how much they’re spending on waste removal, provides an opportunity to save money by recycling, and offers educational tips to prioritise their sustainability goals, all through a transparent online platform.

A focus on circular economy solutions will continue to be the elevating factor of smart planning, as people expect and demand governments and asset owners to be accountable and focus on sustainable outcomes. We are continuing to explore and adopt new propositions as part of the Arcadis ecosystem with Geofluxus, another startup from the Arcadis City of 2030 Accelerator. Geofluxus uses data analytics, geo-spatial insights and machine learning to map, analyse and predict where materials can be saved from becoming waste and re-used into a new purpose.

How Arcadis is helping to design the cities of the future

Sure, Smart Cities are built on technology. But they aren’t about technology. They are inherently human-centred, with innovation acting as the vehicle to improve the quality of life.

Any good technology should not ‘get in the way’ but seamlessly deliver value. For Smart Cities, this means enhancing the human experience to ultimately improve the quality of life. And at Arcadis, we’re proud to be helping cities, municipalities, developers and asset operators all over the world to deliver exactly that.

We do this by advising on Smart City infrastructure and delivery – in addition to providing a comprehensive suite of tools, techniques and expertise to accelerate your decision-making cycles with confidence and clarity, throughout the design, delivery and operations lifecycle.

Jamye Harrison

Global Solutions Lead - Smart Cities Ask me a question
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