What Should We Learn? Special Issue on Smart Cities

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What Should We Learn? Special Issue on Smart Cities

By: 
Yang Li

In the coming years, cities are expected to deal with an increasing number and type of services for their citizens, all having to do with overarching goals such as sustainability, environment, quality of life, energy saving, just to name a few. As the population living in urban areas is expected to double by 2050, there is a general consensus that any new process will require more than just an incremental upgrading of the cities’ organization, infrastructure, and services provided to its citizens. With this in mind, to achieve the challenging goals mentioned above, drastic changes and disruptive innovations are required that involve a multitude of new technologies relevant to various disciplines such as architecture; computer science; civil engineering; electrical, electronic, and telecommunication engineering; social science; medicine; and behavioral science. These technologies need to be successfully employed for the development of suitable modeling tools and smart solutions of such sociotechnical systems, allowing the development of attractive, inclusive, sustainable, safe, resilient, and agile cities.

Such technologies are today labeled with the ubiquitous word “smart.” Technology, however, has always been “smart,” so we feel it is worth clarifying that within this context this adjective serves to underline the widespread use of information and communication technologies (ICTs), sensors, and intelligence, e.g., software embedded in the various parts, components, and infrastructures forming an urban area. In this complex and challenging picture, we label people living in the city or using its facilities as “smart” as well, in that they own portable smart devices communicating with existing ICT networks, which are instrumental to the accomplishment of such a goal: think, for instance, of the approach being pursued in many parts of the world aimed at increasing the awareness of the urban environment and at enhancing the interaction with its inhabitants.

In this view, we feel that the emerging prototype for a smart city is one of an urban environment with a new generation of innovative services for transportation, energy distribution, healthcare, environmental monitoring, business, commerce, emergency response, and social activities frequently interacting with each other thanks to ICT devices and solutions. Enabling the technology for such a setting requires a viewpoint of smart cities as cyber–physical systems that include new software platforms and strict requirements for mobility, security, safety, privacy, and the processing of massive amounts of information. In this framework, the energy, transport, and ICT industries will, therefore, receive a strong motivation to work with municipalities to combine their technologies to address the relevant cities’ requirements. This is expected to foster the development of innovative, integrated, and efficient— smart—technologies, which place cities at the center of innovation. As a matter of fact, this is what the special issue of Proceedings of the IEEE in April 2018 aims to illustrate.

The issue presents some of the most recent advances and technical solutions focused on the implementation of the smart city paradigm. In particular, this Special Issue addresses topics such as data collection and management, smart/sustainable energy systems (including smart grids), infrastructures and relevant technologies, mobility, transportation, e-health and social factors, citizen involvement, and collaborative economy.

All papers presented show that smart cities are a growing reality, although major steps need to be still accomplished. One of those is standardization, still missing in part. Business models is another one; there will be no sustainable disruption happening without new business models and new game players emerging. Even the cities will have to create their own business model.

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