Our Cities Are Changing

5122243515_53685705fd_oSociety and technology are merging in the new digital infrastructure of smart cities.

by Juda Jelinek.

“The city must never be confused with the words that describe it.’’ —Italo Calvino, Invisible Cities

In the eighteenth century, 3 percent of the globe’s inhabitants were urban dwellers. In 1900 there were 14 percent of us living in cities, and by 1950 that had risen to 30 percent. In 2008, however, we passed an historic milestone and became 50 percent urban. We are now an urban species, and that is what we will continue to be. The world’s population is projected to be between 9 and 10 billion by 2050, 70 to 75 percent of which is predicted to be urban.

Against the backdrop of these forecasts it is becoming clear that the next century, especially in the developing world, will be an age of intense urban growth and city building—the undertone of which will be the sustainability agenda. With so many people will come a greater strain on our society. Resource scarcity coupled with the consequences of climate change may reach critical levels: water scarcity and the need for renewable energy sources and the raw materials for construction will become central to human existence.

In this context, the marriage between urbanization and technology will lead to new opportunities and sustainable solutions. The technology to make a city smarter has existed for many years, but now is the time for its application. Where are we in the development of so-called ‘smart cities’? We are just getting started…

What Makes a Smart City?

Generally speaking, smart cities involve the creation of new relations between technology and society. According to this vision, urban infrastructure and everyday life in cities are optimized through ongoing developments in the information and communication technology (ICT) sector.

This trend rose to prominence when on November 6, 2008, in the middle of the financial crisis, Sam Palmisano, IBM’s CEO, gave a speech titled ‘A Smarter Planet: The Next Leadership Agenda’, which has attracted much publicity. In this talk, Palmisano set out the argument that the world and its cities must become smarter to become more sustainable and economically efficient. At the same time, IBM launched an extensive advertisement campaign for its smarter planet division, which is still in place today.

This strategy has clearly paid off. Since then IBM has delivered numerous large-scale contracts to city governments. IBM is now involved with 2,000 cities around the globe. It has become the …

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