While the idea of a “smart city” that integrates technology with energy systems to provide every citizen with a luxurious automated environment may seem like science fiction, the cities we live in now already use some of the same technologies that smart cities would leverage. These technologies range from the social media sites we access to the elevators that take us to our offices to the smartphones we rely on for communication. A true smart city uses these technologies to improve every aspect of our daily lives.
Living in a smart city affects which routes we drive on, the way we use our water and power, and even how we watch TV at home or cook a meal. In a smart city, everything is connected to provide us with the most interactive, convenient experience possible.
The Benefits of Smart Cities
Today, smart technology is generally implemented in existing cities to produce smart cities. In the future, smart technology expert Osama Natto believes smart cities will become standard, starting from the time of concept development and helping each city conserve resources.
“It’s going to cost the city management much more to operate a city that is not smart,” said Natto. “It should be smart from day one.”
Smart cities are cost-effective because they cut back on energy and water waste, helping everyone save money while reducing human impact on the environment and improving each citizen’s access to resources.
However, having every system within every building connected is not enough to make a true smart city. An integral part of the concept is having effective processes, programs, and people in place to manage the city, ensuring the technology can be fully leveraged.
The payoff comes from the benefits that both average citizens and city administrators receive. For example, instead of each apartment tenant worrying about their bandwidth connections, what if every apartment could come pre-plugged with Internet access? All each tenant would have to do would be select the type of service that meets their needs and budget. Plus, instead of each tenant having to deal with lighting, utility, and miscellaneous system maintenance, those systems could be monitored electronically. Maintenance schedules could be provided to the tenant, or even be handled remotely by a central building management body.
On the operational front, having smart infrastructure in place would increase the life of each property, translating into fewer upgrades, less maintenance, faster maintenance, a smaller number of maintenance staff, and fewer inspection visits. With planned maintenance programs in place, city management would enjoy lower costs in the long run. Centralized teams would work to manage the city from one command and control center. Cost savings would come from needing fewer maintenance and management team members, purchasing spare parts on schedule, monitoring the city remotely, utilizing energy saving programs, and leveraging other smart innovations.
Implementing smart solutions now is a long-term investment in the value and profitability of any city. Here are just a few of the benefits that come with a smart city:
- Improved productivity across local businesses, from senior management to everyday workers, as a result of the optimized, practical environment
- Increased safety and security as a direct result of the smart systems installed
- Reduced office and housing costs due to centralization and consolidation
- More revenue for commercial buildings, as building owners or operators could provide extra services at an additional cost
- Reduced ongoing maintenance and operational overhead costs as a result of automated management (preventive measures taken, fewer opportunities for user error, etc.)
- Higher sustainability index as a result of extending the depreciation period
- Easy monitoring and controlling of all smart features and services
- Increased end-user satisfaction
- Efficient use of resources, both people and material
- Minute control over all functions
- Lower bills as a result of efficient use of resources and consolidation
- Enhanced accessibility for individuals with disabilities
- Environmental benefits from reduced energy usage—great for “going green”
With all of the benefits that smart cities provide, they are no longer a luxury, but a necessity.
The Social and Economic Impact of Smart Technologies in Saudi Arabia
The advancements in the field of telecommunications that have accompanied the rise of smart cities have opened up many new markets. One such market is distance working for women, particularly in Saudi Arabia.
Since Saudi Arabia lacks a proper public transportation network, commuting is an issue for citizens, especially women. In some households, it is expected that women not leave the home unaccompanied. Additionally, women in Saudi Arabia do not drive.
The availability of information and communication technology, however, has made it possible for women to work remotely from home. Soon, with this smart infrastructure reaching smaller towns and villages, a new economy will open up for the residents of those remote locations, allowing them to serve corporations in major cities. But, why stop there? Many remote workers will surely start serving customers overseas as well. With the proper infrastructure in place, computer and smartphone screens will become Saudi Arabia’s windows to the global marketplace.
Currently, the economy of Saudi Arabia is largely based on oil. Yes, there are other prominent industries, but the majority of them depend on petrochemicals—again, back to oil. One of the key movements within Saudi Arabia is focused on improving this situation by building a knowledge-based economy.
Smart cities play an important role in the creation of such an economy. Saudis have already begun to see the rise of new sub-economies in the nation, such as what Natto calls “the YouTube economy.”
“We started to see many talented Saudis forming their own YouTube channels with all sorts of programs,” said Natto. “Without having the proper infrastructure and bandwidth connectivity, such YouTube businesses would not have been possible. People in Saudi stream YouTube shows on their mobile devices, including on tablets and phones, making new technologies a part of everyday life.”
Another growing sub-economy in Saudi Arabia is online gaming. According to Natto, Saudi gamers spend more on their hobby than gamers anywhere else. Many young Saudis have formed their own game development companies, along with several gaming communities. One of the most exciting is GCON, the Riyadh Girls Gaming Convention, which is the first girls-only gaming convention in the region. Thousands of people have also started their own online businesses from home, shipping products and providing services.
These are just a few examples of the new knowledge-based economies that are being built in Saudi Arabia, coming together to form the rising Saudi e-commerce sector. Smart cities will play a major role in the development of this new economy.
Smart Customized Communities
It is important to understand that smart city requirements change not just from country to country, but from city to city, and even community to community. Because of these differences, city planners need to profile and understand the needs of city inhabitants, building the smart city around their current and future requirements.
However, just performing studies isn’t enough. Each citizen must have an active role in designing their future smart city. Living in a smart city has the potential to make inhabitants focus on their productivity and quality of life, rather than concerning themselves with infrastructure issues.
Smart Cities Are the Future
These are just a few of the possibilities that a smart city offers. The technology needed to help citizens save money, save time, and save the environment is already available. Smart city solutions are truly the wave of the future, and their implementation is the next step to improving quality of life across urban areas, and eventually, perhaps the entire world.
That is why smart cities are no longer a luxury. They are a necessity!
For more information about smart cities, watch this five-minute video on smart cities in Saudi Arabia. Produced by the French telecommunications corporation Alcatel-Lucent and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, both of whom are heavily involved in smart city research, the video features interviews with a variety of smart environment experts in the Middle East.