In recent years, the concept of smart cities has gained popularity quickly. Many countries are transforming their cities and investing in making them ‘smarter’. However, the actual definition of smart cities is not very clear. Some focus on sustainable development, some on technological innovation and others on the people who live there and their experience. Key seems to be that smart cities are sustainable, driven by the needs of the people who live there. To realize this, technology seems to be indispensable.

Smart city race to the top

In the Netherlands, several cities are working on their smart transformation. Already back in 2009 Amsterdam launched a smart city platform, bundling innovative projects. For Amsterdam, realizing carbon neutrality is an important topic and they are working hard towards reaching this goal by 2040. This year, the roof of the Amsterdam Johan Cruyff Arena was covered in solar panels and the energy will be stored in batteries, which significantly contributes to Amsterdams’ ambitions. Together with top Dutch universities, the city is researching self-driving vehicles, mobility management and sustainable energy. The city even appointed a Chief Technology Officer to further their transformation.

The second fastest growing city in the Netherlands is Utrecht. Their smart city focus is mainly on health, under the umbrella of ‘healthy urban living’. Their aim is to keep the city livable, even with the fast growth. Besides the focus on health, Utrecht is also the city with the most smart grids and the home of solarcharging and the city is heavily investing in making the city smarter through data.

The ‘brains’ of Chinese cities

One thing is clear: there is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach to smart cities. Every city faces its own challenges and requires a different smart solution. This is also clear in the approach of the Chinese government in creating smart cities. In Beijing for instance, the focus is ‘smart economy’, while for Hangzhou the focus is on the ‘Internet of Things’ and Guangzhou is focusing on ‘intelligent traffic’. Also, completely new smart cities are being constructed, such as Xiong’an. This former village near Beijing is being completely transformed and made smart from the start.

At present, there are about 500 smart cities in China that are being piloted. The market size over 650 billion yuan, with which the Chinese are investing more than any other country in the world. The Chinese smart cities are mainly concentrated in the major economic regions Beijing, Tianjin, Hebei, the Yangtze River Delta and the Pearl River Delta.

Combining smart city expertise

The Dutch approach to smart cities is very much a bottom-up approach. Local initiatives are piloted and together with citizens and companies cities work towards their smart ambitions. Meanwhile in China the approach is very much top down, and local governments are heavily investing and promoting a quick transformation. Both ways of working towards smart cities are very different but when combined may amplify each other.

Designing a truly smart city is about connecting all the pieces of a complicated puzzle. Together, countries can add their pieces to a global puzzle. For instance, while the Dutch have a lot of expertise in the field of smart water management and smart charging, China has a lot of expertise in the field of big data and high tech.

After all, the challenges to which smart cities may be the answer are global. How do we create attractive places to live? How do we make our cities future proof? How do we use big data but protect privacy? By combining expertise of different countries, the smart cities of the future might be closer than we think.

source:  - July 30th, 2018