Future Cities = Challenges & Opportunities

For a number of years there has been a well-known shift in the population base from rural sectors to urban, more specifically cities. Many analysts also predict this trend to continue, with some statistics suggesting most of the population will live in cities in the future.

This brings with it interesting challenges, as well as exciting opportunities. Many of the fundamental reasons why citizens are moving to the cities are associated with increased services and opportunities.

Whether its access to better healthcare, education, job opportunities or simply visit as a tourist to spend a short time enjoying a well-earned break, cities need to cater accordingly.

Many cities already actively compete for the approval of their constituents, to ensure economic and social prosperity, but many also compete with other cities for status. Mayors work hard to build vibrancy and ensure opportunities exist in their community and are increasingly held accountable; even more so than their National Government elected officials. Mayors are often much closer to their constituents, giving them a unique opportunity to hear their demands and, due to the size of their community, make significant changes and realise benefits more rapidly.

During my travels throughout Asia, I have not met a mayor that wasn’t interested in having a “dashboard” that could provide a whole city view, measure its pulse and understand where things are and/or aren’t working at any given time. Yet, this desire is seldom met.

The advent and emphasis on the “Internet of Things (IoT)” provides a huge opportunity to measure and evaluate, be pro-active in decision making and finally realise the vision of a dashboard view of the business.

Many cities are already monitoring and collecting data on weather, water levels, transport networks, population movement, environmental impact and energy usage, with some measuring less tangible aspects such as city health, the benefits of innovation programs and economic standing.

Data management and analysis however, is where many cities struggle. SRA Information Technology has coordinated the collection, analysis and reporting of data from an environmental perspective for more than 20 years.

That, and the dream of an “interconnected city” inspired SRA to participate in the Future Cities Asia Summit in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia and to sponsor the “Environment & Energy Track”. SRA saw this as a great opportunity to stimulate debate and bring together industry thought leaders with senior city and provincial government officials.

There were 150 attendees representing Asian City, Provincial and some National Government Agencies, along with academia from key Universities and “think-tanks” and donor organisations. The Future Cities Asia Summit covered topics ranging from Environment and Energy, and Communications through to Water Usage, Transportation and other associated themes.

The summit vindicated SRA’s strategy on internet connected, IoT based solutions. Our ability to build and deliver on this strategy will facilitate the realisation of the “Mayor’s Dashboard” very soon.

SRA has extensive experience managing the business benefits of monitoring environmental sensors. Whether it be reducing carbon emissions, managing waste, effective land planning, flora and fauna impact, or compliance and remediation, SRA has developed solutions to support these strategies.

There is now an opportunity to take this further. Typically, we have monitored point solutions, but the real strength and opportunity of the IoT is the bringing together and aggregation of data from multiple disparate sources; and being able to analyse trends, predict outcomes and take action.

For instance, imagine the benefits of replacing cameras monitoring waterways (visual monitoring of flood levels) with sensors that provide water level, water quality and pollutant level, cross referenced with transport, demographic and weather data. It would deliver insight into: the susceptibility of the population of an area to disease as water levels rise; accessibility for emergency services; and relief options. Overlaid in a spatial dashboard, it could provide city officials and planners with a single view. It could also be used to provide citizens themselves with vital information.

These and other aspects were all common debates during the Future Cities Asia Summit, and whilst there are some that are well on their way to driving this, the opportunity exists for many cities to benefit significantly from the work to date, and potentially “leap-frog” several steps in the roadmap.

What is the opportunity for your city?

Learn more about SRA’s environmental data management system – EnviroSys.