After a decade of trial and error, it was time to take stock. And that has been done now with the voluminous McKinsey Global Institute expert report. The verdict: smart cities improve daily life. The proof in 50 cities.
Whether it be transport, housing, energy, health, security or the quality of links between people and the authorities, the contribution of digital technologies is improving the lives of urban dwellers. This is the result, after ten years of research, of the report “Smart Cities: digital solution for a more livable future” published by the McKinsey Global Institute. Or 152 pages of high-level expertise to know whether or not smart cities can keep their promises.
The study, which covers 50 international cities, looks at how cities around the world are using technology to improve quality of life, including health, safety, mobility, economic development and housing. According to McKinsey, three factors come into play to qualify a smart city. First comes the technology, which includes a critical mass of smartphones and sensors connected to high-speed communications networks. The second factor consists of specific applications, such as the translation of raw data into alerts, which solve the problems of urban dwellers, intelligently linking the data of the city and the needs of its inhabitants. The third layer, finally, has nothing technological: it is the “social oil” in the digital machinery – support of the authorities, adaptability of the legislators and involvement of the private sector to ensure a high level of use of the second layer.
Reducing the impact of disease
To understand the real effect of smart cities on the lives of their residents, McKinsey has systematically sought to measure the extent and quality of these three layers. The result? McKinsey’s experts claim that, on average, smart cities can reduce the number of accidents by 8-10%, speed up the response of emergency services by 20-35%, reduce travel time by 15-20%, reduce the impact of diseases on the economy by 8-15%, reduce the number of crimes by 30%, or reduce the level of greenhouse gas emissions by 10-15%. In general, 70% of the Sustainable Development Goals set by the United Nations could benefit from the positive influence of smart cities.
But the McKinsey Global Institute experts are clear: success also depends on the cities’ ability to adapt old buildings and existing infrastructure to the needs of its connected inhabitants. Experts cite Seoul, which has re-allocated many lanes to pedestrians and cyclists only and put in place a regulation strictly limiting the number of car parks in new residential areas. Another example: in Singapore, the Building and Construction Authority has opened an online portal that continuously measures the energy use of 30 buildings. Machine learning algorithms analyse this data to alert managers of possible waste and propose corrective actions. In other cities, buildings are connected in “micro-grids” of energy, which are more resilient, less greedy. Finally,
NEOM, an urban ecosystem emerging from the desert in Saudi Arabia, whose highly automated buildings will draw their energy needs from solar and wind energy. The intelligence of the cities, to improve the lives of the inhabitants, begins with its built.