This post was originally published by me on 2nd August If you should wish to download, a PDF version of this blog post is attached along with.  

Over the last few years there have been hundreds of articles written about “Smart City” and the implementation of Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) to improve quality of life for the city dweller.

My goal here is not reinventing the wheel, rather focus on sustainability of a “Smart City” and some of the principles we could take from other industries to make this work.

First let’s answer, why Smart City, why now?

Is it all about having utopian dream or availability of low-cost sensors and advanced networking technologies? The real answer perhaps none of the above, more precisely the demand for Smart City is driven by massive urban growth. The 21st century will be a century of urbanization, nearly 75% people will live in a city. This leads to another problem — carbon emissionsIntergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCCstudy suggest if we don’t cut carbon emissions in half by 2030 the effect could be devastating! Last but not the least the cost. As cities grow at a rapid pace city council/ municipality budget doesn’t really get that kind of momentum hence they need to look for alternative options (non-traditional) to support growth and serve their citizen.

Clearly even if we have right technology in place we won’t be able to build a Smart City without considering the design of a framework around sustainability.

Here is a high level approach:


The three dimensions of sustainability (economic, environmental and social) are all interconnected. Moving forward a Smart City must fulfill this underlying basic structure. The most important thing to understand here is that the technology is only an enabler (read tools) but not the purpose. The main point of focus is the people.

Fahd Al-Rasheed CEO KAEC (King Abdullah Economic City) has said during his Stanford GSB Global Speaker talk “There are 248,000 cities around the world, and each one of them a “unique product” and competing against each other to grab our attention. So cities need to have a clear strategy.” Series talk. Link:

1. Economic Sustainability

Since the inception of cities, economy is one of the core part of its existence. Even more so, today’s massive urbanization is due to mostly economic reason.Diversity,intelligent infrastructure, job creation, eGov and cities capacity to attract business and investment/capital are some of the main pillars of economic sustainability. However, to build intelligent infrastructure to support rapid economic growth city needs investment, so we face a chicken and egg situation. In this case perhaps the solution lies in designing value byPPP model (Public Private Partnership). For an example a smart traffic and streetlight system, which can talk to connected cars on the move and send real time update back to public is designed to cut down peak hour traffic congestion. Apart from any day to day traffic situation this example has proven its effectiveness in cities with busy ports. At the port it improves efficiency and reduces cost and congestion equal to better environment and less CO2 emissions. Hamburg port case study

Managing traffic is part of larger public infrastructure ITS (Intelligent Transport Systems) which effectively manages movement of people and goods in the city. ITS is a significant investment for any city but this also can be leveraged by adopting open data policy and collaborating with local businesses to introduce incentivized ticketing system or manage connected parking.

Developing Smart City, one cannot undermine the need of BMS (Building Management Systems) which at basic level provides the ability to effectively measure and manage consumer electricity usage to regulate “demand” and “respond”.

Ease of doing business is one of the index that business use to evaluate whether to start an operation in a particular city or a country. A strong eGov policy and infrastructure can be highly beneficial not only for its citizens but also it can be used as a tool to attract FDI (Foreign Direct Investment) to boost business opportunity. Take an example of Estonia a small (1.3 million population) Northern Europe, Baltic country has one of the most advance eGov project. Estonia becomes the first country in the world to open its borders to e-residents, it allows foreign investors to invest in Estonia without doing any physical paperwork. Download World Bank “Ease of doing business” index report, Estonia number 16, next to Germany

City authorities, policy makers need to be more open and creative when it comes to additional value creation from its own infrastructure investment. If we look at recent patent filing by Amazon Drone recharging stations using Smart City streetlights, we can clearly see the opportunity here for city council to generate additional revenue.


Amazon’s drone docking stations future vision. Download Patent file

Similarly, the City of Los Angeles (LA) is collaborating with Philips and Ericsson to deploy SmartPoles, the world’s first connected LED street lighting which includes fully integrated 4G LTE wireless telecommunications technology. This IoT innovation project is designed to provide streets better broadband connectivity to those areas previously not connected and make it future-proof, while generating revenue for the city. Project press release

According to the White House Council of Economic Advisers beside all the other opportunities, every $1 billion in infrastructure investment creates 13,000 jobs.

2. Environmental Sustainability

We all know and agree that climate change is real and it’s happening right now. As U.S. President Barack Obama said in his State of the Union address, January 28, 2014 “The shift to a cleaner energy economy won’t happen overnight, and it will require tough choices along the way. But the debate is settled. Climate change is a fact.” Whitehouse Climate Change Booklet

Good news is, overall we are more environmentally aware but the bad news is, that doesn’t stop impacting on our city life and the way we do business unless we take action. This includes building a sustainable energy plan, moving away from the old school central power grid system. Think for a second the current power grid is more or less based on a design set up back in 1882 by Thomas Edison in the state of New York (lower Manhattan) Pearl Street Station

Data suggest “severe weather is the number one cause of power outages in the United States, costing the economy between $18 and $33 billion every year” source —

Smart City energy plan need to consider developing distributed smart grid that consist of integrated renewable energy with Smart Metering. This will allow near real time understanding of energy consumption (demand) in the city, which results into reduced cost and improved overall response. This will also help direct consumer to tap into their own power supply based on peak hour prices and sell excess to the grid. The best part is this all could be done automatically.

One of the main objectives of environmental sustainability is to reduce our carbon footprint but at the same time gain efficiency in all domains such asenergywaste managementtransportationwater resourcebuildings and network infrastructure etc.

The first public draft of the Operational Implementation Plan by European Commission suggest “Improve clean power for transport: vehicles and infrastructure” action (Strategic Implementation Plan) Make solutions widely available report link

While reducing carbon footprint is no easy job but city planners need to be open to find opportunities elsewhere, like developing renewable energy from city waste.

Taking advantage of newest technology is not the only aspect but definitely one of the crucial steps city authorities need to evaluate while at the beginning of planning stage. Deploying battery or solar powered smart waste bins is one of those latest tech that could be highly effective in this case.

The other aspect of designing sustainability is to calculate risk management based on future potential environmental challenges tied to the geo location of the city. This could have direct impact on the capital flow to finance or reimbursement of city development expenditures. i.e. rise of see water level, earthquake prone area, increase heat wave etc.

3. Social Sustainability

When a large number of people as high as 75% of the population in the near future will live in the city social exclusion and inequalities in some part of the community could lead to a social unrest. To mitigate this issue, city authorities play a key role to ensure provide basic services to all its citizen. This might require strategic planning for service pricing based on social structure. City planner could take advantage of smart technologies to reduce operational cost at the same time improve service quality, again great example to use eID (Electronic Identification) to consolidate all the public/ municipal services such as filing federal tax return, federal registration (any kind), access of public transport, special care support for elderly and young citizen and public infrastructure like library, public parking, swimming pool, sport facilities etc.

To maintain social integrity Smart City needs special attention for affordable public healthcare for all its citizen, this is one area latest technologies could make lasting difference on public spending and improving service quality. Think about how much time one has to spend just to file standard paperwork for each and every department of any public hospital before even receiving any health care, these could be streamline. As most of the European cities population is fast aging “patient remote monitoring” could be the next infrastructure requirement Smart City planners will need to focus on. Advancement of Wearables technologies coupled with high speed wireless data network has the potential to change the face of healthcare of tomorrow without being burden on public spending. Wearables healthcare success story case study

As we see the increase of urbanization the numbers of young farmers in the EU States are reported to be in decline, and so as the share of agricultural land farmed by young people. In this scenario to meet the demand of tomorrow food security and reduce food miles Smart Cities need be prepared for future urban agriculture. “As a response to growing food demand, urbanization and the need for new productive soils, vertical farming is expected to be mainstream and financially viable in 2027” according to report published by Organic Food & Farming in Europe. Vision 2030


The purpose of Smart City development is not only limited to advanced infrastructure or better amenities but rather to focus on its smart people and their aspiration for growth, entrepreneurship and urge to do better for tomorrow. The success of any Smart City depends on developing the right environment for smart solutions to be effectively communicated with its citizens, and eventually adopted and be used.

City developers need to take into account at the beginning of planning stage all relevant stakeholders are involved and ensure that new changes are being understood and accepted.

As every new technology driven application Smart Cities have its share of pitfall. The concept of Gamification at design level could help overcome those challenges. Gamification is a game design technique to trigger or evoke engagement with a product or services by creating incremental positive value. For example, to promote Smart Meter adaptation among local businesses city authority could set up a “smart energy saving challenge” program with clear defined target and upon achieving the goal business will be rewarded with the tax benefit. Here is link to a published paper “Using Gamification to Incentivize Sustainable Urban Mobility” developed within the STREETLIFE EU Project

Few notes to consider beforehand:

1. If this is an existing City looking to upgrade to Smart City are those expected objectives and planned changes matching with real behavior of the city stakeholders?

2. Upon completion of a project what are the added surcharge citizens have to pay? Are they the right target group, can they afford it?

3. Smart City projects heavily depend on data driven decision making processes and this is often misunderstood by the common citizen, are there any plans to develop Open Data Policy to increase transparency?

4. Smart City is an evolving, efficient, sustainable and livable system which needs continuous adaptation with time and changing environment. It should only be carried out step-by-step adoption of incremental improvements much like a developing a startup product idea with clear strategic long term vision backed by short term achievable target.

5. The main technology underpinning of smart city readiness is its telecommunications network infrastructure as well as efficient energy management. What are the steps taken to ensure right partners are onboard to future proof the investment?

Lastly as Bill Gates predict “Technology will build a better, safer, healthier world by 2030” There is no fun while stuck into an old system trying to serve the current market and hoping to be leader in the future business. As they sayRome wasn’t built in a day so be patient, be wise but act now.