Smart City

Is your smart city a resilient city?

Oct. 5, 2016
The nexus of information and communications technology (ICT), data and the built environment, at the city scale, has seen the development of programmes, largely by technology companies, under the banner "Smart Cities."

I'm a huge fan of technology, especially when applied to addressing environmental and social problems. Smart cities are one of the things that get my geeky propeller spinning. The ability for technology to help manage energy demands, transport flows, food, water, emergency services and waste, for the overall benefit of the many is a cool thing to be doing.

A (sort of) tech bubble

I do, however, have one major problem with this whole approach, and I guess it is something that the tech industry (and me, as one of its members) has been guilty of for some years now.

The vast majority that I'm aware of, with maybe one large scale exception, (check out what Steve Lewis is doing at and some smaller domain specific examples (like for waste), approach the solution from the perspective of a brand new deployment, failing to take into account the need to retrofit themselves to existing, large, complex and often timeworn physical structures. Maybe it is the need for the IT industry always to refresh to the latest, smallest, fastest iteration technology?

Also, the focus is on improving operational performance, which is not a bad thing, however; no mention is made of coping with, adapting to, or dealing with the impacts of extreme weather events, or natural hazards, brought about through a changing climate. 

Without assessing and planning for these environmental considerations using robust environmental and natural hazard risk data and cat modelling techniques, the impact on a data network reliant “smart city” could be a catastrophe in the making.

The rise and risks of urbanisation 

Today half of the world's population lives in cities, a number expected to increase to 70% by 2050. Combining this dramatic increasing urbanisation, with climate change and globalisation creates greater stresses on urban infrastructure, further intensified by rising sea levels, air pollution and flooding.

Swiss Re compiled data from more than 600 of the world's largest municipal areas, almost 400 million city residents are in danger of coastal and river flooding. 

The earthquake that struck Japan in 2011 and resulting tsunami that hit Fukushima, Hurricane Sandy in 2012, and more recently Hurricane Matthew in 2016 and further earthquakes in Italy and New Zealand, also in 2016 highlight that no city is safe from natural disasters. None of these traumas could have been prevented, but how we deal with the consequences and develop better adaptation and resilience is within our control. 

Data IS part of the city

Smart cities provide the basic ICT "plumbing and wiring" with the associated analytics, self-learning and machine to machine communications, collectively often called the Internet of Things or IoT for short, to unite islands of data, into a coherent and manageable whole.

Adding environmental and natural hazard risk data into the smart city mix, with associated leadership and strategy, as part of an overall framework would add some much-needed context and reality to this brave new technical world.

Carbon as well as silicon

Cities, smart ones, and dumb ones contain lots of carbon based lifeforms, called people. If a catastrophe does strike, and a smart city’s “smarts” are wiped out overnight, who will be most affected? Using the hazard data appropriately it becomes easier to understand who will be most impacted by catastrophic weather and natural hazard related events. Small scale, community-based programmes can be implemented to improve social cohesion to help them recover more quickly and completely.

Collaboration between the communities and beyond, to include business, local government, academia, engineers, planners, infrastructure providers and NGO's will help integrate adaptation and resilience into the smart city fabric.

Learn more

If you are involved in city resilience initiatives Oasis HUB can greatly assist you to:

 save time, finding and identifying high-quality data.

collaborate with leaders in the field to determine and close data gaps.

identify new market opportunities.

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