Which cities are really smartest?

What makes a city smart? How you define a ‘smart city’ is somewhat subjective, but any definition is likely to include connected information technology that keeps a city operating safely, efficiently and at reduced costs. Equally, modern, digital lighting is sure to play a key role.

Many in the lighting industry believe that lighting networks will form the backbone of smart cities, partly because the infrastructure is already in place, partly because of the convergence of electrical and information technologies"

In fact a growing number of people in the lighting industry believe that lighting networks will form the backbone of these emerging smart cities, partly because the infrastructure is already in place, partly because of the convergence of electrical and information technologies. UK market research firm Juniper identified Barcelona, New York, London, Nice and Singapore as the five leading cities in this field, following an analysis of each city’s ‘smart’ capabilities, although Eindhoven, Manchester and Stavanger, plus several other cities, would have good cause to believe they should be on that shortlist.

Smart grids
The Juniper rankings emphasised the role of smart electricity grids, which the company believes will save cities $10.7 billion annually by 2019, although it also warned against cyber-attacks on smart grids and the same concerns could apply to smart lighting systems, which could open network security threats to users.

EU money has helped finance a number of European pilots, with perhaps the best known in the Dutch city of Eindhoven, which just over a year ago became the latest to introduce a city lighting system that is both more sustainable and provides new services. 

‘We want to make Eindhoven as comfortable as possible for every resident,’ says the city’s lighting project manager Rik van Stiphout. ‘We’re still investing in regular lighting as well, but our new LED lighting system can be controlled by computers, which means that each streetlight can be controlled individually.’

Although initially tasked with the development of a city light policy, van Stiphout was eager to replace it with a lighting vision, which would go beyond the technical aspects of what kind of light is to be used where and instead focus on the effects that light should have on the city environment. The role of people and businesses was particularly important in this vision. Creating a strong identity, presenting the city as a place residents can be proud of, that is future-oriented and creative, was also key.

Practical examples include more intelligent applications of lighting. European and American cities are often quite empty after 10pm, yet providing light to those on them remains essential for security. Both in Eindhoven’s initiative and in a number of the cities piloting schemes, the streetlights provide a small glow to empty streets, giving residents the feeling that the street is fully illuminated, while in reality the lights only turn on fully as a person approaches.

Remote control
Eindhoven’s first batch of computer-controlled, coloured LED lights also mean that the street lanterns can be adapted to fit the weather, even flashing red to warn residents of approaching storms or floods. But they can also be remotely adjusted wirelessly, down to areas as small as a street or a corner of a city square in order to provide a particular ambience to that area. Eindhoven has even installed illuminated pedestrian crossings, where sensor-equipped white stripes illuminate to tell pedestrians it’s safe to cross. 
To make the projects worthwhile, cities should consider technology implementation at the beginning of projects and think about technology from both a qualitative and commercial point of view, according to Cisco, which has been working on many of the projects. Global managing director Caspar Herzberg says that the mantra of ‘smart and connected’ has moved to ‘internet of everything’ and that masterplanning should recognise the opportunities that technology can provide.

‘I don’t think that the value of technology asset management is being fully realised,’ says Herzberg. ‘With huge increases in the numbers of mobile devices, there is a tremendous chance to bring new services to the built environment, to save money through green buildings and also to commercialise services. The potential runs into trillions of dollars.’

Herzberg says that innovation is being pioneered geographically rather than by particular sectors. He cites the Chicago Lakeside development, Saudi Arabia’s Economic Cities and developments in Dubai and Qatar among those which best highlight the opportunities and the advantages of planning.

‘We have worked with the Dutch city of Eindhoven and it is heartening to see investment in technology infrastructure coming back into Europe,’ he says. ‘Technology can be used to master the challenge of global urbanisation, from traffic management to water management, plus all the services that can be offered to people, and if it is included at the outset it can be optimised.’

There is a tremendous chance to bring new services to the built environment, to save money through green buildings and also to commercialise services. The potential runs into trillions of dollars” 

Caspar Herzberg, global managing director, Cisco

Lighting lab
Beyond Eindhoven, in Albertslund, a suburb of Copenhagen, 25 companies are participating in the Danish Outdoor Lighting Lab, a demonstration project to test and show about 50 different networked street lighting systems. The project, organised by the not-for-profit Gate 21 in collaboration with the Technical University of Denmark and the city of Albertslund, has installed arrays of lights along the streets and bike paths that technicians can control and monitor.

‘We are moving from a stand-alone, very simple technology to a network where you have all the different things talking to each other,’ says Kim Brostrom, the chief technology officer of the project. ‘In the city centre, traffic officials are testing a number of approaches, including one aimed at keeping lorries from making stops as they travel the major roads, which would save on fuel.’

Meanwhile, in Norway, Stavanger City Council, Rogaland County Council, the University of Stavanger and energy supplier Lyse are bidding for EU innovation funding. One hundred homes and two businesses with smart gateways and automatic power meters will be included in the project. This creates a unique demonstration area where people live, move and work, says Dagfinn Wåge, head of innovation and R&D in Lyse.

The project partners in Stavanger will cooperate with similar groups in Eindhoven and Manchester. In addition to the three designated beacon cities, Leipzig, Prague and Sabadell will be follower cities, where various solutions will be transferred and tested.
From there, the hope is that models will begin to be created that enable other cities to learn from the pilots and fast-track their own enabling platforms, shining a fresh light on the modern urban world.