The IoT (Internet of Things)

What is a Smart City?

A ‘Smart City’ is one that uses modern technology to reduce waste, pollution, and cost while improving energy efficiency, transportation, air quality, governance and quality of life. Smart Cities can be designated as such due to their efforts in one or more of these categories. Perhaps a city is retrofitting its power grid with smart grid technology or deploying sensors and streaming analytics to combat pollution. As urban populations grow, it is becoming imperative that cities leverage today's technology to maintain the health and safety of their citizens, as well as ensuring that the resources and infrastructure are in place to support future populations. Targeting the efficiency of our cities and making them ‘smart’ has become a global effort and is increasingly critical to the planet's well-being.

A means of measuring how our cities are performing and having a deeper understanding of our cities' needs and capabilities is critical for the resource use and planning being conducted by city planners, environmentalists, citizens, private companies and governmental organizations at various levels.

Measuring Smart Cities

There are many variations on measuring smart cities, but measuring smart cities often has many pitfalls. Efforts often focus solely on the environmental aspects of smart cities and fail to include socioeconomic perspectives. They also will include qualitative analysis which is time consuming and expensive to assemble. Some efforts require expansive datasets that are only available every decade or so, or require years of effort to assemble into meaningful information. The European Union HORIZON 2020 program started its CitiKeys initiative in February 2015, with the aim of developing and validating key performance indicators for measuring smart cities, including a ‘Smart City Index’ (HORIZON 2020, 2016). But no data is currently available from their website for any cities that have participated. The United States Environmental Protection Agency came up with the most comprehensive data analysis in determining its EQI (‘Environmental Quality Index’) (Lobdell, Jagai, Rappazzo, & Messer, 2011). The agency compiled information from 187 data sources to assemble the EQI for all counties in the United States for the 2000-2005 period (United States Environmental Protection Agency, 2014). The Environmental Quality Index was created with two main purposes in mind. First to be an indicator of conditions and environmental exposure in health modelling, as a covariate in environmental models and to indicate unhealthy geographies (United States Environmental Protection Agency, 2014). While the research is impressive in every aspect, the dataset had two concerns. First was the age of the dataset which is more than 10 years old. The second is reproducibility. If the efforts of this research were to be replicated in order to compare changes in Smart Cities over a 5-year period, a data set that is updated only every 10-15 years is not suitable.

ISO 31720

The International Standards Organization recognized the importance of a standardized method by which cities could be measured. In May 15, 2014 the International Standards Organization released ISO 31720 the Sustainable Development of Communities — Indicators for City Services and Quality of Life (Standardization, 2014). The intent of the ISO 31720 committee was to create a standardized, consistent set of indicators that could be comparable over time. The indictors cover a broad set of factors under the following categories: Economy, Education, Energy, Environment, Finance, Fire and Emergency Response, Governance, Health, Recreation, Safety, Shelter, Solid Waste, Telecommunication and Innovation, Transportation, Urban Planning, Waste Water, Water and Sanitation. City performance relative to each of these themes is measured by a number of indicators, which collectively tell a “story”. 115 indicators have been developed in the specification which attempt to account for differences in resources and capabilities between developed and developing cities. There are 115 indicators which have been divided into 31 “core” indicators, which all cities must report on, and 43 “supporting” indicators. Supporting indicators are not mandatory but are encouraged to be reported. 41 "profile" indicators are used to group cities of interest that are similar. These indicators are intended to track a city’s performance and ultimately result in data that could be used for investment decisions, city planning, measuring performance of city services and promoting the sharing of best practices.

A literature review produces limited information on any cities that have adopted the standard. Only one entity appears to have any meaningful set of data. The Global Cities Institute (GCI) (Global Cities Institute, 2016) based at the University of Toronto, have collected ISO 37120 indicators for 255 cities worldwide, 6 of the cities are in the United States. They have also put together the World Council on City Data (WCCD) and the Global Cities Registry™ (World Council on City Data, 2016a). Their goal is to provide a ‘consistent and comprehensive platform’ for the standardization of urban metrics. The work done by the ISO TC268 Working Group (Standardization, 2014), the group responsible for ISO 37120 is thorough and highly valuable. But it may be that the reporting is more time consuming and expensive than anticipated. Looking at the list of cities published on the WCCD website (World Council on City Data, 2016b), we see that the data for Barcelona is from 2014. There are no entries for 2015 or 2016 for Barcelona. Filtering by year, we see 19 cities for 2014, 16 for 2015, and only 2 to date for 2016? The number of participants appears to be decreasing year over year. Authors of the ISO 31720 specification indicated that they designed it with the intent of making the reporting “as simple and inexpensive as possible” (Standardization, 2014). If this is the case, then why have so few been included at GCI? In 1997, the World Forum on Smart Cities suggested that around 50,000 cities and towns would develop smart initiatives over the next 10 years (Hollands, 2008), they will all need meaningful data to effectively execute their plans. It appears that the ISO 37120 is not gaining adoption, quite possibly due to the difficulty in determining the indicator values. Indicator results can be time consuming and expensive to acquire, especially for the qualitative indicators. Another reason a city may be slow to adopt is that if a city believes it will not produce good indicator values, or places no value in the results in general, then the information simply won’t be generated.

The following table summarizes the categories represented in the ISO 31720 Specification.

ISO 37120 Categories
Fire and Emergency Response
Solid Waste
Urban Planning
Waste Water
Water and Sanitation

As our population grows the amount of CO2 increases, we need to find ways of curbing our emissions. Cities are one of the single largest sources of CO2 emissions, and also have the responsibility of providing a healthy productive environment to its growing number of citizens. Any improvements that can be made in the efficiency of a city with respect to its use of water and energy, pollution output, safety and governance makes the city smarter and moves it closer to sustainability.