Cities of the Future

Local governments around the world are starting to recognize the need to implement smart technologies in their infrastructure. Thanks to IT solutions we can not only improve the quality of people’s lives but also cut down the amount of funds spent in such areas. ITMO University has become a part of a new committee for implementing a “Smart City” in St. Petersburg. Experts from the university and the city’s government explained the possibilities and issues associated with smart technologies in the context of the Institute of Design and Urban Studies Open Day and presentation of the new program “Urban Informatics”.

It’s impossible to implement smart city technologies without the necessary knowledge about processes within a city, for example the transportation system, how crowds move around the city, their requirements and social infrastructure, weather conditions and many other aspects of life in an urban city.

“Nearly 50% of the world’s population live in cities. So it's important to make a city attractive, since in the future these cities will be competing with one another for human resources” - explains Arina Sender, the curriculum coordinator at the Institute of Design and Urban Studies at ITMO University.

Some countries have already made plans for constructing new smart cities. For example, India plans to build 100 smart cities. The UAE already has Masdar city which is a planned city project in Abu Dhabi. The city relies on solar energy and other renewable energy sources but is at a standstill in development as there are not enough funds to complete it. In South Korea, the semi-populated smart city of Songdo includes a system that regulates the traffic lights based on traffic and illuminates the sidewalks based on the number of pedestrians. However, due to the heavy reliance on the digital world, some people are being left behind, because there is no longer a possibility for them to buy train tickets in person, and they can’t get online.

This presents a new set of issues which urban designers must be aware of. Firstly, smart technology is created for people, secondly, implementing IT solutions requires comprehensive education for citizens. But this requires that the population takes responsibility and has a desire to better their environment. Smart cities imply minimizing administrative instruments necessary for interactions between citizens and the government. Over the last ten years, various systems that simplify these interactions are being implemented in St. Petersburg. Online forms for registry offices are already being used effectively.

Although many administrative affairs can be made simpler by automating them, there are still “many people who prefer the old method of standing in queues, rather than arranging their services in ten minutes at home in front of the computer. Some people are afraid that it might not work or that their documents will not make it to the right place without the right stamp.” explains Dmitry Kucherenko, specialist for the Committee on IT and communications in St. Petersburg.

Smart city technologies are impossible without computer simulations of various processes in the city. The Urban informatics laboratory at ITMO U is learning about this. Computer simulation allows for both tracing back to the causes of past events, as well as predicting situations which have not yet occurred. Of course, it’s impossible to collect data about every citizen to make a complete model. As such, this work is interdisciplinary, and requires a team of both programmers and sociologists.

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