How Big Data Shapes Smart Cities

How Big Data Shapes Smart Cities

Smart cities rely on big data. It's the driver behind all existing smart city initiatives and the hidden key to creating new ones.

Big data allows cities to alter urban life in ways which benefit both the city's residents and the environment. The data which flows into the smart city system undergoes extensive analysis to pick out trends and patterns. And once these have been established, steps can be taken to create initiatives which address the issues which have been identified.

This enables smart cities to innovate with an eye to the future (for example, by launching sustainable environmental initiatives) while still focusing on improving life for their residents in the present moment.

But where do smart cities get their data? How do they manage such large quantities of data? And how does this data shape them?

Where does the data come from?

Data flows into every smart city system from a variety of sources:

Sensors are a key way that the system collects data. These sensors could be monitoring air pollution, noise levels or even something as simple as whether a parking space is occupied or not.

Cameras are another way the system receives data - they're used for monitoring things like traffic levels and crime incidents.

Smartphones and IoT devices also provide the city with data. This data can be generated from the use of mobile applications, numbers and locations of phone calls across the city, and other activities.

Existing data is also used by the system. Insights like the number of residents who've reached the age of retirement or how homeowners typically use electricity can all be valuable.

As you might expect, these sources all generate vast amounts of data on a daily basis!

How is the data managed?

The data generated needs to be managed in two ways...

1) It has to be stored securely. This is vital, as it allows the smart city to maintain the safety and privacy of its citizens. NB. Each smart city also needs to have data privacy policy, to allow citizens to retain control of their data.

2) The data also has to be analyzed, to pick out trends of interest. This allows the folks who manage the city to use the data effectively - raw data on traffic flow is less useful than data which has been analyzed to pick out exactly when peak traffic hours occur.

Once the data has been analyzed, the information can be used to solve problems and create initiatives.

How does big data shape the city?

Through the initiatives, the city creates based on the data it collects, big data is able to alter the city's use of resources and improve the quality of life for its residents.

City's use of resources:

The right data allows a city to develop strategies to manage its resources more efficiently.

One example is the smart park watering system in Barcelona, which allows the city to water its parks more efficiently. Soil moisture sensors measure the humidity and water content at strategic points in the park. Based on the data generated by these sensors, the electronic sensors which control water flow are automatically opened and closed. As a result, the park is irrigated in a way which takes into account current weather conditions. And consequently, the city has been able to reduce its municipal water bill by 25%.

Another example is the intelligent street lighting in Chicago. These smart street lights use energy-saving LEDs and intelligent controls. So they can be brightened or dimmed automatically, according to the weather and ambient light conditions in the area. This reduces the city's energy costs, maintenance costs, and carbon emissions.

Residents' quality of life:

Data, when used correctly, has the potential to make life vastly easier for the citizens of a smart city.

Oslo's smart parking system is a good example. The city has installed a network of sensors which monitor whether parking spaces are empty or occupied - so residents can be directed to straight to empty spaces. This minimizes traffic from cars “cruising” to find parking spaces. And it makes daily life easier for many commuters!

Singapore's use of data to help citizens reduce energy wastage in their homes is another good example. Using sensors and smart applications, residents gain information and feedback about their energy usage. This allows them to alter their behaviour so that they waste less water, electricity etc and save money on their energy bills.


Have you seen big data having an impact on your own city? Let us know in the comments below.