Open Data powering smart cities posted on Fri, January 18 2013 in Analytics, Big Data, Data Scientists

Cities of today are true magnets, attracting people from all around with their exciting opportunities. While in 1950 a ‘mere’ 29.1% of the world population lived in cities, this figure jumped to 50.6 % in 2010 and it is predicted to evolve to 64.7% by 2040. The numbers are simply staggering, especially when we realize that urban areas occupy a mere 2% of the world’s surface.

No wonder that cities are groaning under the weight of their fast but steady expansion. Their streets are clogging up with congestion, their inhabitants consume electricity faster than utilities can produce it, crime is increasingly difficult to control, people are dissatisfied with civil services, etc. According to MIT, our cities consume no less than 70% of the world’s energy. They are responsible for 80% of the world’s CO2 emissions and represent the prime source of other air- and waterborne pollutants.

Local governments are in great need of scalable and innovative solutions that can grow as quickly as their cities and their challenges and change as fast as their citizens and their environment. Because building new roads or power plants is, by definition, not the (only) right answer. Fast-evolving problems cannot be solved with solutions that will be out of date - or too small scale - by the time they are finished. Besides, such infrastructure-centric approaches are hardly helping the environment.

But there’s more. The fast-evolving mobility of the global population forces cities to compete for citizens and enterprises, much as businesses contend for customers. And it is neither a light nor easy task to please these little ‘tyrants’. Not only are they highly informed, critical and networked, they want permanently relevant information, dialogue and they want to be involved. They are full of ideas about how the city can be improved and they expect their local governments to listen to them. They demand to be empowered with the right tools so they can foster improvement of their habitat. If not, they will ‘shop around’ for another government, or worse still, another city.

But there is hope on the horizon, and lots of it. All the inhabitants - with all their phones, cars, social network accounts, houses, offices, energy consumption, etc. - that demand so much from our cities, leave ‘Big’ traces everywhere. ‘Big Data’, you see, is to be had on every corner of our streets: from smart meters, RFID tags, healthcare providers, street security cameras, Foursquare, public transportation organizations, smart phones, research centers, logistics companies, sensor networks, in-car devices, etc. And where there is so much data, there are patterns to be found and predictive insights to be gathered.

Enter the Smart City: the IT-savvy city that works with what it has, and makes it better, faster and more efficient. It is the intelligent metropolis that knows how to leverage the enormous treasure of Big Data at hand into actionable insights with smart technology. It is the smart town that does not need more power plants, but which uses smart grids and smart meters instead for better energy management.

Smart cities do not only drive change, they enable change, by empowering their citizens with proper information. They gather and offer data. They are all about collaboration, sharing and transparency. Smart Cities need true openness of data. It is not simply a case of governments opening up their data to everyone on public platforms. It is individual citizens and privately-owned companies offering their data to the government or government departments sharing their data with one another. That is the true meaning of ‘Open Data’, which goes beyond the traditional definitions of availability on open platforms.

Smart cities will survive their brisk expansion and even succeed in turning it into an asset. These intelligent towns will focus on using existing resources and infrastructure, only better, faster and more effectually. They are the ones that will leverage all the Big Data information and the technologies at hand into advanced analytics, breakthrough solutions and Open Data platforms. Smart cities that use Big Data are neither about intuition nor about looking back and analyzing what went wrong and could be better. Smart cities don’t guess. They are sure. They spot patterns. They look forward. They predict potential crisis situations. They spot what could be better and make it better. They make smart decisions, based on facts.

An increasing number of cities are indeed leveraging Open and Big Data for the benefit of their citizens and the environment, as we speak. The city of Oslo, Norway, for instance, reduced street lighting energy consumption by 62% with a smart solution. Since the Memphis Police Department started using predictive software in 2006, it has been able to reduce serious crime by 30 %. The city of Portland, Oregon, used technology to optimize the timing of its traffic signals and was able to eliminate more than 157,000 metric tonnes of CO2 emissions in just six years – the equivalent of removing 30,000 passenger vehicles from the road for an entire year. The smart city project of the city of Rivas Vaciamadrid in Spain – Ecopolis –  has realized energy savings of 35% and a 50% reduction in ICT spending through a winning combination of smart  grid and energy management, access control, air quality monitoring, traffic management, IPTV, etc. And those are just a few of the most spectacular examples.

If you want to know more about the topic, read Greenplum’s in-depth booklet ‘Open Data Power Smart Cities‘.

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