Technological advancements have paved the way for smart cities and the term has become quite the buzzword. Smart home technologies have entered the residential space and are also carving out a place in entire municipalities worldwide.
A smart city leverages advanced technology, such as 5G, the Internet of Things (IoT) and intelligent traffic management systems to increase operational efficiencies and improve citizens’ quality of life. Smart cities are the way of the future and will overcome some of the common challenges being faced today.
One major issue often overlooked before the COVID-19 pandemic was air quality declines. It’s possible that building up smart cities can make significant strides here.
Cities such as Glasgow, Oakland, Beijing, Hamburg and Manchester have all implemented various technologies and methods of collecting data regarding air quality.
For example, a smog-free tower in Beijing uses only 1,170 watts of energy to clean 30,000 cubic meters of air per hour.
Google cars embedded with sensors capture data to map air pollution in different city regions in Oakland, California. The mapping exercise found that pollution levels varied between and even within various neighborhoods. It was also found that residents near industrial operations or high-traffic areas were breathing in seven times the amount of toxins as neighbors who only lived one block away.
No matter what technologies cities leverage to monitor air quality, they are more inclined to learn about air quality and harness big data to serve as a foundation for better decision-making and policies.
Technology continues to advance and smart cities can implement technologies to capture high-quality data about air pollution levels. Before a city can take steps to mitigate these issues, it first needs to gather data from strategically chosen locations.
Generally, air quality sensors have become smaller, affordable and more automated than before. IoT sensors are widely used in various industries, such as manufacturing, aviation, shipping and logistics.
It makes sense for smart cities to invest in IoT sensors because they can be mounted to existing buildings and infrastructure and communicate with each other seamlessly. They can also communicate pollutant levels with each other in a given area, allowing city leaders to draw conclusions from that data and identify polluted hotspots.
Consider how even basic smart home technologies are being developed. Even the average consumer can buy wearables with sensors to monitor the air quality around them to decide if they want to stay in that area and take on the risks or go elsewhere.
Another smart city feature that can help improve air quality in a city is the implementation of green public transportation. Greener transportation solutions can cut back on emissions, making the air quality better and benefiting the environment.
One challenge a smart city might face when monitoring air quality or taking on an improvement initiative is figuring out these sensors’ return on investment (ROI). How can cities justify the cost?
A possible solution for this challenge is to quantify the macroeconomic gains of improving air quality. For example, people in smart cities with better air quality may miss fewer workdays because they do not deal with respiratory problems like asthma or emphysema.
Additionally, the more data these sensors gather, the more accurate their air quality monitoring projects will be. Cities may even be able to license this information and gain a financial return on their initial investments.
Another potential challenge a smart city may have to overcome is buy-in from local and state governments. Some leaders may not be interested or willing to support air quality improvement projects or shell out resources to pay for them.
There’s no one solution to guarantee buy-in from city leaders and government officials, but it’s worth outlining the benefits of improved air quality — especially the economic benefits. Cleaner air may even bolster the tourism industry and keep citizens working during the week.
It’s understood that millennials and Gen-Zers are active in the fight against climate change, based on Pew Research Center data. Suppose cities want to keep tourists coming to visit. In that case, they may need to implement air quality improvements to support the tourism and hospitality industries.
It’s expected that most of the world’s population will reside in urban cities in the coming years. Because of this anticipated increase, it’s critical for cities to become smarter and use the latest, innovative technologies to improve air quality. It’ll be interesting to see if smart cities will lead to global air pollution declines in the future.