Did you know that currently, around 56% of the world’s population lives in the cities? The UN estimates that this number is going to get even greater by 2050 when 68% of the world’s population is projected to live in urban areas. This is 2.5 billion more people than the current figure. The rapid urbanisation translates into mounting environmental pressures for cities, such as rising greenhouse gas emissions, increased water usage, extreme weather events, or higher demand for healthcare and resources.

There is an immense need for solutions to tackle climate and population-related issues, and this is where data and technology come into play. What role does technology play in making our cities smart and sustainable? Read on to find out.

Challenges ahead

Climate change and rising temperatures pose a threat to all humankind, but particularly those living in urban areas. The consequences of progressive global warming will have a large impact on our cities:

Extreme weather conditions are not the only challenge cities will face. As the urban population grows, so does the demand for nurseries, schools, healthcare services and even waste disposal – not to mention the widening inequality gap in a race to access resources.

Parks and green spaces are also under threat, as many are being taken over by new residential and commercial developments. This result in natural habitats being destroyed, which is only making things worse.

Technology in action

Even though cities are the most significant climate change contributor, they are also the ones that can turn it around. Technology plays an important role in our lives, but for the cities, so far it resides in the background. This is now changing with technology being at the heart of sustainable developments.

Advanced traffic management

Traffic congestion is one of the main contributors to air pollution in cities. This is very apparent in places such as Beijing, where pollution from motorized vehicles contributes to nearly 70% of the city’s air pollution. As cities try to tackle this issue, Navigant Research estimates that the global market for advanced traffic management will be worth more than $1.1 billion in 2019, with some developments including adjusting the traffic signals in real-time or the use of historical data to predict the traffic and avoid congestion.

Smart waste management

With a growing population, it is difficult to keep up with the increasingly large amounts of waste. Smart waste management means anything from planning routes that are more efficient for bin collectors, to chips collecting data on how and when the bin is full. How would this work in practice? When a bin is full, it can be automatically added to the waste collectors’ route making it more efficient by only collecting bins that need emptying, and avoiding overflowing.

Smart and sustainable development opportunities are endless. A wealth of data, interconnected devices and artificial intelligence combined with thoughtful deployment can help us transform our cities into efficient and sustainable spaces. In Copenhagen for example, the implementation of smart lighting solutions has reduced energy costs by nearly 60%. With the help of technology and careful planning, we can transform our cities into sustainable and environmentally friendly spaces.

Does this sound like a career for you? You should check out our MSc Technology for Sustainable Cities programme, which has been designed with a multidisciplinary approach to planning sustainable urban solutions. This programme explores the role of IoT infrastructure in planning sustainable developments, the role of Big Data Technologies in creating efficient resources as well as the importance of Geographical Information Systems (GIS) for urban planning. For more information, please visit the course page.

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