Some Smart Things Some Cities Are Doing

The technology driven promise of the smart city is largely unfulfilled. But we are in a world of prototypes, beta tests and early adapters. And some of the things that some cities are doing are pretty impressive. Here are some examples:

Kansas City

Kansas City bills itself as the “world’s most connected smart city.” That’s because it has focused on getting all of its citizens online. There is free public WiFi downtown along the city’s streetcar line, which is also free. And for those who don’t have a smartphone or other device, they can stop into one of the 25 kiosks that have been installed in the downtown area and connect to the smart city network over which different services will be provided. They’ve also installed 125 smart streetlights that respond to activity, or lack thereof, and hence conserve energy. The city has a digital roadmap, the goals of which are to: improve the delivery of city services, enhance the resident experience, and support entrepreneurship and economic development.


Most of the discussion in this series of posts about smart cities is about how to make dumb old cities smart. Songdo tries to answer the question of what we would do if we started from scratch. Begun in 2005 and not yet completed, Songo has been built on 1500 acres of reclaimed land in South Korea. The city is 40% park space. Most of its residents commute on bicycles. It is a city of sensors, constantly monitoring the temperature, energy usage and traffic. All of its buildings have automated climate control. There are plots of land set aside for urban farming. Trash is collected through an underground pipeline system that connects all business and residential buildings. Seven employees manage trash collection for the whole city. Is this indeed the city of the future? Two writers from the Atlantic concluded “We had expected a city 25 or even 50 years ahead of the rest of the world; instead, Songdo felt like 2017—still the future, perhaps, but not the promised land of science fiction.” (Songdo, South Korea, City of the Future? )



Amsterdam launched its Smart City Initiative in 2009 with the goal of reducing traffic, improving public safety and conserving energy. One of the priorities of this initiative is to solicit and support ideas from its citizens. There is an annual Amsterdam Smart City Challenge that encourages residents to submit proposals for funding. One example of a citizen-conceived initiative is MobyPark, a peer-to-peer sharing platform for parking spaces. It enables owners of parking spaces to rent them out and the app meanwhile captures data about parking in the city. The Amsterdam initiative has launched 79 projects since its founding. One involved creating solar powered hot spots that enable people with laptops to work outdoors in open spaces. Test projects were launched with a variety of alternative energy sources, including wind farms, solar panels and fuel cells. A number of residents were equipped with smart grids and smart meters to encourage more efficient energy usage.

And a few of the more exotic implementations:

  • Smart Trash Cans – A South Korea based company, Ecube Labs, is testing its smart waste bins in two cities in Colombia. The bins monitor levels of trash and provide information as to when they need to be picked up. The company claims this can lower waste management costs by up to 80%. And, by the way, these smart trash receptacles are also WiFi hot spots.
  • Happiness Meter – A “live sentiment capture engine” is being implemented in Dubai. These devices are installed at government facilities like public transport hubs, police stations, courts and utility offices. It gives all visitors the ability to rate their “happiness” with these services. The analysis provides a “map of happiness” for different parts of the city.
  • Wirelessly charged buses – Wirelessly charged electric buses were put on the road in Milton Keynes in the UK in 2014. They had eight electric buses that ran a 15-mile route. They charge while in service through plates at both ends of the route.
  • Shotspotter – Implemented in New York City, Boston and several other cities, Shotspotter utilizes a network of audio sensors that are installed around the city to identify gunfire and to send information to the police as to the location of the gunfire.


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18 Responses to Some Smart Things Some Cities Are Doing

  1. lenie5860 says:

    Ken, some of these ideas are terrific but it sure did make me feel my age. It was pretty hard to imagine a smart trash can that doubles as a WiFi hotspot. The Shotspotter tells you a bit about today’s society – smart move but wouldn’t it be nice if it wasn’t necessary?

    Liked by 4 people

  2. Phoenicia says:

    Wow – some of these cities really are moving with the times! I am wondering when WiFi will be available in more cities and on buses in the UK. I boarded a coach several months ago and was elated to see charger sockets.

    Songdo – a city with 40% of park space. There must be far less pollution which benefits the environment and overall health of residents.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I have seen some of these innovations over the recent years in various towns. The smart trashcans, the electronic parking meters, the public wifi just to name a few. I never heard of the Shotspotter before, but I am glad they implemented that one in several cities.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. heraldmarty says:

    Way to go Kansas City! On the other side of the coin, I’m surprised Songo is as far along as it is. The last time I travelled to Korea their airport security consisted of a pat down behind a worn curtain.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. These bits about what smart cities are doing really are fascinating. It just goes to show there is a lot more that any given city can be doing.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. ramonamckean says:

    Inspiring! Creativity to enhance the quality of life–love it. Thanks for sharing, Ken.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. winnercat says:

    All that you mention is already being done in Scandinavia. Even Saudi Arabia is on the smart city path. The world’s leading city when it comes to being bicycle friendly is actually Copenhagen, the capital of Denmark. It’s hence no surprise that a new prototype of a city where only bicycles are being used will be built in Southern Sweden.

    Liked by 2 people

  8. Donna Janke says:

    It’s interesting to read about these smart city initiatives. Smart streetlights and trash cans make a lot of sense, but it is sad to think that there is a need for something like Shotspotter.

    Liked by 2 people

  9. JoHanna Massey says:

    All the gizmos and new gadgets are just fascinating to me. What resonates with me as most vital and important though, is that Sondo set aside a full 40% of the city as park space. Great post. Thank you. 🐞


  10. Erica says:

    I love how Amsterdam encourages feedback from its citizens. Ordinary people often have great ideas and in most cities, we often go unheard. I’m all over that solar hot spot idea. I wish we could figure out how to do that in all cities. There is tons of wifi where I live, but it would be nice to have even more options to go outside and work.

    Liked by 2 people

  11. susht says:

    The further leap from the fantasy to the reality is indeed fascinating, It’s good that common man’s ideas are also taken into consideration and delighted to know few are been tested too.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Cities will need to move ahead and embrace technology to survive. It though can be hard, many cities have less population, which means less taxes, they can barely maintain their current expenses without trying to update what they have. The sad part about it, these are the cities that need the innovations you showed in your article the most.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. inesephoto says:

    That is so very cool! The 21st century in action.

    Liked by 2 people

  14. Andy says:

    It’s good to see that Kansas City plans to “support entrepreneurship and economic development” with its “digital roadmap”. Assuming that this will translate into more jobs down the line, the next step would be to provide the skills and education necessary to fill those jobs – is Kansas City (or any other city) ‘working smartly’ in that area?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Ken Dowell says:

      I don’t really know the answer Andy but that is one of the dilemmas that cities face. Many have struggling educational systems with archaic facilities so how can you divert funds to smart streetlights or trash cans?


  15. Love this post, Ken. So interesting about Kansas City, Songdo, and Amsterdam and their smart initiatives. I’ve spent a good amount of time in Amsterdam and can certainly vouch for its smart and efficient infrastructure.

    Liked by 1 person

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