Today, the world’s cities are more bustling than ever. But with a growing global population and the urgency of climate change, it’s no longer enough to just survive; we want to thrive.

How can we simultaneously support urbanization and guarantee that cities are livable for future generations? It’s time to look toward smart sustainability.

What are smart sustainable cities?

Architects, urban planners, and local leaders are harnessing the power of technology to create a new generation of cities. By employing innovative solutions, they can make urban environments more efficient and improve their residents’ quality of life.

Smart sustainable cities rely on telecommunications infrastructure that can transmit data about citizens’ daily lives. By carrying our smartphones with us, we create a network of interconnected devices that send real-time data to centralized control systems.

This makes our lives easier and more convenient, whether it’s by using traffic data to adjust our daily commute or checking how busy a restaurant is before going there for dinner. Smart sustainable cities apply this technology on a larger scale.

Smart energy grids and sensors placed around the city can communicate information about energy use, mobility, and public safety, while innovations in AI can analyze these data sets to reveal patterns about day-to-day urban life.

Decision-makers can then use this information to improve government services and provide solutions to city dwellers’ problems.

Why do we need smart sustainability?

It’s always a good thing to have more information, and to use it to improve daily experiences. But the importance of smart sustainable cities goes far beyond convenience. In fact, it has to do with some of the most pressing issues of today—and tomorrow.

Address population growth

People continue to flock to urban centers, and this isn’t expected to change anytime soon. More than half of the world’s population lives in cities. By 2050, that number is expected to jump to 70 percent.

This is driving a need for smart sustainability, as cities are increasingly pressured to provide enough resources to support a rapidly growing population and solve related problems, such as housing shortages, traffic congestion, power outages, and water pollution.

The island nation of Singapore is leading the way in smart sustainability. Dr. Cheong Koon Hean, CEO of Singapore’s Housing and Development Board, oversees the development of more than a million public housing flats. As the demand for comfortable living spaces increases, Hean is designing creative solutions to support sustainable urbanization.

By using 3D modeling and other types of smart technology to design these communities, Hean can ensure that all residents have access to essential resources like parks, daycare centers, and health facilities.

Combat climate change

In today’s climate-conscious world, sustainability is all the rage. From citywide plastic bans to zero-emission public transportation, there’s an increasing sense of urgency when it comes to protecting the environment, conserving energy, and managing pollution.

Cities like Copenhagen have taken note. The Scandinavian capital has become the first city to pledge carbon neutrality by 2025. With an environmentally conscious population—there are five times more cyclists than drivers on Copenhagen’s roads—it’s setting an example for how cities can offset their contribution to the climate crisis.

Smart technology has enabled Copenhagen’s street lamps to be connected to a wireless network, where they can be programmed to dim or brighten automatically. This conserves energy use while also creating safer community spaces.

Going back to Hean’s public housing communities in Singapore, smart community planning can also predict which spaces get the most sunlight. This informs the placement of not only playgrounds and parks, but also solar panels to generate renewable energy.

While we can and should fight climate change, we must also navigate its increasing effects. São Paulo, Brazil uses AI and big data analytics from weather, traffic, and pollution sensors to predict air quality, warn the public, and redirect traffic before air pollution hotspots arise.

Improve quality of life

It’s important to think about the future of cities, but smart sustainability is already improving the lives of city dwellers today.

For example, citizens of Dubai can give online feedback on public services. Singaporeans can walk around freely, safe in the knowledge that cameras monitor crime. And while many cities have polluted waterways, people living in Stockholm can take a dip in the harbor in the middle of town.

These kinds of advantages are within reach for other cities around the world—and smart sustainability can help them get there.

What’s next for smart sustainable cities?

This is only the beginning of smart sustainability. As we face the challenges of population growth and climate change, we must continue to create viable solutions for livable urban areas.

Design in the Age of Technology Banner

Looking forward, the expansion of 5G will play a crucial role. Compared to 4G, 5G offers faster connections, greater reliability, and increased capacity at lower costs. This can enable cities that implement it to better connect their infrastructure, devices, and residents. Further developments are on the horizon, and we must do everything we can to apply them. As the power of smart technology continues to expand, we can harness it to enhance our urban communities and transform our way of life.