Smart cities are all about ensuring the efficiency of operations like government, transportation, commerce, energy, law enforcement, and healthcare using smart technologies, data analysis, and information and communication technologies (ICT). Considering the scale of such operations, it’s only inevitable that smart cities will run into challenges.
Here are the 9 challenges every smart city faces:
- Lack of suitable infrastructure for smart cities
- Transparency and data privacy
- Coordination between public and private sectors
- Lack of capacity to implement smart city initiatives
- Political differences and lack of political will
- Short-term mindsets of smart city residents
- Lack of information on smart city initiatives
- Smart city residents’ lack of tech skills
- Social inclusivity of smart city initiatives
In this article, I’ll go through each challenge in detail. I’ll explain how the above can hinder and affect the implementation and execution of smart city initiatives.
1. Lack of Suitable Infrastructure for Smart Cities
Smart city initiatives need the support of physical and IT infrastructure. Smart technologies need to be applied in various sectors such as public transportation, energy, and power generation as broadly as possible. Otherwise, these technologies won’t adequately transform a city into a “smart” one.
Physical infrastructure can come in the form of, say, poles to cameras and terminals citizens interact with. Likewise, IT infrastructure needs to be effective and efficient in processing and analyzing data gathered from the previously mentioned sectors.
Both infrastructures need to be scalable to keep up with the growth of a smart city, its population, and the exponential amount of data. Infrastructure should also be flexible and able to cater to a wide range of technologies and software.
Smart initiatives and their technologies need to be sustainable and suitable for long-term operation. It simply won’t be practical to change infrastructure every few years to adjust to new technologies and growing needs.
Building a solid and effective infrastructure can drive up the price and costs of smart city initiatives. Therefore, a lack of budget can also become a problem for smart city initiatives.
2. Transparency and Data Privacy
Smart cities rely on gathering and analyzing data from various sources. The thing is, much of that data can cause privacy issues unless adequate measures are put in place. You need to ask: Where is this information stored? What security measures have been and need to be implemented to ensure this data is not used maliciously or leaked to the public?
For example, personal information and medical histories are recorded and stored for healthcare. Facial recognition can be used to assist in tracking people and law enforcement, especially in countries with a weak rule of law.
Citizens and residents of smart cities have the right to transparency regarding the use of their information. They also have the right to data privacy. Fortunately, certain countries are already attempting to address these issues.
For example, the EU enacted the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), which regulates the use of facial recognition software. Likewise, the state of California has the California Consumer Privacy Act, which limits the ways consumer data can be used by third parties.
Fear of hackers, data leaks, scrutiny of data collection by the government and private entities, and inadequate transparency and public trust can significantly hinder smart city initiatives and projects.
3. Coordination Between Public and Private Sectors
Data is gathered from both the public and private sectors. It isn’t easy to draw the line regarding what information should be shared between the two. Data sharing is essential to making certain operations, services, and data checks run smoother. However, achieving a good flow of information between the public and private sectors can be difficult.
For one, the two don’t always agree. There’s reluctance when sharing infrastructure and standardizing networks and tools between private and public sectors. There’s a tendency to prioritize personal interests over the greater good.
The best way to achieve data sharing is to find ways to convince each sector that both will benefit from cooperation rather than keeping certain information to themselves. After all, smart cities rely on good relationships and coordination between government and private sectors to create efficient and sustainable programs.
4. Lack of Capacity To Implement Smart City Initiatives
It’s one thing to want to implement smart city initiatives, and another to have the capacity for them. Capacity issues may arise from one or more of the following: financial, data processing capacity and efficiency, and energy.
Maintaining smart cities requires a lot of resources. Specifically, they require the implementation, operation, and maintenance of smart technologies; the physical and IT infrastructure for the aforementioned technologies; the labor, experience, and expertise, of trained professionals; and, of course, the budget to cover the costs that come with the above.
Not all cities have the financial capacity to enact smart city initiatives. Finding multiple stakeholders and a source of public and private funding is a daunting task. Officials and city planners need to show potential stakeholders and investors that the immediate and long-term benefits of a smart city initiative far outweigh the considerable costs that come with them.
Data Processing Capacity and Efficiency
Aside from financial capacity, smart cities need a reliable and efficient way to process and analyze massive amounts of data. These will come from various sources, such as cameras and other sensors that measure information in real-time
For example, a city may need the information to detect and monitor high traffic areas for peak traffic times, traffic flow, changes in traffic routes, etc. There will be hundreds, perhaps thousands, of sensors covering the massive transportation network of a city. That’s already an extensive amount of data for traffic and transportation alone.
There are countless operations and services offered in a smart city. All these will require their sensors and systems, as well as data gathering, processing, and analyzing.
Sensors and cameras won’t be the only technology used in a smart city. Smart tech relies on power to function. It’s important to consider questions such as:
A smart city cannot simply pause or go to a standstill if the power goes out.
5. Political Differences and Lack of Political Will
Finding funding for smart city initiatives is a difficult task. Many of these programs and projects are usually tied to political will. Political figures may have differing opinions on smart city initiatives. If they decide to personally fund these initiatives, that financial source may expire by the end of their term in office.
Aside from funding from the government, smart cities need funding from multiple stakeholders at the local and national levels, as well as private entities. This becomes complicated when considering the dynamics of the various political players.
For example, political capital may expire in the middle of smart city initiatives at the end of each political cycle. The turnover process to the next set of government officials exposes smart city initiatives to scrutiny. This additional examination can delay operations, or even cause the complete shutdown of certain projects.
Political officials, government entities, stakeholders, private entities, and city planners must cooperate. They need to work together to create sustainable long-term initiatives that can span different administrations.
6. Short-Term Mindsets of Smart City Residents
Projects such as the construction of supporting infrastructure, raising funds, coordinating with government and private entities, and installing and maintaining smart city technologies take a significant amount of time, budget, and resources. However, these alone won’t be enough to sustain smart city initiatives.
Those who spearhead smart city initiatives must consider the needs of arguably the most important sector — the smart city residents themselves. Not many people are willing to wait long to see results, especially when taxpayer money is used to fund the smart city project. Also, the preparation, installation, and maintenance of the above initiatives can disrupt the lives of residents.
For example, building infrastructure can cause traffic, and any system updates or installation can delay public services and government transactions. These interruptions can easily cause frustration among citizens and turn them off from supporting a smart city initiative.
When planning smart city projects, planners need to think and implement strategies in phases. This is so that short-term results can satisfy residents and stakeholders alike while contributing to the longer-term goals.
7. Lack of Information on Smart City Initiatives
When smart city initiatives are implemented, the government must make an effort to make these known to the residents of their city. After all, what use are good initiatives if the people who can benefit the most from them don’t even know about them?
Physical advertisements, bulletins, and in-person meetings aren’t the only way to do this. The government should take advantage of social media and the internet as a whole to disseminate information to its citizens, as well as those who can benefit from new and existing initiatives.
People need to know precisely what these initiatives are and how they can take advantage of them. City planners and officials can also publicize information on these before their release. Information on new, existing, and future smart city initiatives should be easily and readily accessible to the city’s residents.
Again, social media and the internet can be used to assess how initiatives are running and what possible changes or improvements can be made to them. They can also be used to gather information on public opinion regarding any future projects that could be implemented.
8. Smart City Residents’ Lack of Tech Skills
The next hurdle for smart city planners is the general level of technology skills of smart city residents. Is their skill enough to efficiently operate or access the benefits of these initiatives? Fortunately, it’s possible to implement educational programs to address this problem.
The transition into new methods of operation can be made easier with proper education through in-person meetings with government officials, physical printouts, and accessible education through the internet and social media.
9. Social Inclusivity of Smart City Initiatives
Planning smart city initiatives shouldn’t occur in a vacuum. It must account for all sectors of society — including the groups most likely to be marginalized when the changes that come with implementing smart city initiatives take place. Smart city initiatives must benefit everyone, not only the privileged few.
Comfort With Technology
When considering smart cities and more advanced technology in general, it’s easy to assume that these are only for a certain age and educational level. Indeed, as discussed in the previous section, much training may be required to ensure most (if not all) smart city residents are comfortable with technology.
After all, when the average citizen deals with smart technology, they may encounter a medley of technical terms that can easily confuse them — if not scare them away from the idea of dealing with technology altogether.
Therefore, information and education for these initiatives need to be accessible. Accessibility doesn’t just involve dissemination through various channels. They also involve making sure the majority easily understands the information. There should be a sustained program and incentive system to ease most citizens into being comfortable with smart technologies to the point that they’re practically a part of everyday life.
A smart city will not necessarily erase socioeconomic gaps arising from factors such as class, race, gender, etc. If anything, it will highlight them. For example, if a city has already implemented inclusive initiatives (e.g., bathrooms for individuals who span the QUILTBAG spectrum), it must carry them over into the subsequent implementation of such initiatives.
Likewise, rich and powerful citizens may use their influence to force out “undesirables” from their idea of a utopian smart city. Therefore, any smart city initiative should carefully consider how the marginalized can thrive — not just survive — in a society that has historically ignored or rejected them.