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Building Smart Cities and Infrastructure

Building Smart Cities and Infrastructure

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According to IBM, smart cities are urban areas “where technology and data collection help improve quality of life as well as the sustainability and efficiency of city operations.”1

Technology- and data-driven endeavors to improve urban environments date back at least as far as the 1960s, when Los Angeles city leaders used data and computer programs to identify underfunded neighborhoods that needed infrastructure investment.2 Today, we’re seeing the growth of smart city projects in response to rapid urbanization and the pressing need for sustainable urban development. Within these communities, information and communication technologies (ICT) help municipal leaders manage smart city infrastructure, assets and services more efficiently and effectively. Optimal management of resources, improved service delivery and reduced environmental footprint can provide residents with a better quality of life.3

The core of a smart city lies in its ability to leverage ICT to collect, communicate and analyze data from sources such as sensors, mobile devices and existing city systems. This data-driven approach to urban transformation helps city officials, planners and residents improve resource management by making informed decisions about transportation, energy use, water management, waste disposal and other municipal needs.3

This article will discuss how smart cities are created, from the design and construction of buildings to the necessary transportation systems and energy infrastructure.

Smart Infrastructure

The infrastructure of a smart city includes a wide range of systems and solutions. Transportation in smart cities is designed to move people and goods efficiently in a way that reduces traffic congestion, pollution and energy consumption. Smart transportation infrastructure utilizes a mix of advanced technologies, real-time data analytics and connectivity to improve mobility and accessibility. Some of the main components include intelligent transportation systems (ITS) that manage traffic flow; autonomous vehicles, such as self-driving cars and drones; public transportation and programs for sharing bicycles or electric scooters.4

In a smart city, energy-efficient, "green" buildings and smart grids minimize waste and reduce carbon footprints to promote sustainability. Smart buildings use advanced materials, sensors and integrated systems to optimize energy efficiency and use, minimize waste and control lighting, heating and cooling based on occupancy and weather conditions. They can be designed to produce as much energy as they consume, achieving net-zero energy status.5

A smart grid uses digital technology to monitor and manage the transport of electricity from all sources to meet the varying electricity demands of end-users. It improves the reliability, efficiency and sustainability of electricity services by integrating renewable energy sources, employing demand-response strategies to balance supply and demand, and detecting and responding to local changes in usage.6

The digital infrastructure in smart cities allows seamless communication between devices, systems and people. Digital connectivity is achieved through a combination of high-speed internet, wireless communication technologies and fiber-optic networks. These technologies ensure that data flows quickly and reliably between devices and central management systems.6

Sensor Technology and the Internet of Things

The Internet of Things (IoT) is a network of devices, vehicles, appliances and other objects that are embedded with sensors, software and network connectivity—all of which enables them to collect and share data. IoT devices, which are also known as “smart objects,” run the gamut from simple home items, such as smart thermostats, to smartwatches, RFID-enabled clothes and industrial machines and transportation systems.7

The IoT and sensor technology transform how data is collected, analyzed and utilized across various sectors, from smart homes and healthcare to agriculture and industrial automation. The integration of IoT and sensor networks is critical for building smart cities because it empowers data-driven, highly efficient decision-making processes.8

Sustainable Energy Solutions

Sustainable energy solutions address the global challenges of climate change, resource depletion and environmental degradation. Smart cities are at the forefront of integrating these solutions to create economic development and better urban environments.9

Renewable energy sources such as solar, wind, hydro and geothermal power reduce reliance on fossil fuels, decrease carbon emissions and promote environmental sustainability. These solutions can be incorporated in smart cities through solar panels on buildings, wind turbines and other renewable technologies that generate clean energy locally.9

Energy-efficient lighting and appliances consume significantly less energy and have a longer lifespan than traditional incandescent and fluorescent lights. To increase energy savings further, smart lighting systems can adjust based on natural light availability, building occupancy and time of day.10

Transportation and Mobility

The development of smart cities and communities also depends on smart solutions and strategies for efficient transportation and mobility. These measures can reduce congestion, improve air quality, enhance public safety and provide more accessible and convenient travel options for residents.

Motorized Transportation Systems

Smart public transit systems use real-time tracking of buses and trains, mobile ticketing and dynamic scheduling systems to adjust routes and frequencies based on current demand and traffic conditions. They can also integrate multimodal transportation platforms that allow users to plan and pay for journeys combining different means of transport—such as trains, buses, bike-sharing and ride-hailing services—through a single application.11

Autonomous vehicles and smart traffic management systems can detect and create ideal travel routes in real time, communicate with traffic signals and contribute to more efficient traffic flow. Advanced algorithms analyze this data to predict traffic patterns and adjust signal timings accordingly, reducing bottlenecks and improving overall traffic efficiency. Some systems also prioritize public transportation and emergency vehicles at intersections, which can motivate residents to use public transport and improve safety.

Non-Motorized Transportation Systems

Non-motorized forms of transportation, such as biking and walking, provide convenient, affordable, healthy alternatives to motorized transport. Programs that encourage them typically feature stations where users can pick up and return bicycles, or they operate on a dockless model that allows riders to leave bikes at any suitable location. Integration with digital payment systems and smartphone apps makes accessing these services easier for users, further encouraging their adoption.11

Pedestrian-friendly initiatives for smart cities focus on creating safe, attractive, comfortable urban spaces that encourage walking. City planners can design extensive networks of sidewalks and pedestrian zones, improve crosswalk safety and implement traffic-calming measures to reduce vehicle speeds in populated areas. Walkable cities promote physical health, environmental sustainability, social interaction and economic activity by increasing foot traffic to local businesses.12

Become a Leader in Sustainable City Design

Case Western Reserve University’s online Master of Science in Mechanical Engineering program will equip you with the knowledge and skills you need to design environmentally friendly smart city solutions that improve operational efficiencies, optimize energy usage and help solve global climate challenges.

Our expert faculty members provide committed leadership and mentorship. As a student in this flexible online program, you can keep up your professional and personal commitments while studying at your own pace, on your schedule.

Don’t wait to advance your career and make your mark on the world of mechanical engineering. Start by contacting an admissions outreach advisor today.

Case Western Reserve University has engaged Everspring, a leading provider of education and technology services, to support select aspects of program delivery.