How Do Smart Cities Use Data and Technology?

Written by: Sara Dennis
This article is the second our series about Smart Cities and how they will influence our future.

How many apps do you have on your phone? How often do you check them? Would you ever think of using an app to improve public utilities? Smart Cities are!  

In Amsterdam, the app Mobypark lets you rent out your parking space, which generates data about parking demand and traffic flow. Additionally, this cuts down on the time that cars are idling while looking for a parking space, which takes an average of 20 minutes, so apps like these can help reduce CO2 emissions. With increased data collection and smart traffic monitoring, the city can also provide information about traffic and best routes to take – which reduces travel time for individuals and car emissions. Other functions of apps include Street Bump in Boston which alerts the city if you hit a pothole.


Columbus, Ohio’s Smart City vision also includes the use of various apps. Currently, Smart Columbus is designing a Multimodal Trip Planning app alongside a Common Payment System. The trip planning app is designed to help people find the fastest and cheapest commute by combining options like the bus, bike-sharing, and/or ride sharing. With the common payment system, they’d be able to use a pass or a smart-phone app to access these services. This system would increase accessibility to these transit options that are otherwise difficult to use without a smart phone or credit card, helping people overcome some of the common barriers to transportation.

Local governments around the world are also using smart city technology and data monitoring to cut costs and improve efficiency. Songdo, a city in South Korea, has highly networked and responsive monitoring systems, including household waste and traffic flow, so they can properly allocate resources in real-time. In Barcelona, Spain, they have a sensor-based irrigation system in place at parks, to conserve water consumption. They’ve also optimized traffic flow based on their monitoring data; now they have a new bus network based on an analysis of common traffic flows, smart traffic lights with bus routes designed to optimize green lights, and finally a traffic light system that accommodates emergency vehicles and turns lights green as they approach the intersection.

Sensor technology is also being designed to help municipalities conserve resources while maintaining a more aesthetically pleasing environment for citizens. In Jodhpur, India, ‘smart bins’, trash receptacles equipped with sensors, can alert the proper authority when full. This helps reduce unnecessary trips to empty bins that aren’t full, saving gas, and can prevent bins from being overloaded with trash spilling out of them. New York City’s chief technology officer Miguel Gamiño also has big ideas for sensor technology, including the use of them to reduce crime. One of his ideas includes using audio sensing technology, placed in a trash can for example, to pick up certain noises like the sound of glass breaking. Once the sensor detects the noise, it sends a signal that notifies police and triggers a nearby streetlight to start flashing, to draw attention to the area and help police locate it faster.

These are just a few of the ways that smart cities are using apps, data and technology to improve our cities. We can't wait to see what's next!