What Are The Challenges Smart City Initiatives Are Facing? 

What Are The Challenges Smart City Initiatives Are Facing? 

Creating cities that are smart, connected, and resilient has been a high priority for most developed and developing countries, worldwide. Through the application of digital technologies, the performance of cities is streamlined and optimized like never before, improving the quality of life for citizens, adding more safety and equity, while simultaneously reducing environmental impact to a minimum and embracing a future of sustainable living. Furthermore, Smart Cities boost local and global economies, offering financial gains to everyone involved, with governments, communities, tech experts, and city planners collaboratively working toward turning this ambitious notion into reality, in the foreseeable future.  

Along with citizen awareness programs, governments are gradually adopting smart governance through the leveraging of digital technologies that implement adequate governance principles, strategies, and initiatives that are innovative and aim to revolutionize the way things are done. This is of course, far from an easy task and many cities struggle with successfully implementing Smart City projects despite their best efforts. Let’s take a look at some of the challenges that various Smart City initiatives face and how authorities and different sectors could potentially resolve them. 

Lack of Adequate Infrastructure 

Smart Cities rely on the support of both physical and IT infrastructure, with smart technologies being integrated into different sectors such as public transportation, energy, and power generation as widely as possible, otherwise a city will simply not transform into a “smart” one.  

Physical infrastructure includes cameras and poles as well as terminals that citizens interact with. Similarly IT infrastructure needs to be efficient and capable of handling and storing extensive amounts of data. Furthermore, both types of infrastructures need to be scalable to keep up with the expansion and development of a Smart City, the evolving needs of residents, and the capacity to deal with the flow of data. Infrastructure should be flexible enough to deal with the wide range of technologies and software that are in operation.   

There is, however, the issue of overly complicated and costly infrastructure that is involved in installing and maintaining the sensors within Smart Cities. Just how will they be powered? Will this consist of traditional hard-wiring, solar energy, or battery operation? And in case of power failure, will this mean a combination of all three? The fact is that most major metropolitan areas are already struggling with replacing aging infrastructure, such as underground wiring, steam pipes, and transportation tunnels, as well as installing high-speed internet. Broadband wireless services are increasing, but coverage and accessibility are still not where they should be. Funding for new infrastructure projects is slow and has its limitations, often taking years to approve.  

Transparency and Data Privacy 

The interconnectivity of Smart Cities means that the well-functioning and performance of such cities rely heavily on technology that monitors, records, and exchanges massive amounts of data, for a variety of purposes. This can make citizens feel a bit uneasy when it comes to their privacy and data and many major cities strive to maintain this balance between quality of life and invasion of privacy. While everyone wants to live in a convenient, peaceful, and healthy environment, nobody wants to feel like they are constantly being watched or monitored. Another valid concern has to do with the amount of data being collected from all the smart sensors residents come into contact with each day, who can access this information, and for what purpose.  

Last year, the ACLU of Northern California conducted a study regarding the privacy concerns in Smart Cities, highlighting the significance of understanding what the technologies behind these cities are, what type of data is collected, how it’s being used, and most importantly how it’s going to be stored. Developers could potentially alleviate some of the stress from residents by adding transparency and education to their solutions. By developing a human-centric approach and perspective, taking into consideration how people might respond to these new technologies, companies can gain the trust of the populations that their solutions are intended to help. Furthermore, government officials and community boards also need to be actively involved in this process which includes educating the public.  

Coordination Between Private and Public Sectors 

Data sharing is essential to ensuring particular services, operations, and data checks run smoothly and that an optimal flow of information is maintained within a Smart City ecosystem. The constant exchange of data between the public and the private sector within a Smart City often makes it difficult to draw the line regarding what data should be shared and to what extent since data is gathered from both sectors and they often have to collaborate. This isn’t always as easily achieved, however, with government agencies and private sector organizations often showing reluctance in sharing sensitive data or standardizing on common networks, tools, and infrastructure.  

This is a major hurdle for Smart Cities and one that certainly needs to be overcome in the future since its significance is much greater than we think. This somewhat intrusiveness regarding data-sharing policies can prevent fundamental cross-collaboration which aims to prevent terrorist attacks, improve local drinking water, garbage collection, and reduce noise and light pollution. The most optimal way of achieving an unhindered flow of data sharing between both sectors is to convince them about the benefits of cooperating rather than retaining information. A satisfactory relationship and coordination between governments and private sectors are essential for creating efficient and sustainable programs within a Smart City. 

Insufficient Capacity For Implementation of Smart City Initiatives 

Issues that deal with insufficient capacity when it comes to implementing Smart City initiatives often have to do with financial capabilities, capacity for data processing, and efficiency and energy.   

Financial 

Maintaining a Smart City requires a lot of resources, specifically referring to the implementation, operation, and maintenance of the smart technologies required for such a city. This comes in the form of physical and IT infrastructure needed for these technologies, labor, experience, and the expertise of specifically trained professionals that are competent in these fields, and of course – funding and budget to cover the costs that come from all of the mentioned above. Not all cities have the capacity to fund Smart City projects and finding multiple stakeholders can be a hard task for both the public and private sector. A report by SmartCitiesWorld depicts that funding is currently among the biggest challenges to implementing a Smart City strategy. Governments must wisely think through in devising a strategy that creates appropriate revenue models for Smart City initiatives. 

Capacity For Data Processing & Efficiency 

Smart Cities will need a reliable and efficient way to process and analyze tremendous amounts of data, safely, securely, and efficiently. This will be done through an extensive network of physical infrastructure as well as highly sophisticated tech which requires proper handling and expertise to allow for the most optimal flow of information and coordination between various sectors, systems, and operations. A Smart City will not be able to function properly without meeting the criteria for the capacity needed to handle and operate these technologies so this should be kept in mind. 

Energy 

A reliable energy source is of fundamental importance to an entire Smart City ecosystem since smart tech relies on energy to function. The questions for most cities remain regarding whether they have the capacity and ability to sustain efficient energy sources that will allow them to keep their Smart Cities up and running and what will happen in potential scenarios where there is a power shortage. Is there an alternative source of energy to power these technologies, will their Smart Cities run on solar, wind, or hydropower? Will they use diesel-fueled generators? These are important topics that authorities in each country will need to address.  

Concerns Regarding Cybersecurity 

Since Smart Cities rely on the gathering and analyzing of data from various sources, this comes with the potential of serious security issues regarding the privacy and exchange of data. Strict protocols and security measures need to be put in place to ensure the collected data is protected from potential cyber-attacks which can involve extremely sensitive data such as health records of patients, financial and personal information along with entire systems that are fundamental to the well-functioning of Smart Cities such as traffic control, public transportation networks, and other governmental institutions and operations.   

Recent discussions involving potential cyber threats to vulnerable and outdated power grids have everyone concerned and skeptical about the technology and security within Smart City ecosystems. The growing number of IoT sensors and the increased interconnectivity of mutually interdependent siloes of city infrastructure raises rightful concerns among citizens and various institutions. With IoT devices essentially being security loopholes and with current protocols somewhat unclear or insufficient, it could very well be possible for cybercriminals to shut down entire cities one day. 

Smart Cities are investing more money and resources into security, while tech companies are creating solutions with new built-in mechanisms to protect against hacking and cyber-crimes. Blockchain, for example, has made quite an impact in the tech industry by reducing the risk of cyber-attacks and preventing them from happening in multiple sectors. Fortunately, tech companies are advancing in establishing better security solutions based on big data analytics, blockchain, and encryption technologies which are designed to handle increasingly more sophisticated cyber-attacks. Smart city developers, on the other hand, are investing in these new-generation security systems as a way to effectively eliminate threats. 

Inadequate Network Connectivity 

Smart Cities require a reliable and efficient method for the processing and analyzing of data which is gathered every single day and used for a variety of different operations and processes. This is typically established through the expensive monitoring, gathering, and exchange of data that is achieved through the use of cameras, sensors, and actuators that are installed in various parts of a city, measuring data in real-time. For instance, a city may implement this information to run more efficient and effective transportation networks that allow them to effectively detect and monitor high-traffic areas for peak traffic time, optimize the flow of traffic and vehicles on the road, detect potential incidents, regulate traffic routes of public transportation vehicles, monitor drivers, improve the response time of emergency services and even help with regulating parking in a city.  

This means that potentially hundreds if not thousands of sensors and cameras and other relative tech will need to be installed in different parts of the city which is not only costly but will also require integration into existing infrastructure. Furthermore, the connectivity and capability of information exchange between these devices need to be excellent, to say the least. Since these sensors simultaneously gather and send tremendous amounts of data, analysis, and processing of the collected data should occur instantaneously and as smoothly as possible, meaning that for instant processing, high-speed Internet connectivity is mandatory. Currently, 4G mobile coverage systems are available worldwide, however, it is unlikely they will be effective enough for this type of high-speed data transfer, meaning officials should consider this issue. The adoption of 5G networks is gradually increasing although there are currently relatively few studies and not enough information confirming whether or not it will be sufficient enough for the needs of Smart Cities.  

Social Inclusivity

One of the biggest hurdles for Smart City planners is the technological skills of residents of such cities and how to adequately meet different groups at the level they are at. Will their current and given knowledge be enough to proficiently operate and navigate through these new technologies, apps, and platforms so that they can get the most benefit out of a given project or initiative? Smart transit programs that give riders real-time updates are a great idea but what if a portion of the population of that city can’t afford to take mass transit or a private taxi? What about the elderly population that doesn’t use smartphone devices or apps? How will smart technology be able to reach and benefit these groups of people? 

When building a Smart City, social inclusion should be a high priority on the list of things that need to be considered. Failing to ensure inclusion among the local populations could potentially negate even the best of intentions. For example, a city may fail to launch a healthcare initiative because the majority of elderly citizens simply don’t know how to use the technology. A Smart City project should be implemented in a way that fosters social inclusion, effectively communicating and engaging with all categories of citizens, not just the privileged few and tech-savvy ones. 

Fortunately, it is possible to implement educational programs that alleviate some of these issues so that more people will gain a better understanding of how to use these new technologies, accompanied by other projects that promote more affordable and equitable options for the less able residents. 

Conclusion 

While we can agree that smart technology has the potential to make our lives simpler by adding much-needed convenience, ease, and flexibility, particularly in highly populated urban areas – implementing these new technologies should be done in a carefully planned and highly secure manner. Instead of just focusing on what these solutions can do, developers and tech companies must also consider the way they will affect populations and anyone they come into contact with. Stakeholders must view the development of Smart Cities as a long-term infrastructure project while simultaneously addressing the immediate need for short-term solutions that simplify our increasingly digital, connected, and complex world. Maximizing the potential of Smart Cities will only become possible through the gained trust of citizens and communities, combined with technology, businesses, and governments that prioritize safety, efficiency, and sustainability.