It is no longer a surprise that the future city is a cash-free, paper-free digital town, where one universal “card” in your pocket serves as a payment method, driver’s license, ID-card, digital health passport, customer card, employment card, door card, “key” for the rental bike, parking ticket and as a means of ordering a last mile vehicle. A card in quotation marks because, in a digital city, this card is virtual and kept on your smart device. Hence for everyday services you just need your smart phone or laptop.
But what happens when the battery is empty? Most of the new solutions work even on an empty battery, and the park benches, trash bins, columns, facades, bus stops, and pavements of this city are covered with thin solar panels providing a ready opportunity to charge all your devices on the go.
A great city has little traffic and an abundance of innovations
Why turn on the heating when the hot spring sun behind the windows is a free source of energy? How can life go on effectively with a lack of oxygen in the room? The real-time building performance audit continuously monitors the optimal relationship between heating, cooling and ventilation and ensures a healthy indoor climate. Such a real-time audit in hundreds of city buildings (like schools) provides metadata which finds the faults and malfunctions – a means to better planning and solutions, saving energy and ensuring a quality indoor climate.
The city’s carbon footprint is further reduced by regulating energy use, preferring renewable energy sources as much as possible. This is helped by closed distribution networks in electric micro-grids and digital substations equipped with energy storage devices. The streets of the future city will not exhaust people with noise and air pollution, because there will be close to no traffic jams. First and foremost the city is planned in 15 minute travel increments, meaning that everything a resident needs for life is just fifteen minutes away. This does not mean a 15-minute car drive on a multi-lane road, but right in the vicinity of your home. The focus is not on enlarging travelling opportunities, but on reducing the need to travel in the first place. After all, it is the opportunities and closeness to others that inspire people choose city life.
Secondly the future city will be free of traffic jams because of smart traffic lights and signs which are equipped with air and noise sensors, designed to disperse traffic in the most efficient way. Hence instead of traffic jams accumulating, all vehicles will smoothly take direct routes to their respective destinations.
Decisions taken in the future digital city will be data-based and made inclusively. A city which does not consider or listen to interest groups in governance is certainly not smart, regardless of how much silicon it may have. Also, with digital data it is possible to go beyond mere analysis of existing solutions. For example, a data-based management of transport must cover mobile positioning data, because in evaluating only existing public transport use, we only find out how far an existing bus line was suitable for someone (where they exited) and not where they actually wanted to go to.
A smart city has no borders
In the future city, even people living beyond urban borders will easily get home. They will not need a private car since self-driving “last mile vehicles”, based on the demand-based transport system information exchange platform, will extend public transport lines, helping people who live away from the final stop to work or school in the mornings and back home in the evenings. For those who cannot take advantage of this offer, there are fast rental vehicles, which are charged by solar energy which the city produces in abundance.
In the future city, decision-making and solutions will be inclusive: the procurements of the future will not describe solutions decided upon in some office, but by residents. For example, a solution to a traffic jam problem may not be the cheapest and widest crossing, but the establishment of services where people actually live, building bicycle roads or offering rental vehicles in strategic points.
The future digital city is larger than the metropolitan borders of the city, or even those of the country. As a result, similar services will be offered in neighbouring cities, so that if you work in another city, the “miracle card” on your phone functions there as well. A step further would be to unify opportunities and solutions with neighbouring states because people regularly travel back and forth between many cities in the world in established patterns. Valga and “Talsinki” are just Estonian cross-border commuting examples, where the country border fortunately crosses between cities, but there are also examples of towns where half a shop, parking lot or a concert house is based in one country and the other half within another that has different services and regulations.
A good start
Seems like something out of a science fiction novel? Well, it isn’t. Scientists and pilot projects in the departments of the Tallinn University of Technology are seeking solutions for all the above-mentioned ideas. City air is already measured on the streets of Tallinn, oxygen is measured in the classrooms, scientists are working on specifications for extremely thin, transparent solar panels. There are also several ongoing pilot projects, organised by the FinEst Centre for Excellence that is creating a future twin city living laboratory which is based on data, inclusive, carbon neutral, centred around collaboration with neighbours and compatible anywhere in the world.
Come to think of it, an offline-city in our world might be a refreshing intermediary stop, with plenty of opportunities to interact and take a book reading break in a city free of e-services and smart devices. Which city design [one built around devices or one without them] is more or less smart might be debated in the technology-free cafes of the offline city. Perhaps a good reason to prefer the term “digital city” over “smart.”
Read more about the digital city projects of TalTech at the World Exhibition Expo 2020 Dubai here.