Expert Panel: how is technology aiding urbanisation efforts?
As part of our Smart Cities In-Depth Focus, Intelligent Transport asked an expert panel: how is technology aiding urbanisation efforts? And, in turn, how important is it that growing city spaces become smarter?
Participants on the expert panel included Tom Voege, Policy Analyst, International Transport Forum at the OECD, Eduardo Buendia, Field Application Engineer at Moxa and Edwin Mermans, Senior Advisor, International Affairs at the Department of Mobility and Infrastructure, Province of Noord-Brabant.
In response to the questions asked, the participants answered:
Tom Voege: Traditionally, urbanisation has gone hand-in-hand with motorisation. Whilst rapid urbanisation – both on a massive scale, for example in Asia, or still ongoing, albeit at a much slower pace, in Europe or North America – is a clear indicator of heightened economic performance, it invariably comes at a cost to the environment and decreases urban liveability. Against the backdrop of these developments we are now seeing emerging transport technologies offering a unique opportunity to vastly improve mobility provision and environmental performance. Big data analytics, shared-mobility platforms and vehicle automation hold the promise of improved multimodal transport through efficient first- and last-mile transport, as well as a more flexible transport system that will require fewer vehicles. This will free up spaces in urban areas for more sustainable purposes, as well as reduce emissions. With global urbanisation predicted to continue, making urban spaces smarter is essential to achieving a more human city, and to reaching global sustainable development goals.
Eduardo Buendia: The urban population is growing at a faster rate than cities can support. Technology opens new paths to urban growth, optimising current services so they can accommodate larger populations, or enabling faster deployment of new or complementary services. In the past, transportation systems were designed with a certain mindset and focused on a particular population growth for urban areas, but now, cities have grown while maintaining the same transportation infrastructures meant to handle smaller quantities at lower rates. New transportation systems can handle far larger quantities of passengers than before, but they require extensive investment that isn’t possible everywhere. Many legacy technologies can be retrofitted to use state-of-the-art communication systems and analytics. Retrofitting technologies creates diverse added values, from higher reliability and less downtime, to easier support and smarter spaces. It is important that city spaces are aligned with overall urbanisation plans. Transportation infrastructure cannot only focus on transport modes and operation; it must take the whole ecosystem around it into consideration for sustainability’s sake. This ecosystem may include bus or tram stops, parks next to stations, parking lots for commuters, or green areas next to train facilities – smart spaces are always beneficial as every source of information contributes to the system’s sustainability. Moxa follows the same concept for intelligent transportation systems: a sound understanding of the whole ecosystem to enable the best possible reliability, availability and performance.
Edwin Mermans: Rapid urbanisation is happening across the world and cities and communities have to cope with numerous challenges, from infrastructure to economic development, among others. It’s logical to make use of the opportunities that smart technology and the exponential growth of data provide. Data created by sensor networks and citizens can enable objectives in the economic, spatial, social and ecological domains. The pending uptake of 5G, artificial intelligence, and the Internet of Things in the so-called ‘fourth industrial revolution’ will no doubt be the beginning of significant change. Smart cities should not just be a narrative about a technology push, but about transformation. It is about the permanent process of change, improvement and adaption to continuously changing circumstances, threats and opportunities in an ever more complex society. Technology is just an enabler of the agenda of the city and its citizens. This is not a story about gadgets and permanent surveillance but about curious people improving their city by using smart technology in a process of learning by doing