What is Singapore's Smart City Initiative

Smart Cities
The networked eco city

Design for the central square of Masdar City, which is to become the first CO2-neutral, garbage and car-free city. | Photo (detail): © LAVA_Atelier_Illume

A city that is luxurious, ecological and resource-saving at the same time - this has long been possible thanks to intelligent technologies. But it also means: sensors measure the public space and follow us wherever we go.

“Masdar City” - that's the name of the major project in the Arab Emirates, the dream of a climate-neutral high-tech city in the middle of the desert. A vision that should soon become reality: no emissions, no waste, but energy self-sufficient life with full comfort for around 50,000 people. According to the ambitious plans, only trams and self-driving electric cars are to be used in Masdar City, which can be operated remotely on underground induction fields. Above ground, however, a lot of green is planned, schools and kindergartens should be within walking distance for the residents and energy will be generated via solar cells. Is this what the future of our cities looks like?
Thanks to high-tech and intelligent software, such a city is no longer a utopia. One speaks of a “Smart City”: A fully networked city can save time, money and energy, and is therefore significantly more resource-efficient. To do this, sensors collect large amounts of data and send them to special control systems. These are used in a wide variety of areas, from building technology and traffic to water supply and energy generation, and ensure that the supply is adapted as precisely as possible to demand: buses may only go where passengers are waiting. In offices, the heating only starts when the rooms are actually used. In parks, irrigation is based on the weather forecast and garbage disposal only drives away full garbage cans.
“It's about the complete networking of man and machine,” explains Tobias Wallisser from the Laboratory for Visionary Architecture Berlin (L-A-V-A). "That can go a lot further than we can imagine up to now - if, for example, the Internet of Things is established, i.e. when intelligent machines communicate with each other." In the future, self-driving cars may come to pick us up without being asked if our smartphone has an appointment other than that House is registered.

Smart doesn't mean new

Scintillating large-scale projects such as Masdar City or the Korean retort district of Songdo, which is fully equipped with sensors and smart systems, are attracting worldwide attention. But that doesn't mean that the cities of the future will all have to be rebuilt. Quite the opposite - according to Wallisser, smart city technologies are particularly interesting for existing cities: “The infrastructure in our cities - let's call it the hardware - has grown over centuries. Some of the sewer systems or subway networks in Europe are 150 years old and cannot be easily changed. In the case of the smart city, there is also software - i.e. a control of this infrastructure - which can be adapted much more quickly. This has great potential: Through the clever networking of the individual parts, the consumption of resources can be optimized without having to rebuild. "
For European cities, smart technologies are a way of increasing quality of life and sustainability at the same time. In Germany, around 75 percent of the population now live in cities. Guaranteeing more and more people prosperity and quality of life without overloading the environment has become a huge task for local authorities. The German cities are still lagging behind in European comparison, or as Gerd Landsberg, General Manager of the German Association of Towns and Municipalities, puts it, “clearly have a lot of catching up to do when you consider the public discussions about waiting times in offices, about the lack of traffic management systems, about the lack of a broadband network Many people are working on a smart city strategy or have started their first pilot projects: In Braunschweig, remote-controlled traffic lights direct the traffic, Cologne offers parking lot sharing - an “AirBnB for parking lots” -, in Munich self-driving cars are on the road and on selected test tracks In Berlin, street lights equipped with WLAN, Bluetooth and weather barometers save up to 80 percent on energy costs every year.
Dresden is a pioneer when it comes to traffic control: The VAMOS traffic management system manages inner-city traffic, guides drivers to free parking garages and controls the traffic light system. Delayed trams have right of way at intersections, trams that are over-punctual wait a little longer. And from spring 2018, even cyclists will be able to use the “Bike Now” app to find out how fast they have to cycle to ride the green wave. The intelligent traffic control should encourage people to use trams, buses or bicycles more often, says Sven Fröhlich from the Technical University (TU) Dresden. Around 1000 detectors were installed in the city for this purpose and collect detailed traffic data.

In contrast, "1984" is old-fashioned

"Ultimately, the Smart City is always about optimizing resources and increasing individual comfort," explains Tobias Wallisser. The price for this: We become completely transparent. “Networking offers many advantages. But what it means to reveal all this data about yourself - the discussion is only just beginning. Orwell's dystopia of the totalitarian surveillance state is against what is possible today 1984 downright old-fashioned. ”A central question for Wallisser is whether the control is organized decentrally or whether a central institution collects and evaluates all information - and thus has access to all data. “Data protection may be a very German consideration. But we will have to discuss how we want to live. "
The first apartments in Masdar City will be ready for occupancy at the end of 2017, and the complex should be ready in 2030. Even now, however, some plans have to be adapted to reality: because the residents do not want to do without a private vehicle, roads and private garages are being built, the British architect Chris Wan admitted at a press conference at the end of 2017. Dresden also knows such problems: According to Jürgen Krimmling from the TU Dresden, so far only around ten percent of drivers have been using the intelligent traffic control system, even though it would get them to their destination faster. Theory and practice - technology and people - are still two different things.
  • Print article