The United Nations projects that 66 percent of the world's population will live in urban areas by 2060. (1) In response to this trend, policymakers are applying evidence-based insight to city design. For example, city infrastructure is being outfitted with sensors to reduce energy usage, expenses, and pollution. Video cameras are being installed on highways and major intersections to monitor and manage traffic, a cheaper alternative to building new highway lanes. These and other initiatives lie at the intersection of urbanization, sustainability and digitization, which together form the framework of smart sustainable cities (SSCs). (2) Many definitions and variants of SSCs exist, but generally speaking, they all converge on the idea that city decisions should be real-time, evidence-based, and involve all community stakeholders in order to meet the current and future demands of citizens. This article reviews case studies demonstrating the ability of SSC design planning and financing principles to improve greater efficiency and effectiveness in government--in addition to long-term economic development.
The concept of SSCs has its origins in an ongoing effort to use evidence-based research (EBR) in government. Traditionally, EBR relied on researchers to study policy data and then test its efficacy with statistical procedures, in support of evidence-based decision making (EDM). The process of EBR is often time consuming, costly, and can be subject to human error and even political influence: (3) In some cases, however, EBR is being replaced with data science algorithms that effectively automate EDM as part of a smart sustainable city. While automated algorithms will never completely replace traditional EBR, they can work well for some defined use cases. For example, sensors, cameras, and other monitoring devices can instantly collect data on infrastructure to be analyzed by an algorithm, which can automatically send public works crews to address an issue.
A common example is the use of sensors in buildings to monitor internal and external temperature, emissions, and in some cases, even movement throughout the building. For example, Stanford University continuously monitors and adjusts the temperature in campus buildings, which is projected to save $420 million in 35 years. (4) Further, the One Albert Quay building in Cork, Ireland, can do everything from managing building temperature to collecting rainwater and reusing it in sustainable ways. (5) In fact, One Albert Quay and other SSC projects have been such attention-getters that they attract foreign investments for economic development with private firms such as AT&T. (6) These achievements have motivated local government officials throughout Ireland to make cities smarter and more sustainable:
"All over the world, rapid urbanization is putting enormous stress on resources and infrastructure which cannot be solved in a traditional way. However, cities can remedy these challenges by adopting a new approach and embracing innovative solutions and smart technologies to not just manage problems, but to enhance sustainability and competitiveness." (7)
A variety of use cases, which go beyond innovations in buildings, are directly relevant to public goods. Street corners and traffic signals can also be retrofitted with different types of sensors to collect data on and manage both pedestrian and automobile traffic. For example, the Tennessee Department of Transportation has an Intelligent Transportation System that measures traffic flow patterns, better detects accidents and traffic jams to provide quicker emergency responses, and communicates findings to the public via digital signs on roadways. Metrics are reported quarterly, providing an accountability measure. Additionally...