Population growth, especially in towns, and related environmental issues, are driving investment into the technologies needed to develop the famous "smart cities" of the future.

Just over $8 billion were spent in 2010 on creating technologies designed to bring about ‘intelligent’ cities and this figure is expected to exceed $39.5 billion in 2016. This data is revealed in a study by ABI Research, which looked at around a hundred ‘intelligent city’ projects across the world, the majority of them in Europe(38), North America(35) and Asia(21). According to Josh Flood, Senior Analyst at ABIResearch, there is an easy explanation for this phenomenon. "It’s becoming critical for towns to develop intelligently, so that they can respond to the needs of their citizens and businesses", he told L'Atelier. The reason is simple: "More than 50% of the world’s population lives in cities. According to the United Nations, by 2050, there’ll be 2.2 billion more people on the planet, rising from 6.9 to 9.1 billion inhabitants."

Growing urban population creating a need  

And he adds: “In the same timeframe, two thirds of the world’s population will be living in urban areas, hence the number of urban dwellers is set to grow from 3.4 to 6.3 billion.” Although currently the largest spending on smart city technologies is for smart power grids,“over the next five years we will see a significant increase on spending for smart transportation technologies such as automatic vehicle ID and smart governance systems such as e-ID and ID document systems,”, plus also on solutions for preserving the environment. There are several existing models for intelligent cities. The study expounds on a smart city project at Holyoke, in Massachusetts, a former mill town badly affected by the economic crisis. With financing from Cisco, Holyoke is planning a complete makeover of the town centre, with a new transport terminal and multi-use buildings which will improve education, health and business amenities, with the aim of bringing back to town those who have fled to the suburbs.

Different types of intelligent cities

ABI’s intention is to create a model for all UStowns with a similar profile. Meanwhile over in Europe, Amsterdamhas embarked on a smart environment project, spearheaded by the city’s electricity utility and a business innovation group. Encouraging close cooperation between the city's residents, businesses, and the authorities, the town has put in place ecological measuresintended to reduce its carbon emissions by 40% by 2015. Key aspects of the project are to set up electric charging points for cars and boats so as to help transport move away from using petrol, to foster installation of solar panels that will enable households to sell electricity back to the grid, and to launch environmental studies at local universities.