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After Years of Hype, "Smart" Cities Are Finally Taking Hold

Blog post   •   Jun 25, 2015 09:30 SGT

Billed as the future of urban living, “smart” cities have been on the horizon—and the drawing board—for more than a decade. But this new breed of digitally integrated metropolis, in which embedded technology is used to enhance standards of living and sustainability, is no longer a mere pipe dream as the first wave of “smart” cities has come to fruition in a variety of locations around the world.

Those with visions of flying cars or robots on every corner will have to recalibrate their expectations however, as the technological advancements are largely below the surface. Whether custom-built from scratch, such as the US$35 billion Songdo development in South Korea, or taking the form of a high-tech upgrade to an existing city, such as Bristol in the UK, “smart” cities are characterized by the ubiquity of electronic sensors, which track the performance of traffic, electricity and various other municipal systems then respond by adjusting those systems in real time.

Central to the rise of the “smart” city has been the advent of the “Internet of Things”, a global network that connects physical objects—from environmental monitoring stations to home appliances such as washing machines—and allows them to exchange data to optimize efficiency and maximize resources.

While the “smart” city is unquestionably a global trend—Rio de Janeiro and other South American capitals have won plaudits for innovation in this area, while India recently unveiled plans to develop 100 “smart” cities—Japan has been a pioneer, and the country lays claim to one of the world’s most cutting-edge examples in Fujisawa Sustainable Smart Town (SST), which officially opened in November 2014.

Located southwest of Tokyo in the Kanagawa Prefecture, Fujisawa is the result of a joint project between the Japanese government and 18 private-sector companies, including electronics giant Panasonic. And while it includes the kind of comprehensive interconnectedness and technology-centric infrastructure common to all “smart” cities, what makes the 1,000-home community so groundbreaking is its focus on, and response to, the lifestyle of its residents. Conceived around a vision that seeks to cater for the evolving needs of the town and its residents over the next 100 years, Fujisawa features amenities and systems that react to both automated and human feedback to realize a city that is the perfect union of man and machine. Following the successful completion of Fujisawa, Panasonic recently announced plans for a second “smart” city, Tsunashima SST, in Yokohama.

Says Mr Takeshi Arakawa, Manager, Fujisawa SST Management Team, Panasonic Corporation: “We envision a future in which people can enjoy smart and eco-friendly lifestyles underpinned by optimal and stable use of renewable energy sources. The Sustainable Smart Towns of Fujisawa and Tsunashima are a blueprint for that future, with the aim of achieving maximum energy efficiency through state-of-the-art smart houses designed to promote self-creation and self-consumption of energy.” The future, it seems, has been worth the wait.