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Five ways smart cities can… make us happier

If happiness is a measure that considers one’s health, lifestyle, security and sociability in any way, then smart cities can surely make us happier. New research by the McKinsey Global Institute says as much.

After all, the application of technology in intensifying urban centres is not just about operational improvement; or rather, operational improvement is not just about saving the municipal authorities money.

That is the ‘hard ROI’ of technology deployment, as Cisco puts it; there is a secondary output from well-mapped civic technologies, in the form of a ’soft ROI’, with a more profound human impact.

It is the combination of these, and the new innovations that are built on top of their legacy infrastructure, that will save the planet, in the end, as cities deliver on green targets like the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals and Paris Agreement.

“Digital systems can make infrastructure systems more efficient behind the scenes. But making a city smart means more than installing sensors and software. it’s about using tech and data to deliver a better quality of life,” says McKinsey Global Institute.

It describes certain ways it can deliver happiness. Here are five of them, calculated in terms of their impact on living for cities of at least five million inhabitants …

1 | Smart cities can… keep us safer

McKinsey reckons smart-city applications for blue-light services could reduce fatalities from homicide, road traffic, and fires by 10 per cent – which it works out as 300 lives per year in high-crime venues with populations of five million. Incidents of assault, robbery, burglary, and auto theft could be lowered by 40 percent, it reckons. How? Smart systems can optimise call centres and field operations, and clear driving paths for emergency vehicles. Applications such as gunshot detection, smart surveillance, and home security systems can also help.

Statistical analysis of civic data can also highlight patterns and predict incidents, ahead of time. Response times can be cut by 20-35 percent in big cities, McKinsey reckons – by between two and 17 minutes, it calculates, depending on the margins for improvement and existing latencies. “On top of these metrics are the incalculable benefits of giving residents freedom of movement and peace of mind,” it says, weighing in with the soft ROI and the happiness index.

2 | Smart cities can… give us more time

In other words, smart technologies can reduce traffic congestion. McKinsey says cities that deploy mobility applications can cut commuting times by 15-20 per cent on average by 2025 – which translates as 15-30 minutes per day, depending on a city’s density. Either way, it means more time with family and friends.

The gains will be greatest on roadways. Sensors attached to infrastructure will help engineers fix problems before they disrupt traffic. Digital signage and mobile apps can deliver real-time information about delays, enabling route adjustments. Intelligent traffic signals will reduce commutes, also; parking apps will help with idle traffic, searching for spaces.

3 | Smart cities can… keep us healthier

Technology in healthcare is a broad canvas; instead McKinsey considers only digital applications that “offer cities room to play a role,” notably to for chronic conditions such as diabetes or cardiovascular disease. The potential to reduce disability-adjusted life years (DALYs), the World Health Organization’s metric for measuring the burden of disease, at up to 15 per cent, if technologies are applied correctly, it says.

In low-income cities, data-based interventions focused on maternal and child health alone could reduce DALYs by more than five per cent. Telemedicine will also help in developing cities. But the impact will be biggest in the developed world, it says. Remote patient-monitoring could reduce the health burden in high-income cities by more four per cent. Infectious-disease surveillance systems, to stay a step ahead of epidemics, could see another five per cent reduction. Cities can use data analytics to identify people at risk, and tailor their care.

4 | Smart cities can… make us less wasteful

Building-automation systems, dynamic electricity pricing, and mobility applications are some of the methods cities could use to cut greenhouse emissions by 10-15 per cent. Interactive water meters can “nudge people towards conservation,” and reduce consumption by 15 per cent in sone cities, says McKinsey.

Analytics-driven sensor technology can reduce water wastage by 25 per cent in the developing world, where leaking water systems are an issue. Cities can save 25 to 80 litres of water per person each day and reduce unrecycled solid waste by 30 to 130 kilograms per person annually, McKinsey calculates.

5 | Smart cities can… keep us better connected

Social applications like Meetup and Nextdoor could double the share of residents who feel connected to the local community, and triple the share who feel connected to local government, McKinsey suggests. Better communications channels, including via social media, city applications, and new messaging systems, will make cities more responsive, as well.

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