Smart cities and Tech Evolution - I The role of infrastructures

Ancient civilisations built cities that after a period of prosperity faded away, their infrastructures rotting and becoming unable to sustain the city and its inhabitants. In the photo a Mayan city thought to have disappeared after several decades of drought, now reclaimed by the forest.

Roads have been since the ancient times crucial infrastructures for civilisation and the lifeblood of cities.

A crowd can live only for a limited time. The lack of infrastructures providing food, drink and shelter condemn any crowd to disperse.

The six main infrastructure clusters that characterise a city

I am getting ready to give a tutorial at ISC2 on Technology Evolution and its impact on Smart Cities and I like to share a few ideas on this blog in the coming days. Comments are most appreciated.

Cities have been founded, they have grown and declined, many were abandoned and have become ghost town, and over centuries have been reclaimed by Nature.

There have been, and there are massive clustering of people but they don’t last more then a few days. After a short period they disband, because they cannot access resources.

At the core of these two apparently different situations there is a common factor: declining cities have declining infrastructures (it is a chicken or egg dilemma) and a cluster of people does not have an infrastructure to sustain it over time.

Infrastructures are the crucial element in glueing communities over time. In the end the measure of the smartness of a city, of a community, is tied to the smartness of its infrastructures. In the past large communities required the physical infrastructures of a city, smaller communities required the more limited physical infrastructures of villages. Today communities can thrive in the cyberspace, using internet and access devices as the supporting infrastructure.

This is interesting since this blurs the boundaries of cities and communities. It is also something that can be leveraged on the path to make cities smarter.

Technologies are the enablers of infrastuctures. The evolution of technologies lead to the evolution of infrastructures and, even more important, in the creation of novel infrastructures that can change the rules of the game.

There are several kinds of conceptual infrastructures that we should consider in our exploration of technology evolution applied to cities and citizens.

The first, and basic one, is the Connectivity infrastructure. Streets, roads, highways are the ones immediately coming to mind. Then, in the last fifty years telecommunications became an important connectivity infrastructure and more recently Internet (not the Web, that is part of the service infrastructure). Telecommunications started 150 years ago but for the first hundred years was a sort of service infrastructure, rather than a connectivity one since it was serving selected ones. It is only in the second part of the last century that it became a connectivity infrastructure for business first and then part of the universal service. For its pervasivity, wireless radio is today a worldwide connectivity infrastructure.

Connectivity infrastructures let people interact. This is the bases for aggregating a community. But to maintain the community you need to provide some basic services.

Services infrastructures are bringing water, getting rid of waste, provide transportation, more recently provide power (electricity, gas, petrol….). In the last decade the web has grown to become a fundamental service infrastructure for both thrift and social life. As the web grew, so grew service variety and support platform, like clouds, data centres. The creation of data, their accessibility and the ever more sophisticated data processing has resulted in a service infrastructure of its own, although it leverages on the web for access and on the connectivity infrastructure for transport.

More recently we have started to see the first signs of an awareness infrastructure. Today we have small islands of awareness, mostly embedded in our own devices, but over time we will see these islands grow and merge creating a full scale ambient awareness that will become an infrastructure of its own, and an essential component in what we call a smart city.

Above all these infrastructures we have the perception infrastructure that is basically made of people and it is mediated by the physical and more and more by the personalised service infrastructure. It interacts with the awareness infrastructure to better serve customisation.

All the above infrastructures are regulated by two forces, the economic force and the regulatory force. These can be seen as special kind of infrastructures on their own. They interact with all the other infrastructures both stimulating and constraining their evolution. Understanding their mutual interplay is essential in designing a smart city roadmap.

Author - Roberto Saracco

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