Everything around us is connected.
In the universe, we have stars that connect planets to universes, which are part of a network of connected galaxies. On earth, we have rivers that connect to oceans which connect continents. These continents are made up of connected countries which all contain small towns and cities with the roads connecting one to another. In society, we organise ourselves into communities where we can support and interact positively with other individuals who share similar interests – making even more connections.
Similarly, urban systems in modern cities are also connected through the exchange of information. Modern cities are globalised, and their interconnected structure makes cities the main disseminators and consumers of innovation and the perfect place for people to seek new opportunities, particularly in relation to employment, healthcare, education, and participation in organised groups.
In pursuit of these benefits, every day nearly 180,000 people are moving into cities, and creating more than 60 million new urban dwellers every year. Whereas in the early 20th century only 13% of the world’s population lived in cities, this figure increased to 29% in 1950 to 50% in 2009, and is expected to reach 70% by 2050 – less than 35 years away.
Which creates big challenges. To meet the demand for urban services and natural resources, we will need the equivalent of 3 earths to support us.
Another challenge is that the physical infrastructure of cities is already in place and although it’s beautiful and functional, it’s also outdated and makes the exchange of information harder. We can’t build cities from scratch so we need to use what we have and build on it.
Also, the evolution of technology has created a fragmented scenario made up of broken, isolated connections among cities’ component systems (which depend upon each other - transportation depends upon energy, energy depends upon water…etc). This often makes city utilities and services operate sub-optimally, limiting the creation of new value-added services and challenging the efficiency of services existing already.
Digital technologies offer a new wave of opportunities to mitigate some of this impact – and it’s up to engineers to design and develop these solutions. This is exciting and world-changing work; creating a balance between social, environmental and economic opportunities that will be delivered through smart city planning, design, and construction.
Complete smart cities are still at the conceptual design - they do not exist yet but engineers have been working towards the vision.
The connection between people, data and systems is the backbone of smart cities. As such, smart cities must be jointly designed and anyone should be able to create innovation and new businesses models.
In a world where such connections exist, cities can become better and healthier places to live, where business can prosper, citizens are happy, and there is a sustainable economy.
The fact that we as engineers can be at the forefront of this innovation is exhilarating. I love my work and I want to open other girls’ and women’s eyes to careers in engineering so they can feel as satisfied and as motivated as I do to make a difference.