3 International Cities Where Technology Solves Local Problems

Municipalities use tech for everything from mapping disaster relief to improving energy use and street traffic.

by / November 24, 2014

City governments are turning to technology to remediate pressing problems, like traffic congestion and disaster-driven data gathering. The “smart cities” movement has generated sensors and cameras that can handle various tasks, like traffic monitoring, snow removal and weather analysis, and the technology’s growing sophistication and lowering cost thresholds will allow more cities to deploy them for the foreseeable future.

International governments are exploiting technology to shape their cities’ evolution. These three projects represent areas where city tech plays an important role in foreign governance, and the results of these efforts may bring about lessons for other localities.

1. Disaster relief mapping in Jakarta

The city government in Jakarta, Indonesia, uses OpenStreetMap, a free, editable platform, to map the city  for evacuation and disaster relief planning efforts during the local December to February flood season.

The Jakarta disaster management agency partnered with the Australia-Indonesia Facility for Disaster Reduction (AIFDR) and the Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team (HOT) to populate the maps. Hazardous floods swamp Jakarta regularly, and conditions displaced more than 30,000 people in January. In 2013, AIFDR and HOT mapped and cataloged rainfall data to prepare for this upcoming flood season. According to the MIT Review, data came in many forms, including phone calls, texts, instant messages and faxes.

2. Smart sensors in Santander

The coastal city of Santander, Spain, has a network of more than 12,000 sensors throughout the community that measure various data, including garbage levels, air quality, noise and traffic.

The SmartSantander project has deployed sensors in the downtown area that transmit real-time data back to computers, and city employees analyze the data to adjust energy usage, schedule garbage pick-ups, and manage other municipal tasks. Sensor-data has helped Santander cut energy costs by 25 percent and garbage pickup costs by 20 percent.   

3. Data analytics in Lagos

Lagos, Nigeria’s government has partnered with IBM to deploy technology in a pilot project to better understand and manage the city’s skyrocketing population and the accompanying cultural impact. The New York Times claimed in January that Lagos was home to 21 million people, and the Guardian claims that Nigeria’s population will surpass that of America by 2050. Demand for city services will grow, traffic will worsen, and Lagos’ administration will be forced to adapt.

IBM chose Lagos in 2012 to be a testing ground for the company’s Smarter Cities Challenge project, where company staff meet with city leaders to understand problems and theorize potential solutions. A six-person IBM team met with Lagos government departments in 2013 to begin research, starting with analyzing city traffic conditions. The company’s recommendations for the city include better coordination between traffic, fire, police and medical agencies, and gathering data through multiple sources, like cellphones, cameras and GPS devices. 

International city technology projects have the potential to yield benefits for their jurisdictions, but government efforts to collect citizen data hasn’t come without controversy in some cases, especially in the United States. Microsoft and other technology giants are urging the American government to curb data collection efforts, like the National Security Agency’s surveillance program. 
Hilton Collins

Hilton Collins is a former staff writer for Government Technology and Emergency Management magazines.