Home / Technology Policy & Ethics / March 2019 / Are Smart Cities Smart

Are Smart Cities Smart?

by H. Kieu, L. Borrello, KC Samiran, J. Martin, K. Watts, S. Jones

March 2019

It is estimated that by 2030, 70% of the global population will live in cities. Cities today need to accommodate more people, as well as create a sustainable environment with efficient resources. Therefore, the concept of smart cities, which entails utilizing technological innovations, has become an important priority on many cities’ agendas [1]. We will attempt to answer the question: “Are smart cities smart?” by looking at the five pillars associated with smart cities – Smart Grid, E-Governance, Infrastructure and Transportation, Crime Prevention, and Information and Communication Technology (ICT) applications.

Smart Grid
Of the five pillars that we examined in this research, a city’s power system is the most important and most complex element [2], which insures the optimal function of other four pillars. With the development and integration of smart technologies, the need for an upgrade to the traditional power grid system has become necessary [3]. This is where optimizing and upgrading the current power grid system through Dynamic Data Driven Application Systems (DDDAS) and micro grids comes into play.

With Information and Communication exchange Technologies (ICxT), DDDAS, micro grids can be incorporated throughout the primary grid system giving consumers the ability to detach themselves from the gird and tap into a localized power source such as batteries, generators or renewable energy sources [4], [5], [6]. This also allows them to securely manage the distribution of power, which limits interruptions to consumers’ energy [6], [7].

The smart grid system is in fact smart; it directly impacts the lives of citizens living within a smart city by giving them the choices to integrate smart technologies into their households and buildings. On the other hand, to utilize ICxT and DDDAS, citizens must upgrade to new appliances. If a citizen is not willing to do so or has no immediate need to upgrade, then the benefits for home business-based smart technology are not utilized.

Safety and Security
Technology is not just a useful tool to maintain the public’s safety [8]. When wielded smartly, it is considered one of the most effective forms of security and safety innovations in reducing crimes, such as homicides [9].

“Every crime is related to some location” [10] and through Geographic Information Systems (GIS), crime-mapping has become a reality, streamlining quicker communication in a more sustainable manner to combat crime by allowing authorities to utilize data in a smart way [11]. GIS technology is a foundational platform that analyzes geographical information which humans cannot or tend to overlook [10].

The implementation of GIS crime-mapping in cities has improved the allocation of law enforcement personnel and resources [11], reducing crimes by 30-40% [8]. In addition, GIS crime-mapping generates faster communication between emergency response teams, reducing response times by 20-35%. Thanks to shorter emergency vehicle response times, approximately an additional 8-10% of lives are [9].

Another solution to fighting crimes is surveillance. Even though it may infringe upon a citizen’s privacy [12], surveillance technology when deployed has reduced committed crimes by 5-6% [8]. Crime mapping and surveillance technologies have been successful in managing crime rates and engaging their citizens in the process of ensuring public safety. It is worth noting while smart technology has the potential to save lives and better public safety, it will not eradicate crime completely [9].

In 1997, The Information Resource of Maine (InfoME) was created to provide an electronic platform – Maine.gov to provide online government services for citizens and businesses. Today, 156 online-services range from license application and renewal, to vehicle registration renewal. In 2017, a Maine Center for Business and Economic Research study found that from 2011 to 2015, Maine government saved between $36.3 million and $44.2 million on operating costs by delivering services digitally and using a self-funded model [14].

Beside the financial benefits, the digital initiative increased the efficiency and convenience for users. It has increased civic participation and the awareness of social programs. Most importantly, it has increased compliance of regulations due to broader access to online information and services with less complexity [14].

Infrastructure and Transportation
With the increasing population, urban infrastructure across all transportation modes are expected to be strained. While 30% of urban congestions are caused by cars looking for parking, more than 10 percent of traffic delays on major routes in urban areas are caused by outdated traffic signal timing. Trucking companies wasted $28 million on operating and fuel costs due to the stop-and-go traffic [15].

Improving the transportation system allows for repairing aging infrastructure or building new roads and it also implies implementing Intelligent Transport System (ITS) technologies [16]. ITS is the system that applies ICT to transport infrastructures and vehicles. It seeks to resolve issues concerned with transportation such as congestion, accidents, and pollution by integrating a broad range of systems, including sensing, communication, information dissemination, and traffic control [17].

Some of the examples of cities implementing ITS include: Pittsburgh PA plans to save 60% of energy by converting 36,365 street lights to LED technology; Columbus OH aims to reduce infant mortality in Franklin County by 40% with Columbus Connected Transportation Network (CCTN) that will improve access to prenatal care for individuals in underserved neighborhoods [15].

Information and Communication Technology (ICT)
Woo states, “The potentially overlooked but important requirement for smart, future cities running well is reliable, ubiquitous connectivity” [18]. ICT is the fifth pillar and arguably most important pillar of a smart city but unfortunately, just like how ‘smart city’ has become a buzzword, so have the technologies that are expected to propel our cities into the future, (e.g., 5G and Fiber).

Fiber may be the best communication technology for a smart city, but most communities already have existing technology, such as copper cables that can be upgraded less expensively, than building a new fiber infrastructure [19]. In addition, fiber will work best used concurrently with 4G and 5G technologies, but 5G isn’t slated for beyond testing cities until 2020 [19]. Internet connections are often taken for granted, but connectivity, of any type is still not possible in some areas. Where it is possible, cities need to ask themselves what added value is there and what new risks are they exposing their communities to when they create this connection.

The International Data Corporation [20] forecasted that investments in technologies enabling smart cities initiatives will reach $80 billion in 2018, and $135 billion in 2021 (Investments in Technologies, 2018). [21] showed that a $1 increase in state spending on smart technologies will result in a reduction of as much as $3.49 in state overall expenditures. Even though the benefits of smart technologies are clear, it is important to examine the value as well as the risks before implementing new technologies in cities.


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Ha Kieu is a Graduate Research Assistant in the Center for Communication and Information Science at Ball State University. Kieu is working toward her Master’s degree in Communication and Information Science at Ball State. She is also a Graduate Assistant for International Admission at Ball State University. Kieu earned her Bachelor’s degree in Business and Accounting at Keystone College, PA in 2016. Previously, she worked for Mediterranean Shipping Company from 2016 to 2018 in their Finance Department.


Lauren Borrello is a Graduate Research Assistant in the Center for Information and Communication Sciences program at Ball State University. Prior to joining Ball State University, Lauren was an Admissions Representative at Alma College in Alma, MI from 2016 to 2018. She earned her Bachelor of Arts degree in Spanish and Foreign Service from Alma College in 2016. She is currently working towards her Masters degree in Information and Communication Sciences at Ball State University and will graduate in July 2019.


Samiran KC is the Graduate Research Assistant for the Division of Online and Strategic Learning at Ball State University. KC supports training of all Ball State faculty in transition to a new Learning Management System (LMS) including researching, testing, and documenting new features of the LMS.

Before joining Ball State, Samiran worked as a Software Engineer and Business Analyst in the software industry. KC earned his Bachelor’s Degree in Information Management from Thames International College in Kathmandu, Nepal and is currently working towards a Master’s Degree in Information and Communication Sciences from the CICS program at Ball State University.

Jessica Martin is the Project Manager for the Voting System Technical Oversight Program (VSTOP),  at the Bowen Center for Public Affairs at Ball State University. VSTOP advises the Indiana Secretary of State and the Indiana Election Commission on the certification of voting machines and electronic poll books in Indiana. Prior to joining Ball State, Martin worked for Travis County Information Technology Services and the Elections Division in Austin, TX.  She earned her Bachelor of Arts from the University of St. Catherine and is currently working towards a Masters Degree in Information and Communication Sciences from the CICS Program at Ball State University.

Kristyn Watts joined the University of Notre Dame RecSports team in January 2019 as the Rockne Memorial Building and Special Events Manager. In addition to managing the overall operations of Rockne Memorial, Watts is an active member of the RecSports technology team whose goal is to advocate for the use of ICT within the department. Watts previously worked at Butler University where she was the Assistant Director of Aquatics and Operations. In that role, she was responsible for the overall facility as well as website content management, membership database management, membership software, and worked as the departmental technology liaison among other roles. She earned a Bachelor of Science in Education from Butler University and a Master of Arts in Sport Administration from Ball State University. Watts currently serves as president of the Indiana Recreational Sports Association (IRSA), the state affiliate for NIRSA, the Leaders in Collegiate Recreation.

Dr. Steve Jones joined the Center for Information and Communication Sciences faculty in August of 1998. He came to Ball State University (BSU) from completing his doctoral studies at Bowling Green State University where he served the Dean of Continuing Education developing a distance-learning program for the College of Technology’s undergraduate Technology Education program. Dr. Jones was instrumental in bringing the new program on board because of his technical background and extensive research in the distance-learning field. Prior to coming to higher education, Dr. Jones spent over sixteen and a half years in the communication technology industry. He owned his own teleconnect, providing high-end commercial voice and data networks to a broad range of end users. Dr. Jones provided all the engineering and technical support for his organization that grew to over twenty employees and two and a half million dollars per year revenue. Selling his portion of the organization in December of 1994, Dr. Jones worked briefly for Panasonic Communications and Systems Company as a district sales manager providing application engineering and product support to distributors in a five-state area prior to starting doctoral studies.



Ali Kashif Bashir (S’16–M’15) is Associate Professor at Department of Science and
Technology, University of the Faroe Islands, Faroe Islands, Denmark. In the past, he held appointments with Osaka University, Japan, the National Institute of Technology, Nara, Japan, the National Fusion Research Institute, South Korea, and Southern Power Co. Ltd, South Korea. He received his PhD in computer science and engineering from Korea University, South Korea, MS from Ajou University, South Korea and BS from University of Management and Technology, Pakistan. His research interests include: 5G, NFV/SDN, network virtualization, IoT, computer networks, internet security, etc. He is serving as the Editor-in-chief of the IEEE Future Directions Newsletter.