McKinsey Global Institute (MGI), an international consulting firm, has released research that explores how cities could increase the quality of life of their residents by integrating more smart technology.

In their study entitled, “Smart Cities: Digital Solutions for a More Livable Future”, researchers analyzed 50 cities across the globe to assess which communities could most benefit from hi-tech. In addition, MGI evaluated over 60 digital applications to see how they could impact society, whether in health care, housing, economic development, security, social communication, energy/water conservation and waste disposal.

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Bangkok cityscape.

The report suggests that usage of smart city apps and real-time data collecting technology could improve the quality of life in all of these areas by up to 30%.

How Apps Can Improve City-Living

MGI found that integrated smart technology could save many lives, both in the public safety sphere and the healthcare arena. The report suggests that with data-driven policing, optimized personal response technology, traffic regulating apps and other tools, cities could reduce crime by 30-40 percent, save 30-300 lives per year and shave commute times by 15-30 minutes.

Data-driven public health interventions and digital tools can improve preventative health initiatives and reduce the strain on hospitals and clinics. Smart tech could reduce disease by 8-15 percent.

Smart cities would be more environmentally friendly. According to MGI, cities could reduce their greenhouse gas emissions by 10-15 percent, lower water consumption by 20-30 percent and reduce the amount of solid waste per capita by 10-20 percent.

The study also suggests that if cities digitized processes such as land development, cost of living would decrease. For example, there would be fewer barriers to building more housing, which would lower rent for residents.

And technology can help citizens stay connected with each other. Apps like Meetup and Nextdoor have already shown how digital tools can help bring like minds together.

The Potential Downside to Smart(-er) Cities

Over the past few decades, technology has been associated with a troubling paradox. On the positive end, people are increasingly more “connected” with one another and can communicate with nearly anyone in the world. On the downside, it seems that the more “connect” with social apps and other forms of online communication, people become less interactive with each other in real life and overwhelmed with digital distractions. People who live in modern, tech-reliant societies tend to feel more isolated, anxious, and depressed.

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People exchanging numbers on their smartphones.

But according to the McKinsey report, if technology is used in the right way, apps could actually encourage more people to become more involved in their communities and government.

“Constituents can engage in two-way conversations with public officials and agencies via social media and interactive mobile apps,” wrote McKinsey researchers. “Cities can use technology to take the pulse of public opinion on a wide range of issues, using public feedback as the basis for making continuous improvements to the system. To that end, smart city efforts need to be transparent and accountable to the public.

“Technology may have the potential to be alienating, but cities can turn that on its head by actively looking for ways to use it in the service of building real-world community and personal connection.”

What This Study Means for Our Global Community

Currently, over half of the world’s population lives in urban areas and experts predict that and additional 2.5 billion people will add to that total in the next 30 years. The increased populations in these relatively congested areas will continue to put a strain on the environment and each resident’s quality of life unless cities make adjustments.

MGI claims that all cities, no matter how “modern”, could benefit from better integrating data and smart technologies. Their conclusion is we all “have more work to do.”

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