Skip to main content
Smart Cities: Environmental Aspects and Opportunities
IEEE SMart Cities Initiative Wuxi China Launch Workshop (2015)
  • Marcus R Wigan, Oxford Systematics
The phrase Smart Cities requires a little discussion before addressing any specific context.
When ICT is involved, the professionals engaged in the technical delivery are focused on possibilities of data capture and integration, rather than – beyond predictive analytics (BiG Data) applications, rather than the organizational context and culture within which such fresh large scale data flows are becoming available.
In this address, where I have been asked to look at Environmental aspects, especially sensors, it is critical that the technical capacities, data capabilities, cultural and organizational aspects are given equal weight, or unrealistic expectations are immediately aroused.
The records show that all major information driven changes in society take a significant time to become fully utilized. These lags are important both to manager and gear up the organizational changes required, to manage the societal cultural familiarity with the implications, and to ensure that unrealistic expectations are not aroused within those who have the responsibility for some or all of these ‘non technical’ aspects.
We are discussing this in China, a country that has demonstrated a massive technical climb, and is now on the cutting edge of innovation and well as manufacturing delivery. The environment has been mined to deliver this stunning rate of economic and technological change, and this has begun to become a major issue in its own right as, for example, city air pollution affects major events - such as the Olympics - as well as day to day living in China’s megacities.
Daily impacts on air quality are unavoidable in many of Chinas great cities, and, just as pollution drifts across Europe, it now drifts across a significant fraction of the world. Fires in Indonesia affect Australia and other nations, manufacturing pollution plumes from Eastern Europe affected the UK. And the arctic shows increasing impacts from pollution migration. The oceans show Sargasso seas of polluted plastics, and these affect the ecology.
This is not a litany of leftist libations to the Gods; it is simply a catalog of connectedness.
We are not alone anywhere on this planet. This will apply to smart(er) cities.
Where I live the ‘empty’ Australia, we are now one of the most urbanized countries on earth – and certainly the most urbanized continent. The steady moves to the cities, to create and grow megacities and beyond, are evident in the USA as much as they are in Asia.
The time of the Cities is here. They are now clearly the Engines of Creation (with a nod to Eric Drexler for his nanotechnology masterwork in the 1980s. ‘Engines of creation’) of innovation, and of pollution. Attractive, creative, productive- and polluting.
Moderating this pollution is a major goal of Smart Cities: it must be, and it can be.
However the sheer scale and complexity of cities involves massive information flows, management systems and forward planning. In all of these areas ICT is being looked to for solutions. Each area of interest in Cities is huge in its own right – yet we are now on the point of linking them and the management of these new inter organisational empires are already beginning. Environmental sensing will simply add to the pressures already felt by transport, perhaps the earliest of the Smart City ICT exploiters. They are now closely followed by energy supply and water management: all these are being brought into the Smart connected city fold.
  • smart cities,
  • citizen science,
  • governance,
  • environment,
  • socio-techncial studies
Publication Date
Spring May 18, 2015
Citation Information
Marcus R Wigan. "Smart Cities: Environmental Aspects and Opportunities" IEEE SMart Cities Initiative Wuxi China Launch Workshop (2015)
Available at: