10 ways data is making cities smarter

Data traffic

Smart city innovations begin with data, sometimes gathered through high-tech sensors or other inventive ways. That data is sent or retrieved (pushed by a sensor or pulled by a remote system) through a digital network. The data may be stored in a database or used real-time in computer dashboards, simple displays, and reports.

In recent projects across the United States and overseas, data is making smart cities smarter.[1]

Managing a microgrid in Atlanta

Tech Square in Atlanta

Georgia Power and Georgia Tech are jointly developing a 1.4 million-watt microgrid for midtown Atlanta’s Tech Square.

When the microgrid begins generating, storing, and managing energy this fall, generation and distribution data within the overall electrical grid will be evaluated. At the same time Georgia Tech faculty and students will analyze controller, security, and economics data.[2]

Achieving environmental goals in Orlando

The City of Orlando has set goals of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 90 percent by 2040 and achieving 100% renewable energy by 2050. Significant, relevant data has been captured. Greenhouse gas emissions have been tracked for about a decade. Residential, commercial, and vehicle fossil fuel use is reported annually by a city-owned utility.

More recently, Orlando leaders have arranged for use of a simulation tool to verify progress toward the city’s 2040 and 2050 goals. Data from 350 to 400 transportation, energy use, and building endpoints has been analyzed along with population growth, energy generation sources, and resident travel patterns.[3]

Planning pavement maintenance in Las Vegas

Timely maintenance is essential for Las Vegas streets which are traveled by approximately 43 million visitors and 650,000 residents. On average summer afternoons, the pavement bakes in three-digit temperatures. Winter nights will have minimum temperatures below freezing.

Heat maps are created from street-by street temperature data. The maps reveal extremes where potholes are most likely to form. That enables proactive maintenance which helps to limit vehicle damage and unhappy motorists.

Accomodating bike transportation in San Francisco

Bike lane in San Francisco

The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA) seeks to build a sustainable transportation system. That requires less automobile traffic and more bicycle-friendly streets.

The SFMTA deployed 51 sensors which counted more than 8 million bicycles in 2018. Seventeen of the sensors logged almost two-thirds of weekly ridership. After analyzing that bicycle count data, ten miles were added to the bikeway network, including thirty new intersections.

Refining waste bin collection routes in Seoul

Sensors have been installed in waste bins at more than 150 Seoul, Korea locations. After fill-level data from those sensors is analyzed by computer, collection routes are automatically refined.

Supporting tech infrastructure in Hong Kong

Demand for more data centers has grown as smarter cities rely more on data and multinational corporations rely more on cloud services. Hong Kong currently has 8.2 million square feet of data center space, with another 1.21 million square feet planned or under construction.[4]

Predicting water and energy needs in Copenhagen

When a Danish utility company researched ways to efficiently supply energy, they realized that the monthly and annual meter readings supplied by customers were inaccurate. More timely and correct readings could better predict demand at each substation.

Based on their research, the company has installed pipeline sensors at each substation and customer endpoint. The data from 700 endpoints per second now enables more efficient response to water loss and energy use issues.

Forecasting bridge maintenance in Amsterdam

Pedestrian bridge in Amsterdam

With 1,281 bridges crossing Amsterdam’s 165 canals[5], structural integrity and the volume of pedestrian traffic require citywide attention.

Built-in sensors on an innovative new bridge record strain, rotation, load, displacement and vibration.[6] The bridge is the first in a planned smart sensor network that will count people, keep the pace of traffic, and monitor structural integrity. With that data, the city will be able to better time traffic lights and refine maintenance schedules.

Keeping sidewalks pedestrian safe in The Hague

New street lighting in a residential district of the Hague contains built-in motion sensors. The city can remotely monitor the lighting. Where empty streets might otherwise be brightly lit, conservation is possible. Other times, when people are present, sidewalks are safely illuminated.

Enabling train, tram, and bus service in Brussels

Brussels city street

Public transport in Brussels, Belgium choreographs 1,200 vehicles, performing 401 million tram, metro train, and bus journeys each year. Vehicle maintenance must be proactive, and the use of substantial public funds must be transparent.

In partnership with multinational software and network access companies, the city implemented a databased operations and maintenance system that has improved customer service, reduced environmental impact, and better-accommodated passengers with disabilities.

[1] Raconteur.net
[2] TUFF.org – The University Financing Foundation (TUFF)
[3] GCN.com
[4] SCMP.com
[5] StarboardBoats.nl
[6] Dezeen.com

Alexa Stone
LEED AP, Sustainable Facility Professional, Envision Sustainability Professional - - Alexa has more than 25 years of experience in sustainable operations, decarbonization, and occupant wellness. Her strategic planning work has served local, state, and federal government, higher education, and private industry. Alexa founded ecoPreserve in 2009 as a team of three and has grown the company to over 20 of the brightest sustainability and project management professionals in the industry.
Alexa Stone


We empower organizations to reduce environmental impact, improve efficiency, and improve quality of life.
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