cyfryzacja smart city

The Advantages of City Digitization. Smart City in Numbers

Although the world has long successfully existed in the popular consciousness as a global village, the development of the latest technologies continues to challenge society to adapt to a dynamically changing reality. In an increasingly interconnected world, cities are at the forefront of technological innovation. The concept of smart cities, fueled by digitalization, promises to revolutionize urban living–from reducing carbon emissions to enhancing quality of life. See if the numbers speak for themselves.

Although smart home solutions are already widely known and in many homes we can find smart wireless control outlets and remotely controlled lighting, the equivalent concept of a smart city is still gaining popularity. The goal is the same: to improve the quality of public life through the use of modern technologies.

The term “smart city,” or an “intelligent city,” refers to an urban planning concept involving the use of technology to develop agglomerations. Digitization of cities is not just about automating the process of purchasing tickets for public transportation or booking a hotel room. It's a complex, multi-dimensional process that, while costly and time‑consuming, means greater comfort and safety for the public, and a slower degradation process for the environment. Let's take a look at the tangible results of the current actions taken in the spirit of smart cities.

Smart city solutions–what do they involve? 🌇

The smart city concept includes all activities aimed at utilizing technology to improve the quality of life of city dwellers while at the same time respecting the environment. In line with the above definition, numerous areas of urban life can be identified that provide opportunities to implement technological solutions. Among the most common ways to develop cities in a smart city mode are:

➡️ efficient energy administration
➡️ intelligent management of traffic flow and public transportation
➡️ creation of such systems to ensure the efficiency of public facilities and services
➡️ development of infrastructure for a healthy lifestyle
➡️ use of renewable energy sources.

Let's analyze what impact the various smart city solutions have on modern cities.

Effective energy management–what does it really mean and what benefits does it offer? ⚡

Reasonable energy management and storage presupposes first and foremost the use of renewable energy sources: hydroelectric power plants, wind farms, and photovoltaic plants. This choice is the first step to optimizing energy consumption in urban space. The use of energy obtained in this manner establishes a wide field for smart city solutions.    A popular solution in recent years has become smart city lighting (including that powered by photovoltaic panels), which dims within a specific hour range if the streets are empty. Such a solution generates significant savings and also increases the comfort of residents, who are not disturbed by bright street lights at night. Smart pedestrian crossings also work in a similar way, where, when motion is detected by cameras, lamps are turned on to illuminate the entire surroundings, and additional light signs warn drivers of an approaching pedestrian. Just by switching from mercury and sodium lighting technology to LED technology, which is made possible, for example, by a modern system for remote lighting management in Szczecin, Poland, the level of energy consumption can be reduced by up to 50-70%¹.  
Another important energy-related element in the development of modern cities is charging stations for electric vehicles (EVs), including buses. As the popularity of electric vehicles grows, so does the need for adequate infrastructure facilities and amenities for drivers. Charging stations are already becoming a permanent part of the landscape of larger cities, while going on a longer trip, one still has to take into account that one will not necessarily find a charging station in smaller towns along the route. According to 2021 data², 48% of charging stations in Poland are located mainly in large cities and along major transportation routes.

In the context of energy management, worth mentioning are energy self-sufficient buildings. Nowadays, it is more common to find self-sufficient residential buildings that generate their own energy, manage waste, and provide their own resources without relying on external services. Such buildings are characterized by a southern exposure, a simple shape, and a roof that allows the installation of solar or photovoltaic panels, efficient insulation of the exterior walls, ventilation with heat recovery, and the installation of only energy-efficient appliances.    A 2020 study³ in Wrocław, Poland has shown that the city could install up to 850 mWp (megawatt peak) of photovoltaics on rooftops with the potential to reduce electricity-related emissions by nearly 30%, at the same time increasing the city's energy self-sufficiency.   It is worth noting that a zero-emission building is not only a benefit to the environment. It also means significantly lower operating costs and greater comfort for users. Self-sufficient public buildings or retail and service facilities, combined with components such as a rainwater harvesting tank or electric chargers, could successfully constitute a profitable investment for the city.

Digitalization as a tool for improving traffic flow and public transport operations 🚗🚌

Traffic is not just cars, but also pedestrians, cyclists, or public transport passengers. Solutions in the smart city concept are created to take into account the needs of all traffic participants. In large cities, it is common to create mobility hubs, dedicated spaces for accessing diverse modes of transportation. Serving, for example, as digital parking lots where EV chargers and vehicles for rent (cars, scooters, and bicycles) can be found, they respond to the needs of drivers who spend valuable time searching for free parking spaces, and pedestrians who decide to take a different mode of transportation for a particular part of their route. Renting such a vehicle is handled efficiently thanks to appropriately designed applications, which translates into incredible convenience for city inhabitants on a daily basis.

Digital parking lots, by enabling users to set a route and reserve a parking spot in advance, reduce traffic congestion and cut pollutant emissions. For example, the cyfrowyparking.pl/en portal allows short- or long-term rental of a parking space, which is operated automatically–the bar lifts when the vehicle's license plate is scanned. Some parking lots also offer an automated payment process, such as through the Navipay application. This eliminates the need to wait in line to pay the fee and leave the parking lot, as well as the need to hire staff to operate the facility. Additionally, the transition to green parking lots contributes to environmental protection by reducing CO₂ emissions and other harmful air pollutants⁴.
Mobility hubs, digital parking lots, ready-to-rent bicycles and scooters directly improve traffic flow, which in turn makes urban transportation more attractive. Buses, which are not stuck in traffic jams, arrive on time, and overcrowding is reduced as well. Combined with the use of electric buses charged with renewable energy and the ability to purchase tickets through a web page or application, public transportation becomes eco-friendly and economical. The government's project to deploy more than 800 electric buses in Poland's transportation systems of various cities by 2020 has unfortunately not been implemented, with only 416 electric buses in operation at the end of 2020⁵. However, current trends make it possible to think that a renewed attempt at such a project could meet with better outcomes.

A method for efficiency in city institutions–does it exist? 🏢

Digitization of public services means the development of such systems that make it possible to complete all paperwork online, which directly translates into reduced traffic, reduced queues in offices, and thus increased convenience for petitioners. Currently, through the Polish ePUAP system, it is possible to apply for such matters as the issuance of an ID or an EHIC. Other platforms make it possible to view land registers and the register of entrepreneurs, to check the third-party insurance of a vehicle, and to register as an unemployed person.   The latest (2022)⁶ report by the Urban Policy Observatory on the digitization of city agencies shows that more than 84% of cities are using an electronic document management system, and in one in four cities the electronic system is already treated as the primary means for completing and sending documents. However, only 36% of cities continuously monitor the number of cases successfully completed electronically, and 10% monitor the level of user satisfaction with e‑services. It also seems significant that a total of only 40% of the cities surveyed have a policy document that addresses digitization. Such documents are much more common in the largest cities (94%), where agencies most often (88%) offer e‑services also through mobile applications. Cloud services are used by 44% of the surveyed facilities.  
The subject of digitization of government agencies shows how much remains to be done. Although e‑services are already widespread in large cities, in smaller towns most procedures still have to be carried out in person on the site. Widespread bureaucracy, as well as electronic systems that are far from perfect, still leave much room for improvement, but the important thing seems to be that, albeit slowly, changes in this field are gradually being implemented.   An important indicator of the level of city development is the participation of residents in urban management. Crucial in this regard is communication between authorities and residents, who, thanks to dedicated services, can submit ideas as well as objections to planned or undertaken activities. An example is the participatory budgeting initiative, which in 2022 was organized by 43.5% of Polish cities with more than 5,000 residents⁷. According to the definition of the smart city concept, the technological solutions being introduced are intended to serve both the environment and city residents, so the need to consult the planned solutions with those who are, after all, to be impacted by them seems obvious.

Healthy lifestyle as a priority of our times 🏥

It is worth noting that, in addition to environmental preservation and improved convenience, the smart city program also prioritizes the health of its residents. The aforementioned urban bicycles and scooters, as well as the infrastructure created for them in the form of cycle paths and special spaces that allow for the rental of the needed vehicle (for example, in digital parking lots), not only make traffic smoother but also reduce exhaust fumes and allow at least a short break from a sedentary lifestyle. Already between 2014 and 2017, the public bicycle rental system in New York City has reduced oil consumption by 13,370 tons, CO₂ emissions by 30,070 tons, and NO₂ emissions by 80 tons⁸.    One of the smart city initiatives is also a healthcare reform. Digitization of medical facilities means access to a patient's medical history in one place, faster service for patients, better communication between departments, and lower maintenance costs. In addition, the digitization of parking lots at clinics or hospitals is a guarantee of speed and convenience for patients, employees, and visitors. An example of a parking lot equipped with modern smart parking solutions is the Digital Parking Lot at the Children's Memorial Health Institute in Warsaw. The Navipay application allows for a contactless parking process, which ensures a high-level safety for all parking users, not only during the pandemic period.  
The greatest challenges currently faced by hospitals include:

➡️ reducing CO₂ emission
➡️ improving energy storage in hospitals
➡️ changing the approach to the medical facilities architecture projects with green surroundings in mind
➡️ recycling waste.
  Digitization and automation of daily processes in the medical sector may provide a solution to the many problems that hospitals encounter. According to the Green Hospitals report by the UN Global Compact Network Poland (2023)⁹, implementing a waste‑to-energy system that complies with EU regulations applicable to clinical waste generated at less than 10 tons per day will generate up to 750 kW of electricity per hour, saving up to 50% in costs. In turn, recycling personal protective equipment made of polypropylene (for example, masks, caps, aprons, disposable sheets, or curtains) will reduce CO₂ emissions by 85%.
In recent years, it has already become commonplace to use Internetowe Konto Pacjenta, an “Internet Patient Account” service, offering registration for vaccination, a view of the prescription, or referral. Such innovations are particularly valuable when access to a doctor is limited and prior in-person registration is impossible. The result of the pandemic, but at the same time a step toward the digitization of medical centers, has become online consultations. A report¹⁰ on the satisfaction of patients from online consultations with a primary care physician, which was conducted during the 2020 COVID-19 outbreak, found that 42% of respondents were satisfied with the consultation provided and felt that the quality of service was comparable to the advice they received during an in-person visit to a facility. 16% of respondents rated the online consultation as qualitatively superior to an in-person visit. In light of the prevailing general opinion regarding the level of medical services provided, the findings of the study conducted already a few years ago, in the context of the smart cities concept, can be considered promising.

Improving the environment in cities while increasing the well-being of their inhabitants is becoming a priority in urban planning. Innovations introduced in larger cities are already an everyday reality. We buy our bus ticket online, rent the nearest e‑scooter on the run, and are not surprised when city streetlights dim at night. However, smaller cities, where much less effort is devoted to digitization, are still waiting to be called smart cities. Why not seize the moment of the rapid development of technology and move forward?

The digitization of cities is undoubtedly a broad topic, and the aspects mentioned are only a part of the issue. However, the examples discussed alone show how much benefit the smart city solutions already implemented have brought so far. Smart energy management, traffic flow and public transportation improvement, digitization of public services, and gradual changes in medical facilities can be seen as milestones on the road to better everyday life in cities.

¹ Eltman, A., Golakiewicz, P., & Humańska, S. (2017). Nowoczesne zarządzanie infrastrukturą miejską według koncepcji smart city na przykładzie projektu inteligentnego oświetlenia miasta Szczecin. Redakcja, 111.
² Sendek-Matysiak, E., & Pyza, D. (2021). Prospects for the development of electric vehicle charging infrastructure in Poland in the light of the regulations in force. Archives of Transport, 57(1), 43-58.
³ Jurasz, J. K., Dąbek, P. B., & Campana, P. E. (2020). Can a city reach energy self-sufficiency by means of rooftop photovoltaics? Case study from Poland. Journal of Cleaner Production, 245, 118813.
⁴ Marcu, S. D., & Florea, A. (2018, September). Smart parking system-another way of sharing economy provided by private institutions. In 2018 Thirteenth International Conference on Digital Information Management (ICDIM) (pp. 18-23). IEEE.
Połom, M. (2021). e‑revolution in post-communist country? A critical review of electric public transport development in Poland. Energy Research & Social Science, 80, 102227.
⁶ Miazga, A., Dziadowicz, K., & Pistelok, P. (2022). Cyfryzacja urzędów miast. Instytut Rozwoju Miast i Regionów. Warszawa-Kraków, 6-9.
⁷ Martela, B., Janik, L., & Mróz, K. (2022). Barometr budżetu obywatelskiego.
⁸ Chen, Y., Zhang, Y., Coffman, D. M., & Mi, Z. (2022). An environmental benefit analysis of bike sharing in New York City. Cities, 121, 103475.
⁹ UN Global Compact Network Poland. (2023). Green Hospitals. https://ungc.org.pl/wp-content/uploads/2023/12/green_hospitals_UNGC_REPORT_Dec-2023.pdf
¹⁰  Rogalska, A., & Syrkiewicz-Świtała, M. (2021). Rola działań w zakresie e‑zdrowia w obliczu pandemii COVID-19. E-Wydawnictwo. Prawnicza i Ekonomiczna Biblioteka Cyfrowa. Wydział Prawa, Administracji i Ekonomii Uniwersytetu Wrocławskiego.
smart city, digitization, digital parking, mobility hubs, renewable energy sources, green hospitals, digitization of public services
Joanna Nowak
Junior Content Writer
Junior Content Writer

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