Liz Enbysk, Editorial Director at the Smart Cities Council provides a global view of livability improvements happening in cities around the world.

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Examples in U.S. Cities

In Boston, people can sit on a solar-powered bench in a city park and charge their cell phones. In New York City, old-style payphones are being transformed into the world’s largest and fastest free municipal Wi-Fi network - and advertising will pay for it. San Diego expects its move to energy-efficient LED street lighting fixtures and wireless smart lighting controls will save $250,000 annually – and enable a range of livability enhancements at the same time. As U.S. cities test drive smart technologies to improve quality of life for their citizens, there are interesting previews of what may come next from cities around the globe.

International Transportation - Smart Cities - Onvia

International Transportation

Car-clogged Madrid, for example, is getting tough on polluters driving older model cars and gives citizens financial incentive to switch to more efficient electric or hybrid vehicles. The city launched a smart parking system that determines what a motorist pays to park at a city meter based on their car’s engine type and model year. Electric cars get to park for free and hybrids get a reduced rate. And the worst gas hogs pay a 20% mark-up.

Many European cities would like nothing better than to get commuters out of cars altogether and onto mass transit, bikes or pedestrian pathways. London transit planners are getting more people to ride the rails by adding retail to train stations. A grocery chain in Seoul found a way to make daily commutes more productive by setting up “virtual stores” in subway stations.

Wall-length billboards replicate shelves in grocery stores and display images and prices of common products. Each sign includes a QR code; people shop by scanning products with their smartphones and orders are delivered within the day. Meanwhile, in Helsinki, leaders are moving to a seamless “mobility on demand” system that means commuters can use an integrated app and single payment method for all modes of travel – minibuses to taxis to bike shares. The goal is a transit system so cheap and so good cars are unnecessary.

International Waste Management - Smart Cities - Onvia

International Waste Management

Yet another approach to improving livability, also from Finland, is a logistics solution from a company called Enevo. Rather than sending trucks to collect waste on a static schedule and route, Enevo uses sensors to monitor fill-levels on waste bins, and then generates the most efficient schedule and optimized routes so trucks only roll when they need to.

Future Outlook

Major European cities appear ahead of their U.S. counterparts in adoption of smart technologies.

The examples shared here provide a glimpse of what U.S. cities may move to in the near future. Livable cities provide clean, healthy living conditions with minimal pollution and congestion. It’s not a matter of how these types of innovative technologies will arrive – it’s a matter of when.

This article originally appeared in our Smart Cities: How Cities are Investing in Livability whitepaper which is available for free download here.