Get Smart: 10 Cities Using Data to Improve the Quality of Life

  1. Get Smart: 10 Cities Using Data to Improve the Quality of Life

    Get Smart: 10 Cities Using Data to Improve the Quality of Life

    More than half the world’s population lives in cities, with the number of residents expected to grow from 3.5 billion to 5 billion in the next 20 years. That has cities from San Francisco to Helsinki (and one entire country, the island of Malta) analyzing data in new ways with the goal of improving the quality of life in urban areas.

    This decade, cities around the world will invest $108 billion in smart city infrastructure, such as smart meters and grids, energy-efficient buildings, and data analytics, according to Pike Research. Here are 9 cities (plus Malta) that are leading the way in using data analytics to reduce crime, congestion, and waste.

  2. Boston


    Mayor Thomas Menino has an analytics team that correlates citizen complaints with land use information, code violations, crimes, and tax records to predict where absentee landlords aren’t maintaining properties. This is part of the city’s Problem Properties Task Force, an initiative to try to clean up drugs and prostitution in the city and hold landlords accountable for what happens in the properties they rent.

    Photograph by: Jodi Hilton/The New York Times/Redux

  3. Dubuque, Iowa

    Dubuque, Iowa

    In 2010, Dubuque and IBM started a project to conserve water and make the city more sustainable. The project gave 151 households information about their water usage and encouraged the reporting of leaks. Residents reduced their water use 6.6 percent and increased leak reporting eightfold. Over nine weeks, more than 89,000 gallons of water were saved, according to IBM.

  4. Helsinki, Finland

    Helsinki, Finland

    To make its roads safer and less congested, the Finnish Transport Agency is working with IBM to aggregate all its information on road conditions, accidents, and traffic into a single view. By analyzing the combined data, the agency, which is responsible for the national road network, can identify potentially dangerous sections that require maintenance.

  5. London


    In preparation for the 2012 Summer Games in London, the British Transport Police is using software to pinpoint local gang activity and the nearest train stations. The city has had a problem with organized gangs of pickpockets traveling on the Tube looking for victims. The police are also using MapInfo Crime Profiler software from Pitney Bowes Business Insights to reduce cable theft across the British Rail Network.

  6. Island of Malta

    Island of Malta

    IBM and the Mediterranean island of Malta (whose main cities are Birkirkara and the capital, Valletta) are building a nationwide smart electric grid and water system. The electric utility will be able to monitor electric use in real time and set variable rates. Customers can also monitor their electric use in real time and change how much they use. Energy consumption has fallen in areas where it has been installed.

  7. Memphis


    The Memphis Police Dept. uses software from IBM to predict where crime may happen so the city can patrol those areas better. The city can base its predictions on the real-time crime information that flows into its operations center. Since the city started using the software in 2006, Memphis has reduced serious crime 30 percent.

  8. New York City

    New York City

    Many cities have encouraged programmers to develop apps based on data from public agencies. At the NYC BigApps 3.0 Hackathon in November, first place went to Eric Rafaloff, who created an app called Can I Park Here? that lets drivers know if they’ve parked in a legal space.

  9. Rio de Janeiro

    Rio de Janeiro

    Flash floods and mudslides killed several hundred people earlier this year. To improve its emergency response system and anticipate floods better, Rio de Janeiro (with IBM’s help) created an operations center that pulls together information from 30 agencies to provide a more complete view of the city. The center, which gets feeds from about 400 video cameras that monitor the city, is also helping Rio ramp up security ahead of the World Cup in 2014 and the Summer Olympics in 2016.

  10. San Francisco

    San Francisco

    Parking in San Francisco can be a pain, so the city is using a system called SFpark that utilizes sensors, new meters, and real-time data to make it easier. Wireless sensors monitor when spaces open up. That information is then distributed via the Web, smartphone apps, or text message. Meanwhile, pricing on the new meters can be adjusted according to demand, which could encourage drivers to run their errands during off-peak hours or use parking lots or garages.

  11.  Washington, D.C.

    Washington, D.C.

    DC Water is modernizing the management of the aging water and sewer infrastructure in the nation’s capital with the help of IBM. One of the benefits is that DC Water can share real-time information about the water flow capacity of each fire hydrant with firefighters, so they know what to expect from hydrants before they rush to the scene of a fire.