AWS Government, Education, & Nonprofits Blog

Cities of the Future, Today

We are excited to bring to you a three-part series around smart and collaborative cities showing how AWS can help cities of all sizes benefit from the cloud. In this post, we will explore how cloud computing can help cities build a collaborative framework to gather and distribute data to provide better services to citizens.


With cities becoming the gravitational center of people’s lives, it’s understandable that city leaders all around the world are working hard to improve the quality of life of their citizens and increase the number of useful services. Projects around smart cities are gaining attention in several countries, with administrators, industry, and citizens working together to enhance our cities.

As the number of initiatives grows, so does the need to increase the IT infrastructure to support both the growing set of citizens’ services and the amount of data storage needed for these projects. This can increase the costs of a smart city project and sometimes lead city administrators, especially in small cities, to abandon the endeavor or narrow its scope.

That’s where cloud computing comes in. The AWS Cloud enables cities to obtain a flexible, secure, and cost-effective IT infrastructure. Cloud computing replaces up-front capital infrastructure expenses with low, variable costs and increased scalability, security, and faster time-to-market. It also liberates administrators from devoting time and budgets to activities that don’t directly contribute to the bottom line. Local governments, like the City of McKinney, are embracing AWS because it increases their agility and ability to deploy new solutions faster, avoid long lead times, and reduce the time between the inception of a project and the production phase. This approach lowers the cost of failure and helps to increase innovation.

And innovation is key to a smart city.

Sensors in the city

When it comes to smart cities, our imagination usually depicts something between futuristic cities, like the Minority Report, and a slightly improved traffic light. This is not too far off, as sensors become the central nervous system of the smart city. We see a lot of examples of cities gathering data from parking sensors, air quality metering devices, or remote devices. However, we understand deploying physical sensors is usually an expensive task, and managing and maintaining them can be even more difficult.

To overcome this roadblock, we suggest reusing devices and assets to adapt quickly to changes and have an agile approach around service development and deployment. Solution developers recognize constraints around existing infrastructure and are trying to develop services that leverage current sensors. AWS supports numerous DevOps principles and practices that will help IT departments deploy these services, such as AWS CodeDeploy, AWS CodePipeline, and AWS CloudFormation.

Smart cells in the central nervous systems of our cities

We need to remind ourselves that we have smart cells in addition to sensors in the central nervous systems of our cities that we can leverage: our citizens.

Technologies, like smartphones, are everywhere and offer new ways to acquire information without deploying new sensors. Citizens are also important because engaging them in the process is crucial to start smart city projects. For instance, social media can help gather dissatisfactions and opinions, as well as events happening in real time around the city to detect potential threats. And with open data, organizations around the globe are making their data available for the public to discover, access, and use, fueling entrepreneurship, accelerating scientific discovery, and creating efficiencies across many industries.

Open data in action

For example, the City Of Chicago decided to release a spreadsheet containing the dates when streets were going to be cleaned. A group of individuals decided to build an app on top of this information, allowing people to view information on a map and be alerted with email or push notifications, enhancing the overall value of the original information provided.

Another example is OneMap, an integrated map system for government agencies in Singapore that delivers location-based services and information. Developed by the Singapore Land Authority (SLA) it functions as a collaborative environment for citizens, the private sector, and the community to use open data to create websites and applications.

AWS provides a comprehensive tool kit for sharing and analyzing data at any scale, so that when cities make data open on AWS, the public can analyze it quickly and easily with our scalable computing and analytics services, such as Amazon Simple Storage Service (Amazon S3).

Customers can rely on our services to deploy scalable, fault-tolerant applications that empower citizens with a reliable source of open data. Find examples on our reference architecture page. Finally, open data integration fuels innovation and interactions. Cities can open their application services and let developers build on top of open services with the help of  Amazon API Gateway, a fully managed service that makes it easy for developers to create, publish, maintain, monitor, and secure APIs at any scale.

Cities can expand their smart city vision by adopting a more agile, DevOps-oriented methodology. This can allow them to adapt and respond to new necessities and reuse the assets they already have deployed, empowering citizens to send data and collaborate with the government, which enables cities to gather data from the very people that demand the services. Finally, releasing the collected data as open data and opening services through APIs can be a cost-effective way to increase the value of an existing initiative.

Cities offer an immediate experience of technology that can directly impact you, the citizens who work, live, and raise your kids in these communities. That is why we started the AWS 2016 City on a Cloud Innovation Challenge, a global program to recognize local and regional governments and technology partners that are innovating for the benefit of citizens using the AWS Cloud. To learn more about the City on a Cloud Innovation Challenge and apply, visit the challenge page here.

And check back in our next post in this series where we explore how customers can use mobile and Internet of Things (IoT) devices on AWS to deploy smart city applications.


Post authored by Giulio Soro, Senior Solutions Architect, AWS and Steven Bryen, Manager, Solutions Architect, AWS