With the Smart Cities Transport framework due for release next month, we consider what it means to be a smart city, the opportunities this presents and the progress the UK has made towards this agenda.
What does it mean to be a smart city?
There is no definitive explanation of a smart city because of the breadth of the technologies that can be incorporated into a city for it to be considered one. The general consensus is that smart cities use new technologies and data as the means to solving their economic, social and environmental challenges.
Smart cities are more than a trend as the world is becoming more urban with 60% of the population expected to live in cities by 2050. Across the globe, smart city technology spending reached $80 billion in 2016, and is expected to grow to $135 billion by 2021 according to a report from the International Data Corporation (IDC).
How far advanced is the UK adoption of smart technology for traffic management?
So far, the reality in the UK has not met the rhetoric. Although there has been investment in smart technology in a number of cities in the past few years, the UK is still lagging behind the world leaders, such as Singapore. Despite some pilot projects being implemented and showing benefits, take up of smart technologies amongst the cities is slow. Most of the projects are in pilot phase, are small scale or still are in their early planning stages.
In 2017 Smart Cities Index identified Bristol as the UK’s number one smart city, thanks to its ‘Bristol is Open’ venture, which has seen it leading the way in areas such as open data access, energy innovation and community engagement. Bristol was closely followed by London, which is currently working towards actioning the Mayor of London’s ‘Smarter London Together’ roadmap. The plan incorporates five key missions: more user-designed spaces, a new deal for city data, world-class connectivity, digital leadership and skills enhancement, and city-wide collaboration.
Potential barriers and the reason for the slow take up of smart cities in the UK have been suggested to include:
• Lack of funding: Local councils continue to face growing strains on budgets with a further 36% reduction in government funding in 2019. Smart city technology has the potential to streamline processes and save money in the long term, projects can be expensive to implement.
• Lack of collaboration and prioritisation: 80% of local councils do not have an appointed lead for smart cities and attempts to tackle challenges internally can be disjointed.
• Lack of consumer awareness: Despite the efforts currently being made by councils across the country, 68% of the UK public still don’t know what a smart city is or the benefits that it can bring. Furthermore, only 24% of people believe that smart city technology can improve overall safety and security in the UK, and 26% of people even find the concept of a smart city worrying.
How can the UK overcome the challenges?
There is no one way a city can become smart and cities will need to define their own version but based on successful cities some practical advice could be:
1. Integrating smart initiatives with existing economic development and public service delivery plans and identifying how these technologies can help achieve existing goals.
2. Focusing the bulk of investment on pragmatic approaches that are practical, achievable and financially viable while leaving room for innovative projects.
3. Participation with all parties involved, including community representatives, local businesses and residents, to ensure projects are relevant to the city’s opportunities and challenges.
The smart agenda is important to UK cities. New technologies have always played a role in the evolution and growth of urban areas and will continue to do so in the future, especially as budgets become tighter and more challenges arise. However, the smart agenda is also very complex, mainly due to the variety of stakeholders and technologies involved. This means that if UK cities are to become smart, a high level of coordination and co-working will be required between and within cities, government departments, the private sector and communities.
Aligning the procurement process to the Smart Cities agenda is the first of many small steps required to truly move this agenda forward and with the Smart Cities Transport Technology framework due in February 2020 this should further the vision for the UK. If you are interested in applying to the Smart Cities Transport Technology framework Carley Consult can assist. Please contact us direct on firstname.lastname@example.org or call 01302 361630.