By now, everyone who reads the news will have heard about ‘smart cities’.
The general consensus is that smart cities use new technologies (usually ICT) and data as the means to solving their economic, social and environmental challenges. Smart initiatives can range from smart meters and telehealth solutions to open data platforms, new mobile applications or bike-sharing schemes.
New books, conferences, forums, and educational programmes are carrying the smart label. London, Birmingham and other cities are implementing their smart plans and the government is supporting this agenda with funding and regulation.
These smart technologies have a lot of promise and many expect that them to ‘revolutionise’ the ways that cities function, mainly by making cities more efficient and responsive to citizens’ needs.
So what is the problem?
So far, the reality has not met the rhetoric. Despite some pilot projects being implemented and showing benefits, take up of smart technologies amongst cities is slow. Most of the projects are pilots, small scale or still in their planning stages.
We have published a briefing paper which explores the smart cities agenda in more detail; looking at the reasons behind the slow take up, how the government is supporting this agenda and what UK cities should do to best benefit from new technologies.
We outline two main reasons behind the slow progress:
To support this agenda, the government is adopting a ‘market making approach’ which involves playing the role of coordinator, funder and regulator in the market. Although these initiatives are welcome, it is yet too soon to evaluate their effectiveness in driving smart cities forward.
So, what should cities do to overcome the challenges and make the best of this agenda?
There is no one route to becoming smart, and cities need to define their own version of a smart city. Based on successful examples, the best way to do so is by:
Overcoming the seven barriers to market growth will require the coordinated effort of the government, cities, the private sector and all other stakeholders to find new ways of working and business models that allow smart technologies to be implemented effectively and at scale.
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.
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