02How are cities taking forward the smart cities agenda?

There is no one route to becoming smart, and different cities have adopted different approaches that reflect their particular circumstances. This is dependent on a number of factors, ranging from their financial and managerial capacity, private sector offerings, and what citizens and businesses need.

However those cities that have made most progress have tended to use three general principles to guide their smart city agendas:

  • Integration with economic development and public service delivery plans. Instead of drawing up a smart cities strategy from scratch, cities have integrated smart initiatives within their existing economic development and public service delivery plans and have identified how new technologies can help them achieve their existing goals. For example, Bristol is becoming smart by focusing on smart technologies that help the city reach its long term carbon reduction goal.16 Copenhagen and Vienna, considered as the top ranking smart cities in Europe,17 are also using smart technologies to become greener. For example, Copenhagen is working with Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) to develop a smart bike as part of a broader effort to encourage cycling in the city.18
  • Pragmatic focus with the bulk of investment going on projects that are practical, achievable and financially viable, while also leaving some space for innovative experiments and pilots. Some smart initiatives are already showing benefits in a number of sectors. For example:
    • Transport: London’s intelligent road management system was key to ensuring the smooth flow of traffic during the 2012 Olympic Games.19
    • Energy: the smart meters trial by the Carbon Trust helped 580 SMEs across the UK save over £1,000 each on their energy bills,20 and Milton Keynes council reduced their energy use by 40 per cent by switching to smart street lighting.21
    • Front office services: the London Borough of Newham achieved £11 million in savings by moving to online service delivery.22
  • Participation of community representatives, local businesses and residents to ensure projects are relevant to the city’s opportunities and challenges. For example, the Smart London Plan, which was developed by the Smart London Board, and the Birmingham Smart City Roadmap, both involve a wide range of academics, civil servants, private and third sector representatives. Bringing those parties together also represents a starting point towards building the networks needed to take smart initiatives forward.

Approaches which incorporate these three principles and focus on already established goals have enabled cities to overcome the confusion associated with what being a smart city means. It has also enabled cities to strike the right balance between focusing on processes and outcomes and between top down and bottom up approaches, as well as how to use and integrate different technologies and data.

Having a clear vision and building partnerships are important prerequisites that cities need in order to progress their smart ambitions, but they are not sufficient. Many of the smart technologies and data sources – the enablers of smart cities – are relatively new and complex, and for the smart cities market to become successful, it needs the right conditions to grow and mature.

The rest of the paper explores the smart technologies market and the characteristics that govern it, while highlighting the barriers that need to be overcome in order to improve it.


  • 16 Bristol City Council (n.d), Bristol Case Study, document supplied by Bristol City Council
  • 17 According to Boyd Cohen’s ‘smart cities wheel’ ranking which uses 28 indicators for smart city benchmarking. More information at http://www.boydcohen.com/
  • 18 The smart bike is called the Copenhagen wheel and includes a hybrid motor and other fatures whichesmakes cycling easier.
  • 19 More information can be found on TFL website http://www.tfl.gov.uk
  • 20 Opus Energy website, Smart meters trial finding, http://www.opusenergy.com/smart-meters/smart-meter-trial-findings/
  • 21 See footnotes 9 and 52
  • 22 Willets D (2014), A driver of innovation and growth, Surveyor, Transport Network, January 2014 issues pp. 23-24