It was back in 2011 that Mark Deakin and Husam Al Wear defined the concept of a smart city as a place where a range of electronic and digital technologies are deployed to transform living and working environments. In practice, this could mean using physical devices and sensors to optimize the performance of city operations and services, monitoring what’s happening across the city, interacting with communities, managing the city’s evolution, and generally improving the lives and safety of citizens.
As things stand today, I can’t think of many places in the UK that fit this kind of advanced definition. Simple things like reliable Internet access in urban areas still remain a struggle for many, let alone genuine smart city examples of the Internet of Things (IoT) deployed to create joined-up, connected spaces.
But that doesn’t mean our cities are not smart at all or on a pathway to becoming smarter for their citizens. Indeed, for many towns and cities in the UK, the term “smart city” is more of an aspiration than a reality at present. Improvements and innovations have been incremental rather than wholesale. The key is to continue investing in technology, pushing development, and looking towards the urban outlier smart cities to see what we in Britain can learn.
Defining what we mean by “smart”
London Mayor Sadiq Khan recently announced that he wants London to be the world’s smartest city by 2020. But with only two years left to fulfill that vision, it seems quite the ask – especially as London was recently overtaken by Bristol as the smartest city in the UK.
In a way, this suggests that we need to reassess what we mean by “smart” if we’re to deliver changes that will truly improve the lives of UK citizens and to perhaps reconsider the milestones at which we’re aiming.
We’ve had glimpses of what can be achieved. From the Bristol Is Open project that saw the city jump to the top of the UK’s innovation table, to Milton Keynes’ commitment to using technology to become more sustainable with its MK:Smart initiative. And Manchester’s CityVerve project. All of these examples highlight the fact that there’s no reason why London, Birmingham, Newcastle, Glasgow, Cardiff, and cities all over the UK can’t act, think, and be smarter now.
Time to act ahead of Brexit impact
There is, of course, an element of urgency about this. It will be increasingly important for cities to embrace innovative technology ahead of any Brexit legislation coming into force. With the UK on the path to exit the European Union, the pressure will mount on cities to not only remain attractive to foreign visitors but also to ensure they provide a seamless, enjoyable experience to those living there.
As things stand, the UK is slightly behind the curve when it comes to smart technology deployment. But there are examples we as a nation can look to when seeking improvements. And I’m not just talking about capitals and major conurbations.
The French town of Antibes, for instance, uses IoT software to control its water management system. Officials use intelligent solutions to monitor and analyze the town’s water distribution system over 315 kilometers, aggregating 15,000 data points per hour collected from more than 2,000 sensors to look at temperature, salinity, chlorine levels, pH, and the pumps and valves that steer the flow of water.
Importantly, the innovation is aligned to economic and social priorities. Antibes is a lively resort in Southeastern France with a summer population of 250,000, triple the number of year-round citizens. People are attracted by the flair of the coast, water sports, and the French joie de vivre. Keeping their water infrastructure efficient and citizens safe is of the utmost importance.
The solution now helps the city anticipate breakdowns, optimize maintenance schedules, and plan future investments. And, as any smart city solution should, it provides the best service for citizens at the best cost. With citizens paying less than half the national average per cubic meter, Antibes offers a great example of how public sector organizations can take mountains of data and transform it into valuable information, then use that to inform local knowledge and increase public safety.
UK organizations should absolutely look at and learn from innovative deployments of smart technology around the world if they are to improve the lives of their citizens and the experiences they offer to visitors. Happily, there’s plenty of support out there, including the government-led Future Cities Catapult, Innovate UK, and the Scottish Smart Cities initiatives. So it’s time for local governments to act and get the UK on the map in terms of smart technology deployments.
Learn how SAP smart cities technologies help local governments like Antibes improve citizen services and livability, grow economic prosperity, and keep pace with change – without dipping into extra budget or resources.