Intelligence: 10 September 2019A smart solution

With 8 out of 10 of the UK population already living in urban centres and the urban population increasing worldwide and predicted to rise to 70% by 2050, Smart Cities could help solve some of our most complex challenges.  

There has been a real cultural shift to city living in the UK in recent years. A generation ago, many UK cities were perceived as bleak and unsafe areas to live, with suburbia and new towns deemed more desirable. With the number of business parks decreasing and businesses relocating to city centres and leisure facilities and amenities on your doorstep, the population is trading a commute and outdoor space for location, convenience, facilities and all the other benefits that come with city living. 

This social shift in how we work, live and interact is powered by innovations in technologies and can be picked up, adapted and implemented globally as cities compete for investment and attention. Smart Cities is the latest vision which could solve some of our most complex national and global challenges, such as climate change, pollution, social equality and economic stability. However, technological change is not matched by the pace at which cities and communities are planning for and delivering smart infrastructure and capability. 

Our cities and regions face a set of strategic challenges that must be addressed as urban populations increase. Smart Cities offer new ways of looking at and addressing these challenges with the application of smart technologies, the analysis of data and innovative forms of collaboration. 

What are the challenges?

  • Productivity has flatlined in the UK since 2008
  • The UK is currently suffering a major housing crisis
  • Pressures on urban transport infrastructure increases
  • Unsustainable systems and consumption behaviours that contribute to climate change, pollution, biodiversity loss and resource depletion
SMART PHONE APPS BRIDGE THE GAP BETWEEN SIMPLICITY AND COMPLEXITY – CITYMAPPER CAN GET YOU FROM A TO B AND ENABLE YOU TO MAKE THE CHOICE YOU WANT IN A VISUALLY ENGAGING WAY, CRUNCHING ALL THE OPTIONS IN REAL TIME. IMAGINE IF WE COULD DO THAT FOR CITY PLANNING? TESTING OPTIONS AND SCENARIOS, ADJUSTING THEM BASED ON DIVERSE INPUTS FROM PEOPLE WHO WERE PREVIOUSLY EXCLUDED FROM OR NOT INTERESTED IN THE PLANNING PROCESS.

In order to tackle these challenges and implement a Smart City agenda, some recent work into which we have fed, has identified some core recommendations:

By embedding ‘smart’ principles into planning policy, we can ingrain the principles required into how we plan and develop, in the same way that sustainability has. Changes in planning policy can raise the profile of Smart Cities as part of sustainable development. Policy change can also help to drive collaborative approaches to city problem-solving as part of the policy making process. Helping to bring new people, data and skills to planning policy and development whilst exploring the role of ‘Smart City’ and ‘Smart Settlements‘ typologies in the planning and delivery process will assist in embedding the principles to policy. 

By local authorities developing a Smart City policy, the internal governance is put in place to capitalise on the opportunities. Facilitated by robust guidance from central government, this governance could drive cross-sector Smart City policy development to identify cross-sectoral problems and provide smart solutions. 

By developing large-scale Smart City demonstrator projects nationwide, to demonstrating the potential of Smart Cities to address society’s needs across the broad spectrum of challenges we face. Coordinated by a central government Smart City Policy Group and supported by a Smart Cities Officer at local government level, these demonstrators would not be limited to technological innovations and could be supported by a ‘Smart City Procurement Framework,’ which would reduce the perceived risk for private investments.

By developing a viable business strategy, which focuses on developing the technology and demonstrating the commercial benefits of the approach to Smart Cities, is likely to be more effective than simply just requiring its delivery through regulation or legislation.

By establishing a clear definition of Smart Cities in policy, all sectors could engage with the issue on a common understanding, implementing a cross-sector group to consider how a workable business model can emerge to facilitate reaching these objectives. Developing a programme of investment in technology to deliver smart solutions will all work towards building a viable business model.

With the right framework and a coordinated policy approach, there is a real opportunity to establish a robust Smart City programme that will help to address many of the great strategic challenges that our cities and regions face. Through collaboration and partnership working we can strive to make the UK a truly Smart City country. However, it is vital that the Government takes a leading role in championing the Smart City agenda, ensuring the necessary steps are taken to kickstart the development of smart communities across the UK.

A consortium made up of Barton Willmore, Crest Nicholson, Mactaggart and Mickel Group, PBA and TFA are about to release ‘Realising Smart Cities,’ a paper that investigates what is needed to kickstart development of Smart Cities across the UK. Watch this space for the report.

Featured in Update Issue 20.

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Smart Cities, Technology, Infrastructure, Policy