‘Hey, Grandma! Guess what? Last month, Bristol was declared a leading smart city in a new study.
‘What’s the point in all this smart stuff’ she butts in.
She’s got a point. What is the point? And what is a Smart City?
‘Grandma, a Smart City is…
[taking large breath] The movement towards an urban environment where ICT and integrated technologies can manage a city’s assets with better efficiency so that its citizens are afforded a better quality of life’
‘That sounds great’ she says, ‘but I don’t get it; is it just about better use of data in local services?’
‘No Nan. There’s more. The Guardian says that ‘Cities that play together, stay together’
Smart Cities are, after all, full of humans and there are very human benefits already being felt right here in Bristol. Watershed in Bristol has been, for a number of years, a pioneer in the ‘Playable City Idea’ which has had a positive impact on local people.
Notions of place/identity/art/culture/space/imagination clash together in an open source format that would be the envy of any software developer. The Playable City inspires social dialogue through a not exclusively human instinct that rarely discriminates: play. Play transcends the technology on which it is often based.
Technology that makes people happy is more important than technology that is intrinsically clever.’
‘Well I’d like to be happier’ grandma says. ‘I wish I’d known more about this’.
Why a lot of people don’t care as much as they should?
According to research conducted by Navigant Consulting, this really is a celebration; many cities are doing great! And aside from this UK focussed report, Britain is one of the most advanced countries in Europe when it comes to Smart Cities. So we’re doing better than we did in The Eurovision Song Contest last month – woo – 12 points!
The idea of a ‘Smart City’ is still new and when things take decades to materialise, people don’t care very much unless they are driving the change or feeling the results themselves. That’s natural, but it is also a great shame.
The first ever Eurovision song contest (back in 1956) only had seven participants whilst broadcasters from the UK, Denmark, and Austria missed the deadline and didn’t bother showing up until the following year. The interest in the song contest has grown over the last 50 years; who knows how our collective awareness will grow when confronted with the positive impacts Smart Cities make every day in the future.
What’s holding us back?
The limitation of a Smart City, even a leading one like Bristol, is the difficulty in delivering its benefits to the people that matter most: all of us. We are in the midst of an exciting time for tech, particularly in the south west tech hub, but there is a lot to be done to bridge the gaps between our nation’s world class technology providers and our local authorities – although no doubt we are on the right track.
With the gaps bridged, which will require continued investment and energy, change will be quicker and deeper. We are still scratching the surface of what we can do.
What do we need to do?
So here’s the 5 ingredients, according to the index, that are common in all the successful Smart Cities named.
- Leadership and vision
- Focus on local priorities and strengths
- Engage with local communities
- Build local partnerships
- Understand how the data revolution can improve services through innovation
Number 5 is tough to achieve overnight but 1-4 don’t represent anything shocking or unachievable. Every city, every authority, can make concerted efforts today.
The smart scores on the doors
Bristol and London do well across the board whilst Birmingham, Manchester, and Glasgow to name but a few, score well. Lists aren’t all that exciting for most of us but we must care more; very soon, in most of our lifetimes at least, we will need Smart Cities a lot more than they will need us.
Take a look at the Index’s top 10 and as I did, no matter where you live, ask yourself 1 question:
What can I do to make my city smarter?