Rushi Rama from Future Cities Catapult gives a fascinating overview of smart city strategies from around the world
The use of technology is changing everyday life for people in cities and how the city is evolving to meet their needs. This is nothing new, we only need to see how the elevator made possible high-rise buildings, or how cars allowed cities to grow horizontally. But the pervasive nature of digital technology means that this change is impacting people’s lives at an unprecedented pace.
The concept of a ‘smart city’ was popularised as a concept in the early 2010s to describe the use of these new advances in technology and data to make better decisions about governing cities and delivering services. Since then, interest in the concept has exploded, attracting influence, investment and criticism across the world.
The ‘smart city’ rose to prominence in the public consciousness as a marketing concept from global technology companies that saw an opportunity to sell digital transformation and new technology into big city systems (water, energy, transport). ‘Smart City’ caught the imagination as smart phones and digital transformation spread across the world at a phenomenal rate.
But while the market opportunity was clear to technology companies, the proposition for cities was less clear-cut and voices from government and academia quickly questioned the value of the solutions coming from these companies from the city and the citizen’s perspective. In the space of a few years, the concept of a smart city shifted from a focus on technologies and systems to citizens and services for them.
We are now witnessing a challenge to the vision of a citizen-centred smart city arising from the disruption brought by Silicon Valley companies. Digital transformation is allowing these companies to disrupt existing ecosystems, offering both challenges and opportunities to citizens and city stakeholders. For the most part, governments have been slow to consider whether their strategies and regulations are fit for purpose in the context of this rapid disruption.
It is in this context that Future Cities Catapult has embarked on an ambitious research programme to take stock of the rich experience of smart city strategies that are emerging on every continent. In November we launched our first report of our findings from looking at more than 20 cities from around the world. We aimed to give city leaders a quick summary of the issues that leading cities are facing and a set of practical recommendations:
- Local governments often lack the capacity to understand, develop and implement smart city strategies. An innovation of this kind requires upskilling and support from senior leadership.
- To ensure that smart city strategies are implemented, they need to be embedded in the statutory frameworks and plans.
- Many cities have made fast progress through topdown leadership, but for a smart city that is adopted by people and therefore impactful, a collaborative approach is required. This means collaboration with all key stakeholders (business, government departments, universities) and with citizens.
- Most smart city funding is still derived from innovation pots and not linked to core city funding. Making this transition will allow scale-up.
- Many city governments see the opportunity to attract private sector investment. But they do not create good processes for managing engagement with the private sector. Smart city leads should consider how to give clarity to potential private sector partners.
These recommendations are drawn from the experience of all 21 cities in our research.
But there is much more research to be done. It is still not clear what smart city technologies are having the most impact and that is because the evidence of benefits is not well known or captured. That is why Future Cities Catapult has created an impact assessment framework, which we will use to create robust evidence on the impact that smart city solutions are having. With this evidence, we will be able to help guide governments towards new technologies that will have the greatest impact on their cities.
Strategy, Markets and Standards Lead
Future Cities Catapult
Tel: +44 (0)20 7952 5111