Cities lack clear strategy in becoming smarter

Last year a report from the Institution of Engineering and Technology revealed that the public were not yet sold on the benefits of smart city technologies.

The report reveals a surprisingly low level of interest in the kind of technologies that we ordinarily associate with smart cities.  For instance, just 8% of respondents believed being able to order a driverless vehicle via your phone was useful.

Despite almost a year passing since that report was published, there is no real sign of improvement.  A recent report published by the University of Reading reveal that cities don’t really have a clear strategy for becoming smarter.

The study examined smart city initiatives in Bristol, Milton Keynes, Amsterdam and Taipei in some depth, whilst also exploring attempts by other cities to become ‘smart’.  It found that under a quarter of cities in the UK had any kind of smart city action plan, with most of those that did focusing on opening up data.

Smarter cities

“With directly elected mayors in large cities such as London, Liverpool and Bristol, and more to follow in six large city regions today, city heads need to consider how big and open data would enrich the lives of their populations,” the authors say. “In particular, those newly elected city mayors need to work hard to promote increased collaboration between authorities, the built environment sector, and technology companies, to harness the power of built environment data”.

The report reveals that precious few cities in the UK have any real grasp of smart cities and what they offer.  Less than half have an established definition of a smart city, with just 22% having any kind of action plan in place.

“A key priority for cities is the need to develop clear smart city and data strategies to demonstrate the benefits for citizens and help improve incentives for companies to share their data. This also means professional bodies need to act more decisively, by championing change and promoting the uptake of data and smart city skills within the built environment sector,” the authors continue.

This need to involve the public was replicated in the previous study I mentioned at the start of this post.  The authors of that report found that those responsible for the roll-out of smart city type technologies seldom involve the public in their decision making processes.  This contributes to a distinct lack of buy-in by the public in the technology.  What’s more, this is despite the early successes of platforms such as Airbnb and Uber.

This skepticism is highest among the over 65’s, with those in the 18-34 age group the most on board with the coming changes.

It’s probably fair to say that the change to smarter cities is inevitable, but these reports provides a timely reminder that if we are to succeed with the transition, we need to ensure that we take the general public with us.

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