Cities get smarter

According to Rachel Holdsworth of the Londonist, we should get used to hearing about ‘smart cities’ as it’s overtaken ‘sustainable’ as the phrase du jour.
At the end of January, Glasgow, Scotland’s largest city, was awarded a £24 million Technology Strategy Board grant to become one of the UK’s first smart cities. Glasgow will aim to demonstrate how providing new integrated services across health, transport, energy and public safety can improve the local economy and increase the quality of life of Glasgow’s citizens, and will allow UK businesses to test new solutions that can be exported around the globe. The council says it will achieve this through schemes such as introduction of an app for reporting issues like missing bin collections or potholes, as well as apps providing real-time traffic and public transport information.
Glasgow has the lowest life expectancy of any UK city and also struggles with higher levels of obesity, diabetes, and alcohol consumption than the rest of the country. It has a number of initiatives upon which they are building - in particular, the Commonwealth games in 2014. The Scottish city beat 30 other municipalities to win the funding, including Bristol, London and Peterborough.  The Technology Strategy Board assessors felt Glasgow produced the most powerful proposal –  a strong, local authority led project proposal in partnership with their business and academic communities.
Professor Jim McDonald, principal of the University of Strathclyde, said: “The University of Strathclyde’s Technology and Innovation Centre will host the revolutionary City Observatory. This will allow academic and business and industry researchers to analyse more than 200 information feeds about Glasgow – its health, economy, transport, energy use – to map the relationships between them and to understand how a 21st century city operates.

“Evaluating these relationships is a fast‑growing research area and one which Strathclyde is playing pivotal role. The understanding that the City Observatory gives us will form the basis the development of new ways of developing our cities to tackle the grand challenges of the 21st century. Through our city’s world-class research and innovation base, coupled with the great ambitions the city is showing, we can make a disproportionately positive impact on our citizens’ lives and opportunities, our economic growth and our international reputation.”

Back in March 2011, Glasgow became the first city in the UK to win an IBM smarter cities grant, worth £250,000. This provided Glasgow with access to IBM’s experts to analyse and recommend ways to improve the city.

Rick Robinson, executive architect for the Smarter Cities arm of IBM, told Jasmine Gardner of the Evening Standard: “The global population is growing towards nine billion by 2050. In the West we’ve become accustomed to building cities outwards around cars. If more people fall into that lifestyle we’re going to exhaust the world’s resources very, very quickly.” 

For IBM, smarter cities are ones that harness data. The IT giant is already creating space on the cloud to share information such as water flow and distribution. “By managing pressure on a water distribution network, you can serve additional houses without needing to expand the system – allowing you to support a growing population without spending hundreds of millions of pounds on infrastructure,” explained Robinson.

The Mayor has of London Boris Johnson has created a ‘Smart London’ board to put technology at the heart of the capital’s future. The group of academics, businesses and entrepreneurs will look at how technology and data can make the city an even better place to live and work. Johnson cites the Oyster card system, real-time bus arrivals and the London Datastore (a website intended as a ‘first step towards freeing London’s data) as evidence of how we can be smarter.
Songdo - A pioneering city
In the wider world, Songdo in South Korea is considered by many to be the forerunner of the smart city concept. The $35bn project, located on reclaimed land near the Yellow Sea, was widely considered to be a model for smart cities around the globe when it was started in 2005. Wireless sensor networks is a specific technology that helps to create Smart Cities, and Songdo’s information systems are all linked to each other. Sensors are on everything in Songdo, such as escalators which only move when someone is on them. Every home has a ‘telepresence’ system built in - as well as allowing users to control the heating systems and locks, it offers video conferencing and is intended as a way to deliver education, health care and government services.

Ovum’s chief analyst for the public sector Joe Dignan has said that smart cities are the “biggest market for IT in the world.” Talking at a roundtable discussion organised by business management software company SAP, Dignan discussed the importance of cities in the future economy: “Cities are the economic engines. The 19th and 20th centuries were about nation states – but cities have been around much longer”.

Dignan also described the current buoyancy surrounding the smart cities market, estimating that, depending on the definition of smart city, the value of the market is anything from £60 billion through to trillions of pounds. Highly significant to the IT industry.

Volker Buscher, director of Arup’s Consulting practice, sums up the task ahead: “This is a major, strategic issue for cities. And it is no idle philosophical discussion either. The Smart City is already on the rise – still patchwork, but silently evolving and becoming more sophisticated, generating ever more efficiency gains for society applied to everything from contactless mobile phone payments to crowd-sourced data generation.”

Buscher continued: “This is far too valuable an opportunity to risk, which is why everyone who supports Smart Cities needs to think about the political oversight, governance and technical controls that will be required to help people in society make important choices about how we use the now ubiquitous data emerging across our cities.”
Further information
Londonist: Smart Cities – 
The London of the Future?
Volker Buscher – The Silent Rise of the Smart City
How to reinvent a city: Mayors’ lessons from the Smarter Cities Challenge
European Initiative on Smart Cities

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