Why Smart Cities?

Smart Cities are a reaction to the increasing concentration of the world’s population in urban areas resulting in a collision with eco-systems. Although accounting for just over 50% of the world’s population, urban areas account for more than 75% of the consumption of non-renewable resources and three quarters of global pollution.

What are Smart Cities?

Smart Cities use the potential offered by technological innovations (the internet of things, big data manipulation capabilities, cloud computing and augmented and virtual reality) to address the challenges of urban growth and concentration and the resulting pressure on urban resources, such as transport, energy and health care, to create attractive and enjoyable places to live, work and invest in. That includes, for example, improving air quality and traffic flow and using data to inform urban and other planning decisions. More specifically, Smart City initiatives comprise such things as: real time travel information, autonomous vehicles, LED sensory street lighting (which also records street disturbances and pollution levels and provides wifi), solar battery storage, intelligent waste disposal, walking and cycling apps, fast fibre to premises and gigabit city initiatives.

Smart Cities have made the shift to a knowledge economy with supersmart people (highly trained and highly skilled) demanding authenticity and a high quality of life. In harnessing the benefits of IT, Smart Cities foster talent, support and accommodate population and sustainable economic growth and prosperity, and facilitate greater citizen participation in urban governance. The Smart Cities agenda is underpinned by concepts such as open data, citizen engagement, innovation and public and private sector collaboration. Increased and more complex collaborative structures are involved, between individual property owners, institutional investors, insurance companies, public sector agencies and local communities.

Millions of pounds have been invested to make Scotland’s cities smarter. Glasgow, for example, has benefited from £24m of government grant to become the UK’s Future Cities Demonstrator and one of the first Smart Cities in the UK. Further afield, Barcelona and Copenhagen are often cited as exemplars of Smart Cities.

What do Smart Cities mean for you?

It is estimated that the Smart Cities industry will be worth more than $400m globally by 2020, with the UK expected to account for 10% of that, so there is value in looking for opportunities to embrace Smart Cities concepts. That might include:

  • directing investment to existing and emerging Smart Cities
  • identifying new sources of funding to implement Smart Cities technologies
  • exploring alternative business models to unlock investment and innovation
  • creating new partnerships, partnership structures and governance models
  • adopting new procurement structures, including innovation partnerships and ensuring smart technologies remain central through the procurement process
  • future proofing contracts to allow for innovation beyond bricks and mortar
  • prioritising activity within a building, or group of buildings, over the building itself
  • embracing the idea of space being a service and maximising return on investment by incorporating technology, hence attracting top talent and improving productivity, and therefore commanding higher rents
  • making existing building stock smarter, both through retrofitting technology and using data on, for example energy consumption and how buildings are occupied, to make better use of them (ultimately such data is an asset that will have its own value, beyond that of the building)
  • exploring new forms of rental agreements, including green rentals
  • using data to identify problems with buildings before they become costly to repair, hence providing savings for future construction projects
  • planning new development to fit seamlessly with local transport and energy infrastructure and amenities (through, for example the use of smart cards)
  • anticipating the implications of the potential obsolescence of existing infrastructure, such as car parks
  • incorporating smart technologies into new developments and ensuring such developments can be used flexibly in response to changing requirements

IT is constantly changing, influencing our built environment and the infrastructure required to support it. Whilst not without its challenges, Smart Cities provide exciting new opportunities and ways to do business. We need to be smart to maximise the benefits of those opportunities.