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Report of the Digital Government Review

Smart cities: building a common blueprint

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There are a wave of emerging new technologies such as intelligent transport systems; water, waste, and energy management; and city sensors to monitor the environment. These technologies combine hardware, software and analytics to deliver more efficient, effective and sustainable public services. Collectively these are often referred to as Smart City technologies.

Smart city technologies can also be simply seen as part of the evolutionary path for public services in our cities. Any local authority should choose to use them if they make sense for their needs.

Many of these technologies can be applied equally in rural communities. But it is in cities, with large populations in a defined area driving intense demand for services, where the benefits from these newest capabilities promise to be greatest. Cities have a scale that more easily justifies the necessary investment. The increasing trend of urbanization [131] also means that cities face unique challenges due to aging, if beautiful, Victorian infrastructure that is nearing its capacity. Smart city approaches can help manage these infrastructure resources more effectively.

Government, under the leadership of BIS, has made some progress on Smart Cities under the brand name Future Cities but much of this activity is driven by technology companies aiming to build a future export market for smart city technologies. More detail can be found in Appendix D.

This technology-driven approach creates risks. At the extreme we can imagine two fictional future cities:

  • City One uses proprietary technology designed by an alliance of a major supplier and public officials. The major supplier has built several models of this city in different countries around the world. The city authority collects information on its citizens through smart meters, pervasive CCTV, number plate recognition and in-car systems. Digital enclaves provide superior Internet access and digital services to those people and businesses that can pay for it while other areas are poorly served and become no go areas for the privileged. The city uses data to make choices for the citizen that enable the city to operate more effectively. The city and technology are in control.
  • City Two develops digital services openly and transparently through co-production with its people, communities, charities, universities and private sector to create greater opportunities for all. Technology supports the services. The services are right for its people. It has not simply copied what exists elsewhere: it has understood and adapted them. The city has pervasive broadband access, effective integrated transport systems and pleasant public spaces where people can meet to work, shop, socialize, educate or entertain themselves. Every person can choose to participate.

We need to ensure that our cities look more like the latter. Some of our previous recommendations will assist with this: focusing on the major issue with digital inclusion, better use of social infrastructure, working with people and communities to develop people-powered services. But we also need to ensure that the technology drive of smart cities supports real public services.

Case Study – The Chicago story

Chicago has invested significantly in the Smart Cities concept, following the vision of its forceful mayor Rahm Emmanuel. They are now seen as one of the leading examples of a Smart City, both in the US and internationally.

Chicago recognized that a smart city will not be built in a single political cycle. So the responsibilities and expectation for both digital service development and the release of data has been embedded into the cities organisational structure. Different political parties may have differing priorities for service development but the underlying need for digital to enable these services remains constant.

A key theme in their approach to Smart Cities has been to identify and address problems of digital access and actively engage with the population. They are targeting areas of deprivation and providing Wifi and broadband access. The administration release large amounts of data as open data. They regard the data as the people’s data, rather than owned by city departments or politicians.

Citizens are consulted and involved in various ways. For the “Chicago: City of Big Data” exhibition they used a room sized 3D model of the city as an interactive platform to display open data. Large digital screens display the “Chicago Dashboard”, described as an open, civic resource to display updated information about the city for areas such as housing, employment, transport, environment and planning.

Citizens are actively engaged in service design and development. A number of regional community groups around the city are engaged when building, designing and testing new services, with more than 500 volunteer testers available in Civic User Testing Groups across the city to test services in development.

Using people-powered design techniques will help with this but – given the numerous parallel activities created by the BIS funding with the aim of creating an export market – there is still more to be done.

Building a blueprint for smart city technologies may assist with this challenge. Such a blueprint will seek to issue guidance while not imposing rigid rules. Rigid rules stifle innovation and lead to services that may be perfect in one area but inappropriate for another.

The blueprint should be enabling, adaptive, flexible, open and people-centric. It should be developed collaboratively with local authorities, the private sector, people and communities and it will be a blueprint that evolves and adapts over time. Not a static 100-page PDF that is read once and then discarded.

Any city, region or local authority that chooses to invest its efforts in taking advantage of these technologies could use the blueprint. We trust that they choose to do so as the evidence base proves the benefits. If not then that is what local accountability is for.

The blueprint should reflect the public services that are provided to local people, for example using the ESD standards [132] or the departmental delivery structure of local authorities; but also reflect the wider set of activities that occur within our cities. It must be about the city as a whole, not just the services that the public sector provides.

But to enable reuse and integration the blueprint would also need to show a technical architecture [133]. The next chapter explores this area in more detail.

[131] 80% of the UK population live in cities, with over 30% in the 10 largest “Smart Cities: Background Paper”: Department of Business Innovation and Skills, October 2013
[133] Such as that needed for the Internet of Things (IoT)

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  1. Peter Wells says:

    Picked up from the LG Inform Plus twitter feed: UK group releases smart cities #opendata standards or use #localgov services list:

  2. Tim Davies says:

    Susan Crawford & Steve Goldsmiths work on ‘Responsive Cities’ which draws on examples for Chicago amongst others, might be a useful point of reference in thinking more on how to frame the future smart cities discussions: