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Smart cities – UK city officials survey

New survey findings show UK city officials focus on people-centric technologies to deliver smart cities, not on tech for tech’s sake

Smart cities – UK city officials survey

By 2040, UK cities will be smarter than they are now, not because they’ll be using more sophisticated tech, but because they’ll be enhancing the human experience of urban life. ESIThoughtLab have conducted a (forthcoming) global survey supported by CBRE, which canvassed the opinion of senior city officials on the future of smart cities in 2025. It is a useful guide to the challenges that UK cities might experience en route to 2040. Officials in 14 UK cities completed the survey and this article exclusively presents the results. The survey found that in the UK, city officials think that smart city investment is people centric, not tech centric. It confirms that we need to be solving problems with tech, not using tech for the sake of using it.

Climate change is the most popular challenge being addressed by smart city initiatives in the UK, cited by 12 out of the 14 senior UK local government officials who were asked. Liveability and citizen happiness rank a close second.

192_Smart Cities - UK City Officials Survey_pullquote_270x110The wider socioeconomic issues facing cities today (and tomorrow) like rapid population growth, the associated necessary increase in housing and the future development of the education sector, were all cited by less than half of the same group of UK officials. The focus of UK smart city initiatives is therefore on improving the everyday experience of individuals, and not the collective social issues facing local or national governments.

More effective and efficient city transport infrastructure is one of the key ways to help alleviate climate change while improving the way people navigate the urban environment, and therefore their happiness. But the survey finds that in fact UK smart city initiatives, at least until 2025, aren’t concerned with the most cutting-edge technologies like autonomous vehicles.

Instead, UK officials think public transport and personal vehicles are most important to city residents, both now and over the next three years. In fact, the transport mode which officials think their residents will gravitate towards in the short term is car-sharing. However, beyond 2025 towards 2040, once investment is secured and proven successful on the more human technologies, perhaps more “technological” technologies will become more sophisticated and more affordable to invest in.

Figure 1: UK Officials’ perception of the importance of modes of transport to city residents


Source: ESI Thought Lab, (forthcoming) 2018; CBRE Research, 2018

The survey further reveals that the largest barriers to implementing smart city plans are uncertain return on investment and the complexity of procurement processes, which could be due to the challenges which research has found in objectively or even subjectively quantifying the improvement to citizen happiness and city liveability.

As with many smart or innovative initiatives, data is king. Among the UK city officials surveyed, Internet of things (IoT) data is the most popular form of smart city data now, and even more so in the future. 93% of the officials felt that real-time data will also feature prominently in the next three years. And what tech will support the continued generation of this data? Perhaps unsurprisingly, cloud-based technologies (93%), IoT sensors and wearables (86%) and mobile apps (86%) are all cited as the primary technologies that will be used to support smart city initiatives in the next three years (Figure 2). Again, the more advanced technologies like blockchain and drones, though they increase in popularity, are less popular than more established, people-centric technologies like wearables and mobile apps. In fact, the most ‘human’ of all technologies – Biometrics and facial recognition – prove more popular than more digital technologies like telematics, beacons and vehicle-to-vehicle communication tech.

Figure 2: Which tech does or will your city use to support its operations?


Source: ESI Thought Lab, (forthcoming) 2018; CBRE Research, 2018

So, what will 2040 mean for the smart city? These findings indicate that city officials responsible for providing the framework for smart cities are focusing very heavily on practical, people-centric initiatives. Those surveyed seem to have much less time for arguably more glamorous technologies with (perhaps) unclear benefits for citydwellers at this stage. Even though, by 2040, many of these technologies will undoubtedly be much more pervasive, but we suspect that their popularity as solutions to the delivery of smart cities will still depend on the question of whether they solve current human challenges.

ESIThoughtLab’s full results are expected to be published later in 2018.

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