SMART THINKING FOR SMALLER CITIES

 

 

How smaller cities can invest in the Smart City movement

 

Through our work with both large and small communities, rural and urban, we understand that it can often feel like smart technology is reserved for big cities with big budgets.

So we travelled to Smart Cities 2018 in London to share how we believe a smaller city can invest in the smart city movement.

A small town with a strong identity

At the conference Dr Jacqui Taylor, CEO of Flying Binary stressed that there is no blue print for a city to become smart. She spoke about each city having its own DNA, making the point that a city’s unique ambitions and priorities will be a key driver to make smart changes.

By harnessing this DNA cities more likely to have better engagement, leading to a more successful smart city transition. This is important to remember because it is here that small towns have a huge advantage.

In our experience, a smaller community is likely to be more unified over its vision for a better more efficient way of life. A strong sense of community identity and shared values amongst citizens, such as health, culture or the environment can make it easier and sometimes quicker to implement an ecosystem that people truly believe in, and are willing to adopt.

Digital inclusion

Smart Cities 2018 also gave us an opportunity to learn about the digital inclusion initiatives taking place in Salford. Debbie Brown, Director of Service Reform at Salford City Council revealed some sobering statistics about the country’s level of digital engagement.

According to the most recent ONS bulletin on Internet Users in the UK, 4.8m people in the UK have never been online.

What good is introducing smart technology into your town or city if people are not interested in using it, or do not trust how it will be used? Digital engagement is essential for a smart city. It can boost employment, improve health and wellbeing and encourage social connections.

Debbie spoke about inclusion as a community-driven effort, to close gaps in digital access and skills. Again, this is where we see potential for smaller, more cohesive communities. Working with a group of people who are aligned in their ambitions will help to drive engagement for change. Small towns and cities may find it easier to communicate with all individuals, including the most vulnerable, using networks and groups that already exists within the community to promote digital inclusion.

Shared learning

In a conference seminar focused on citizen engagement there was a consensus amongst the speakers that larger cities are more competitive with their smart evolution. Striving to be the best you can be is admirable, however keeping that learning to yourself with the aim of overtaking the competition, can be detrimental to the smart city movement.

We believe that learning from our neighbours, within the context of smart city development, can provide many benefits. Considering how another town manages waste or transport may help to shape your own services.

We have found a greater sense of consideration within groups of small towns and cities, who work closely with their neighbours to boost services across the region.

It’s clear that there is a great deal of work to be done in the UK to help all cities share and benefit from smart city thinking. We’re looking forward to sharing our expertise and helping councils shape towns and cities that are better for all.

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