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  • Writer's pictureSofa Summits

British Smart Cities – How are they doing? – Part One

The smart city current is blooming all over the United Kingdom, with or without Brexit. Cities all over the country are presenting their strategies and turning to IoT and other technologies to enable smarter development.

For now, two of them – London and Bristol are leading the way on their mission to become smart cities, while Manchester, Liverpool, Glasgow and others are following closely.

Today we will give you an insight into five smart and sustainable cities across Britain, which are set to be examples on how future cities can be smarter.

  1.    Smart London

The idea of the capital becoming a smart city was approached because its population is expected to rise by one million between 2011-21, which is the fastest rate of people growth that the city will have seen in over 50 years. Moreover, London’s population is expected to exceed ten million by 2030.

So the city has to do everything it can to ensure a continued high standard of life for an ever increasing population. In 2013, the board for Smart London was created with the sole purpose of resolving the pressures created by population growth in fields like technology, infrastructure, resources and communities.

The plan is for all the world to see how London can be one of the milestones in technology and innovation.

The 2012 Olympics showed what we can do if we focus our energy on the challenges facing our city. This is London’s opportunity to showcase our inventions to the world. – the official website of the project

Technologically speaking, the city is already a leader in ‘smart’ technology. They have the London Datastore, which is an open data platform that receives 25,000 visits a month and approximately 450 transport apps have been created from it.

They are also proud of a large number of innovations in transport which includes number plate recognition for the congestion charge, free Wi-Fi for everyone who travels by tube and the intelligent road network management system.

Londoners are also very used to using digital money like contactless Oyster, credit and debit cards. One of the most applauded technological implementations is the reusing of waste heat from underground shafts and sub-stations.

Moreover, London has recently created a programme called Smart London Innovation Network which finds and promotes new ideas. They are very open to engaging with citizens in future development plans, giving the locals the opportunity to be involved in pilot projects and the future implementation plans. They also have a scheme called Crowdfund that gives all citizens the opportunity to upload their community project ideas onto a website and be in with the chance of receiving funding – making nice ideas a reality.

  1.    Bristol is Open – An Open Programmable City

Getting deeper into our subject we find Bristol, a city in the South-West of England. Many of us have heard of it but probably didn’t get the chance to know more about it. Now you will find out how the largest city in the south-west of UK is leading the way when it comes to being a smart city.

The former city centre, which used to be a simple port, has turned into a cultural hub and Bristol itself has made a lot of progress in terms of becoming a smart city. We are talking about the use of data sensors, smart tech, solving congestion problems, waste management strategies, e-democracy and creating a smarter energy supply, all under a single motto: creating an open programmable city.

Bristol is Open is a joint venture between the University of Bristol and the City Council, and is a project in which we are witnessing a lot of research and development projects that use Bristol’s own digital infrastructure: fibre in the ground, a mesh bouncing from lamp post to lamp post, killer experimental wireless connectivity all along Harbourside. All of them are being controlled by a software based on the OpenFlow standard.

Through the use of the Network Function Virtualisation, they plan on making the infrastructure super-fluid, sliceable and usable by a multitude of projects.

Smartphones and GPS devices together with small sensors will supply the three new fast networks with information about different aspects of city life, such as energy, air quality or traffic flows. There are also plans to develop multiple apps that should enable a better quality of life of Bristol’s residents.

  1.    Milton Keynes – MK:Smart

We all know the interesting story about how this small city was built. The middle-aged new town, as the BBC recently named it, is only 50 years old. It was born through of an Act of the Parliament in 1967, which approved the building of a new community to house 250,000 people, with the aim of easing the shortage of housing in an overcrowded London. But the city planners wanted more: they built it with the principle of being an “attractive” town that enshrined the values of “opportunity and freedom of choice“.

And they succeeded, with Milton Keynes being one of the most harmonised cities in the world. And it doesn’t want to stop here, so the county council has started from ground zero with the transformation of MK from a beautiful city into a ‘smart and beautiful’ one.

MK:Smart is led by The Open University and is partly funded by the Higher Education Funding Council for England. Its mission is to develop innovative solutions to support economic growth in Milton Keynes.

One of the most important plans is to create the ‘MK Data Hub’ which will support the acquisition and management of the data relevant to city systems coming from different data sources, for example, water and energy consumption, transport, satellite technology, social and economic datasets or even crowdsourced data from social media.

Through the building of this innovation hub, the project is also tackling key demand issues, in fields like transportation and resources. They are also focusing on activities in education, business and community engagement. Examples are a lot, like the integrated programme of business engagement which aims to support businesses that want to take advantage of the innovation that will take place in the hub, a smart city education program, and even engaging citizens into the innovation programme, through the establishment of a Citizen Lab.

  1.    Future City – Glasgow

We all know Scots are proud people – so they are making it happen too. The city of Glasgow is next on our list with its fantastic project on building the Future City.

The people behind it describe it as an ambitious programme to open up Glasgow like never before. In 2013, the city won funding worth £24 million from the Technology Strategy board to explore its innovation and to make city life safer, smarter and more sustainable.

In recent years, Glasgow has been developing a series of initiatives to explore the potential for smart city technology. Anybody who knew the city before the start of the project cannot stop talking about how much has been changed since then.

We are talking about intelligent street lights that get brighter for pedestrians and cyclists and dim when there is little activity on the pavement, or about the record of the air pollution levels and weather detail, network sensors and high-definition CCTV which are wireless and connected to a central operation room. Moreover, there are underground sensors that read and analyse data and can adjust traffic lights to different traffic flows.

The city has also been fully mapped and this information made available for everyone, with walking and cycle routes just one example of the use of this data. In Easterhouse, recovering alcoholics can get distracted from the pubs to either rehab clinics or boxing clubs, all accessed through an internet map.

All that is quietly led and observed by a data collection hub, run by the city council, which collects all the data and even more, it uses it to provide plans for the future, in fields like business development, schools, health services and more.

  1.    Digital Birmingham

Four principles are guiding Birmingham’s strategy in terms of becoming a smart city: integration – integrating multiple city systems that will make the city work better, digital – investment in modern digital infrastructure and smart technologies like the IoT, data – access to public re-useable data, and citizen engagement – by putting residents and businesses in the middle of the decision making.

Digital Birmingham is working its way towards the future by trying to improve the way services are delivered through the use of the digital and smart technologies. It works to support sustainable economic and civic growth, with some of the achievements being the establishment of next generation wireless connectivity networks, or the development of the Public Shared Network. 

This is it, friends – the first part of our tour through the smart cities of Great Britain. Don’t worry though, soon you’ll find out the next five cities that have landed a spot on our list. Stay tuned!


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