Guest blog: smart cities – a global view

19 Jun 2015, 12:00 pm

By Tom Saunders, Senior Researcher, Nesta

tom_saunders_0A report ‘Rethinking smart cities from the ground up’, published today by UK research body Nesta (National Endowment for Science Technology and the Arts) investigates smart city innovation around the world and what factors may prevent or encourage progress. Here, co-author Tom Saunders outlines the key findings.

The report tells the stories of cities around the world – from Beijing to Amsterdam, and from London to Jakarta – that are addressing urban challenges by using digital technologies to engage and enable citizens.

The key findings are:

  • Many ‘top down’ smart city ideas have failed to deliver on their promise, combining high costs and low returns.
  • ‘Collaborative technologies’ offer cities another way to make smarter use of resources, smarter ways of collecting data and smarter ways to make decisions.
  • Collaborative technologies can also help citizens themselves shape the future of their cities.
  • We have created five recommendations for city government who want to make their cities smarter.
  • As cities bring people together to live, work and play, they amplify their ability to create wealth and ideas. But scale and density also bring acute challenges: how to move around people and things; how to provide energy; how to keep people safe.

‘Smart cities’ offer sensors, ‘big data’ and advanced computing as answers to these challenges, but they have often faced criticism for being too concerned with hardware rather than with people.

In the report we argue that successful smart cities of the future will combine the best aspects of technology infrastructure while making the most of the growing potential of ‘collaborative technologies’, technologies that enable greater collaboration between urban communities and between citizens and city governments.

How will this work in practice? Drawing on examples from all around the world we investigate four emerging methods which are helping city governments engage and enable citizens: the collaborative economy, crowdsourcing data, collective intelligence and crowdfunding.

Our policy recommendations are:

  • Set up a civic innovation lab to drive innovation in collaborative technologies.
  • Use open data and open platforms to mobilise collective knowledge.
  • Take human behaviour as seriously as technology.
  • Invest in smart people, not just smart technology.
  • Spread the potential of collaborative technologies to all parts of society.

Download the report for free. 

Tom Saunders, co-author of the report spoke at the Local Digital event last week ‘Local Digital Futures: the internet of Things and local public services’. Read more.

A video of Saunders’ presentation from the event is coming soon.