Innovation and Efficiency

10.12.17

The rise and fall of the smart city concept

Nicola Yates, CEO of Future Cities Catapult, advocates for a smarter public sphere that stays ahead of the technology curve rather than entirely reactive to market developments.

The ‘smart city’ rose to prominence as a marketing concept from global technology companies that saw an opportunity to sell digital transformation and new technology into big city systems such as water, energy and transport.

But while the market opportunity was clear to the technology companies, the proposition for cities was less clear-cut, and voices from government and academia quickly questioned the value of the solutions of these companies from the city and the citizen’s perspective. In the space of a few years, the concept of a smart city shifted from a focus on technologies and systems to a focus on citizens and services for them. The providers of these city services have recently become known as the advanced urban services sector.

For us, advanced urban services bring together a raft of established industries, like architecture and construction, with emerging areas like data science and mobility-as-a-service (think ZipCar or DriveNow). Their commonality is contributing to services that enhance the fabric of city life. 

What we are witnessing now is a challenge to the vision of a citizen-centred smart city arising from the disruption brought by Silicon Valley. Digital transformation is allowing these companies to disrupt existing ecosystems, offering both challenges and opportunities to citizens and city stakeholders. New technologies ranging from AI and machine learning to facial recognition, drones and autonomous vehicles are on the brink of stimulating another wave of innovation. Government policymakers across all domains need to consider whether their strategies and regulations are fit for purpose in the context of this rapid disruption.

These firms connect us together and allow us to trade new services with each other, which is revolutionary. And the economics of it seems to push us all towards a small number of dominant platforms. Of course, this has many positive effects, such as new services and better utilisation of assets. 

However, a recent Innovate UK and Forum for the Future study into smart city scenarios paints a stark picture of the choices ahead of us. Either we have a privately dominated world with the corporations determining what services we get, a ‘repair and share’ voluntary association-driven world, or a smart public sector fuelled by devolution, harnessing and controlling technologies and services for the greater good.

Uber is a brilliant illustration of the difficulties. It has swept the world with it ingenious taxi service, pushing time-weathered monopolies and vested interests aside. And the public sector has been almost entirely reactive, at best. If this model is applied across whole industries, yes, there will be many benefits, but there will also be not insignificant risks and downsides.

So I advocate for a smarter public sphere, one that stays up and ahead of the technology curve. And there are some good examples of this, such as the EU’s ruling that facial recognition technology cannot be used without consent. It’s OK for you and your new iPhone X, but it’s not for deploying on others. This is not the case in the USA, who are yet to regulate even though the consequences could be far-reaching. Imagine Facebook technologies replacing passports – how would the government react? Concerns from Google about what these technologies might lead to in the wrong hands has resulted in them deliberately choosing not to develop it.

The good news is that a smarter public sector will have a double benefit. The first is better-managed cities. The second is that in embracing the opportunities new technologies bring for cities, we will also create new market opportunities, aiding and stimulating innovative companies across the UK. And they, in turn, can sell to their new products and services around the world.

 

FOR MORE INFORMATION
W: futurecities.catapult.org.uk

Comments

There are no comments. Why not be the first?

Add your comment

 

public sector executive tv

more videos >

latest public sector news

Councillors approve plans for HS2 transformation at Leeds Station

17/10/2018Councillors approve plans for HS2 transformation at Leeds Station

Councillors have endorsed a “milestone” plan to transform Leeds station in preparation for HS2 arriving in the area. The Leeds C... more >
Scandal-hit Conservative council elects Labour leader

16/10/2018Scandal-hit Conservative council elects Labour leader

Labour have managed to take control of a Conservative-led council following an “internal war” among the Tory councillors, with Labour... more >
Councils found more than £300m in fraud during 2017-18

16/10/2018Councils found more than £300m in fraud during 2017-18

UK councils detected or prevented a total of £302m in fraud in 2017-18, according to CIPFA. The organisation found that the number of ... more >

editor's comment

25/10/2017Take a moment to celebrate

Devolution, restructuring and widespread service reform: from a journalist’s perspective, it’s never been a more exciting time to report on the public sector. That’s why I could not be more thrilled to be taking over the reins at PSE at this key juncture. There could not be a feature that more perfectly encapsulates this... read more >

last word

The importance of openness after Grenfell

The importance of openness after Grenfell

Following the recent Grenfell Tower tragedy, Lord Porter, chairman of the LGA, argues that if the public are going to have faith in the safety testing process then everything must be out in the o... more > more last word articles >
Councillors approve plans for HS2 transformation at Leeds Station

17/10/2018Councillors approve plans for HS2 transformation at Leeds Station

Councillors have endorsed a “milestone” plan to transform Leeds station in preparation for HS2 arriving in the area. The Leeds City Council executive board approved the strategic... more >
Thousands of babies at risk of harm due to children’s services cuts

17/10/2018Thousands of babies at risk of harm due to children’s services cuts

Almost 16,000 babies are growing up in “toxic” households where they are at risk of harm following unprecedented financial strain on children’ services, according to a report by... more >

the raven's daily blog

What cities should become

15/10/2018What cities should become

Tom Leaver, project manager at Future Cities Catapult, examines the rationale behind the creation of the City Data Sharing Toolkit, and explores how this is driving a seismic shift in how cities evolve into our data-rich future. We’re used to big-screen sci-fi future cities being dystopian monoliths to everything wrong with the worl... more >
read more blog posts from 'the raven' >

comment

Inspiring leadership in social value

15/10/2018Inspiring leadership in social value

We have learned a lot since the last National Social Value Conference, with many organisations both in the public and private sectors now embeddi... more >
Is fair funding possible, or pie in the sky?

15/10/2018Is fair funding possible, or pie in the sky?

David Phillips, associate director at the Institute for Fiscal Studies, discusses the current health of local government finance, and how a bette... more >
Keeping the momentum of the Northern Powerhouse

15/10/2018Keeping the momentum of the Northern Powerhouse

On 6 September, the biggest decision-makers of the north joined forces to celebrate and debate how to drive innovation and improvement through th... more >
The Convention of the North

15/10/2018The Convention of the North

Steve Rotheram, mayor of the Liverpool City Region, discusses the findings of the very first Convention of the North, which was held in Newcastle... more >

interviews

Keeping the momentum of the Northern Powerhouse

15/10/2018Keeping the momentum of the Northern Powerhouse

On 6 September, the biggest decision-makers of the north joined forces to celebrate and debate how to drive innovation and improvement through th... more >
Michael King: Time for Ombudsman reform

06/08/2018Michael King: Time for Ombudsman reform

Michael King first joined the Local Government Ombudsman service back in 2004 as deputy ombudsman. At the start of 2017, he was appointed as the ... more >
Helping a city understand itself

06/08/2018Helping a city understand itself

SPONSORED INTERVIEW The urban landscape is changing. How can local authorities keep up with citizen behaviour? Stephen Leece, managing directo... more >
Modern policing: the future is bright

06/08/2018Modern policing: the future is bright

SPONSORED INTERVIEW The public sector, and policing in particular, has often been criticised as being slow to adapt to change. But now, says L... more >

public sector focus

View all News