Better Urban Living through Smart Infrastructure

  • Mike Pitts
  • 22 August 2018
  • Posted in: Science & Technology, Planning & Development

Urban areas are home to more than half the world’s population, with another 1.5 million people joining these areas every week. Though cities only cover around 3% of the Earth’s surface, they are responsible for up to 85% of global GDP and consume two-thirds of global energy. These growing populations mean that local authorities are under increasing pressure to deliver quality services to their citizens, often with decreasing funding to do so.  Issues such as air pollution, ageing populations, physical and mental health, a changing climate, and congestion can’t be tackled by single solutions, especially across departmental siloes. Innovative technology and business models are helping cities to navigate these problems, and Innovate UK are helping UK businesses grasp this opportunity.

At Innovate UK, you won’t hear us talk about “Smart Cities” because we don’t think that the focus should be on the technology, but on how we can use innovative technologies to create sustainable, liveable cities. Technological systems need to integrate with our environmental and social systems to work for citizens. As the increasing pace of technological change propels us into the Fourth Industrial Revolution, it is paramount that we effectively use such innovation to benefit our urban areas.

The Smart City movement could be seen as the realisation of the 4th Industrial Revolution in cities. The British Standards Institute defines Smart Cities as “the effective integration of physical, digital and human systems in the built environment to deliver sustainable, prosperous and inclusive future for its citizens” which is not too distant from the definition of the 4IR. If the technologies are accepted and embraced, the 4IR could transform how many city systems operate. The range of technologies synonymous with the 4IR can allow us to better observe, model and manage the complex systems that make up our cities. As our cities grow and these complex systems interact with each other, we need these advanced technologies in order to even comprehend the complexity of these interactions and allow us to design better interventions and services.

The 4IR could allow cities to be reimagined without the need for huge new infrastructure investment and, if the technologies are deployed in a citizen-centric manner, narrowing the divisions in our cities based on wealth, age, and other factors is possible. Gartner estimates that cities will account for 9.7 billion connected things, with buildings accounting for 81% of all connected things by 2020 – clearly, the Internet of Things is going to be a major part of urban life in the near future so the opportunities need to be realised now.

The projects that we are funding focus on exactly that. Back in 2012 we funded the Future Cities Demonstrator which saw Glasgow receive £24 million to bring that future closer. The city has since seen a return on investment of £144 million by adding intelligence throughout their city systems – sensors under the roads analysed traffic flows to reduce congestion, smart street lights have saved on energy and made the city safer, and data analysis has provided a route to addressing fuel poverty.

In London, we supported a UK SME called Mastodon C to develop a big data tool called Witan which enables local authorities to understand how changes to systems will affect their cities. Being able to see how a housing policy will impact population, school places and the impact on the NHS in a matter of minutes is a huge step forwards.

The most successful innovation we have supported has the characteristic of being citizen-focussed. Cities are ultimately big communities of people not a collection of infrastructure. Smart city technology must be designed with the citizen in mind to have a business case and be adopted and scaled quickly.

  • smart cities
  • Article Author

About Mike Pitts

Mike is the Head of Urban Systems covering the priority areas of Urban Living and Smart Infrastructure. These future markets are driven by the addition of data layers to infrastructure and enable new and different services to be delivered to citizens. Mike previously led on embedding sustainability across Innovate UK's strategy and programmes since…