Smart cities – what people want

Intelligent streetlights, sustainable buildings and information from sensors embedded in roads and buildings are considered top smart city apps in UK.
Published: Thu 14 Jul 2016

Utilities have learnt the hard way of the need to adopt a customer-centric approach when introducing new technologies and services in order to ensure their widespread adoption and support.

Similarly is the need with smart cities, which are now being developed in growing numbers across the globe. Their success will depend on the level of engagement with consumers and their consequent buy-in to the smart city applications.

A good place for a smart city project to start would be to get a sense of the applications that residents and other users would find most useful and potentially to prioritise these for deployment.

Smart city awareness in UK

To find out what people want was one of the aims of a recent survey by the Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET) in the UK.

Interestingly, and despite several initiatives in cities including Bristol, Glasgow, Peterborough and London, awareness of smart cities was low, with only 18% of the public having heard of them. This was especially the case among the over-65s with the awareness at only 6%. Conversely it was highest at 37% among the 18-34 age group.

When asked for their views on five smart city technologies and how useful they might be if they were introduced in their local area, the results revealed a lack of clear consensus and instead there are a several that would be preferred.

Considered to be most useful, indicated by 29% of the respondents, is intelligent streetlights activated by movement to improve safety, deter crime and save energy.

25% were most interested in buildings that generate their own energy and collect and recycle water and waste. 23% thought sensors embedded in roads and buildings which measure traffic flows, predict congestion, and adjust traffic lights and signals, would be most useful.

However, only 15% would most like to receive up-to-the-minute travel information via smart phone, enabling them to plan and pay for journeys, using different types of transport. And just 8% saw most value in being able to order driverless or electric transport from their smart phone.

Commenting on the research,  Alan Howard, IET head of Thought Leadership,  says: “In spite of substantial investment in smart cities from the government, local authorities and businesses, most people don’t understand the concept or, more importantly, how smart city digital communications technology could improve their quality of life by enhancing infrastructure and public services, including transport and traffic management, energy, water and waste management, healthcare and other community services.”

A people first approach

Based on the findings – and despite the evident and expected diversity of opinion on the most useful smart city applications – the report concludes that in the UK the public has yet to buy into the idea of smart cities and to be convinced of the value and benefits that technology, delivered on a city-scale, could bring to their daily lives.

The report also highlights the need for a people-centric approach, putting people first rather than technology. All those involved in developing and delivering technology-enabled cities should fully engage with citizens and communities. Embracing new ways of engaging the public will enable a more citizen and community-centred approach. Moreover, in exploring the changes required in the delivery and operation of new smart city services, greater emphasis is required on the outcomes people wish to see achieved.

“Without this, we risk developing technology-enabled cities and communities that people neither recognise or value,” concludes Howard.

Further reading

IET: Smart Cities. Time to involve the people

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