The Digital Revolution and the Rise of the Smart City

“The global market for smart city solutions is expected to be worth around £250billion by 2020.”

Cities are the future. With populations growing across the world, and increasing proportions of people choosing to live in urban areas, the need to build sustainable, technologically integrated cities in ever tighter urban units will become increasingly urgent, especially with the demands on resources becoming more stretched.

Not so long ago Smart Cities would have been something seen only in science fiction, but far from being a dystopian vision, these cities are fast becoming our modern reality.

Low carbon, zero energy buildings taking advantage of the digital revolution mean that the “internet of things”, connecting everything we use through integrated networks will ultimately improve quality of life through making daily tasks both more convenient and environmentally sustainable.

As in many future growth areas involving infrastructure, Asia, with its huge urbanised population, is taking a lead on this. The Asian smart building market will reach $1,036 billion dollars in 2020, driven by urbanisation, smart cities and government commitments on carbon reduction. The city of Songdo, in South Korea for example is the first ever purpose built smart city and something which the UK should study closely.

Songdo, offers completely integrated network solutions, so that instead of weekly rubbish collections, rubbish disposal is done through placing a garbage bag in high-tech integrated tubes placed outside each home on the ground. More than 40% of Songdo’s area is reserved for green space and many of the high rise buildings are carbon neutral. It is built so that almost all aspects of living, from going to work to shopping in the local retail park is within walking or cycling distance with huge purpose built bicycle roads to promote lower emissions and healthy living.

The buildings themselves will all be connected through one intranet, so citizens will be able to control the functions of their homes wherever they are within the city and communications will be completely free through the centralised city network.

In the UK, dense urban living has never been seen as modern, cutting edge or particularly glamorous. This despite the fact that we are one of the most urbanised and densely populated developed countries in the world. Our failed experiments in 1960's high rises have meant that the pull of the suburbs have always held more attraction, even if it means longer daily commutes and fewer services. 

However smart cities of the future may change all that, and make cities not only more attractive places to live but also open up a huge global market that British companies can target. 

With over 100 smart city projects in construction today and with China alone planning to build over 200 in the next decade, the UK has huge opportunities in this rapidly growing sector. The level of growth was shown in a recent report by Brisa Communications which estimated that the smart building market will grow from the current size of $427 million dollars to $1.36 billion in 2020, creating significant opportunities for advanced building technologies and services.

Even in Europe, cities such as Stockholm are taking a lead, developing fast, integrated internet networks to more closely link its citizens. Sweden has been quick in understanding the benefit to the national economy of developing smart solutions, with tech start-ups from Spotify to Skype being created by Swedish entrepreneurs.

The UK has begun to take some positive steps to develop our living spaces of the future and ensure we can be a competitive player - in January 2015, the Government launched its Smart Cities Initiative, which highlighted that the UK needs to take swift, practical steps to ensure that not only is it ready for the rise of smart cities, but is an active leader in shaping these technologies, creating the businesses and jobs of the future.

The Government’s Hyper Cat project, which is aimed at providing greater connectivity has linked three cities, London, Bristol and Milton Keynes who are collaborating with each other and with businesses to find better and more effective ways to deliver services.

The applications procedure is ongoing with certain services expected to be made “smart” in the coming years including smart parking by using real time data on available parking spaces, placing sensors in recycling skips so councils know when they are full and digitalising tracking vehicle movement to enable better traffic management

Smart cities will not only create better services for citizens but also provide big export opportunities for UK businesses.  In the West Midlands, Jaguar Land Rover is working closely with Flexeye, a British high-tech company and the government, to establish secure ways to share and protect IP when collaborating via cloud technology.

Smart Cities will be the cities of the digital revolution. They offer a way to improve the quality of life in our cities, to make urban life much more attractive and to make them far more environmentally sustainable. The UK with its proud, long history of creative inventions can't be left behind by this revolution.