Smart City Definition: What's a Smart City and How do We Create One?

by Matt Dolan
on Jan 23, 2017

Recently I was delighted to welcome three leading ‘smart city’ thinkers and practitioners to speak at Hot Source, a Norwich-based group focused on all things digital.  As the global urban population has exceeded 50%, attention has turned to how cities can manage their expanding population and balance the requirement for city amenities: education, transport, housing, sanitation and so on. There is much to ponder for local authorities.

Ask the experts: what does smart city mean to you?

We heard from James Cornford, of the University of East Anglia’s Business School. To many, smart city conjures images of large corporations filling buildings and streets with monitors and sensors. Good for efficiency but how do we as individuals benefit? James argued that a smart city should not over-focus on efficiency or calculation. We need to recognise and encourage the emotional intelligence of a city; the verbal-linguistic intelligence, the moral intelligence. The answer is that we need to bring together local authorities, local groups, local residents and local business to discuss how the city should develop and progress. Read our tips for getting started with smart cities. 

Following James was Mikele Brack, who has a long career in sustainability, the built environment and in nurturing innovation. She founded the City Impact Challenge, which has served up Cognicity, and was unambiguous in her definition of a smart city: “Specifically the informed and intuitive use of digital data for the efficient and sustainable delivery of services and amenities.” Mikele explained how the City Impact Challenge has unearthed many small businesses with big ideas.

Michael Mulquin, our final speaker for the evening, is the co-chair of the British Standards Institute’s smart cities advisory group. Standards are the building blocks of the city. With standards in place, cities can pinpoint areas for improvement and more importantly have a standardised measurement with which to gauge success and engage with those cities that appear to be progressing.

Technology to use when creating a smart city


Though our speakers addressed the topic from widely different angles they all independently emphasised the need for local authorities, business and the community to come together to shape our future. Cities are unique but they face common challenges and that is why TravelTime has recently launched a TravelTime application designed specifically for local authorities.

Local Authorities have an enormous range of services and responsibilities and a flexible application, such as TravelTime, can address many of them:

  • Economic Growth teams can instantly assess accessibility to new sites, giving them an advantage when approaching relocating companies.
  • Transport teams can instantly observe public transport catchment areas, providing rapid insight into the viability of planned routes and new services.
  • School travel officers can instantly develop travel plans and advice on how to get to school.
  • Local residents can use the tool to gauge efficient ways to travel and access information on local amenities.

All cities in the future will need to be smart, and utilising one piece of software for multiple purposes across several departments is certainly cost-effective and efficient. For the users, presenting travel information in terms of journey time rather than distance is also smart. After all, minutes mean more than miles.



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