A Tale of 30 Cities.
In the wake of our recent blog on America’s smart city readiness, UrbanTide have decided to examine ARUP's earlier review of UK cities, in partnership with the Technology Strategy Board (now known as Innovate UK).

November 11, 2014


Solutions for Cities: An analysis of the feasibility studies from the Future Cities Demonstrator Programme released in July 2013. The piece goes some way to explaining how and why UrbanTide work in the way that we do.

Solution for Cities

'Solutions for Cities' is a 'detailed picture of some of the future visions of UK cities'. And can be viewed in its entirety here.

Some notable trends emerged from organisational, infrastructure, platform and application categories, but there were 2 clear and overriding intentions that characterised most if not all of the feasibility studies. These were designs towards open data platforms and engagement with partners.

Based on an examination of the feasibility studies, Glasgow was awarded a grant of £24million, with Bristol, London and Peterborough each receiving £3million to take their future city plans forward. It was these projects that were strongest in terms of realising the potential of open data and who had strong frameworks that lent themselves to effective stakeholder and citizen engagement.

Open Data

Of the 30 cities provided with £50,000 to undertake and submit a feasibility study, 29 responded.

Of these 29 who submitted innovative proposals to dramatically improve their performance in the smart cities arena, 23 stated a desire to integrate an open data platform into their future investment roadmap, with 28 committing a data platform. 

This manifested itself in a variety of ways from traffic management to monitoring the quality of the air. What set Glasgow apart for instance, was how they were able to ‘demonstrate how this integration could be achieved via its city management system’. In other words, how they would use data conscientiously for the benefit of the city.

Embracing Open Data emerged as a welcome and crucial common theme. A smart city will only ever be so if solutions that people want and need are provided and based on the information the users generate.  By making it open you allow the population to own how they use these solutions, taking them forward, innovating and iterating the city in which they live and work. 

Furthermore, pursuing an Open Data agenda "ensures a level playing field for everyone who can benefit".

As Jeni Tennisons writes:

"organisations can get a lot of the information they need without being given personal data to process themselves. Open Data can also be used to minimise the number of restricted data releases that are made by supplying the anonymised statistical data people really need. Opening up data about what data is shared, with whom, for what purpose and for what cost makes the process transparent. And requiring the open publication of the results of data analysis ensures the benefits are available to everyone". 
The Guardian, Monday 12 May 2014 17.25 BST

The last point being the most crucial.

This is precisely why Data features so prominently in the TIDE offering. Data is an asset in its own right and its effective use is imperative in any smart city or digital solution. 

Engagement with Partners

Partnerships and key stakeholder engagement are crucial for any smart cities venture for the same reason that Open Data is. Solutions have to be useful, beneficial and necessary to those who they are intended for.

Also from a financial perspective, partnerships are crucial in getting these sorts of projects up and running. Partnerships allow for the exchange of ideas and expertise and provide safer frameworks for investment.

The report acknowledged that direct engagement with citizens was rare in the proposals submitted, but explained that the short time-frames made it difficult to put down a solid plan. However, those cities that had stronger mechanisms for citizen engagement ‘generally produced the strongest proposals’. Bristol in particular.

The importance of effective citizen engagement has since been codified in the British Standards Institute (BSI) guidelines for a Smart City Framework - PAS 181, a project in which UrbanTide's consultants were involved.

The Smart City Framework recommends that smart city leaders should pay attention to the following key areas:

Guiding principles

Collaborate with city stakeholders to develop and agree a set of guiding principles for the smart city strategy that include, as a minimum, the need to:

  1. Establish a clear, compelling and inclusive vision for the city; 
  2. Take a citizen-centric approach to all aspects of service design and delivery; 
  3. Enable a ubiquitous, integrative and inclusive digitisation of city spaces and systems; 
  4. Embed openness and sharing in the way the city works. 

UrbanTide have heeded our own advice. Engagement comprises the final strand of our TIDE approach and through 'hackathons', digital literacy training, smart city Urban Labs and applications we ensure that smart people help build their own smart city.  

It is also worth noting that PAS 181 encourages the same Open Data sentiments expressed in the first paragraph.

International Comparison

In terms of how this work relates to that undertaken by Cisco and the Smart Cities Council – 'Solutions for Cities', compares favourably indeed. 29 out of 30 cities offered a feasibility study and when you consider that 68% of US cities did not complete business plans when seeking investment for smart city pilots, it is easy to see why the United Kingdom are advancing well in this area.

“Common to nearly all the proposals is a recognition that integration and the realisation of new opportunities to tackle key city challenges, will not happen without cross-departmental coordination and engagement with wider industry, academia and citizen stakeholders”.

Perhaps the greatest foible, however, of the US study was its portrayal of quality of life as a stand-alone objective that they sought to improve.

Here it is the bedrock of why the TSB had the money to award in the first place and is the raison d’etre behind the proposals and the solar plexus of PAS 181, which is so fantastically encouraging.

“The overwhelming focus of the visions is on improving the local quality of life’.


As we have mentioned in the past - no city is truly smart. But the measures and approaches that UK cities are adopting now appear to be the correct first steps on the journey to more efficient and connected urban environments. To see the legacy of the Future Cities Demonstrator programme visit Glasgow's, Bristol's, London's and Peterborough's pages and truly see what a fascinating diverse area this is.

A little competition is healthy and sometimes encouraged to stimulate innovation etc. However, we mustn't lose sight of the fact that smart cities represent a conversation right now, with collaboration and openness to new ideas its most valuable talking points. 


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