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Mayor Khan bids to make London the world’s smartest city

At London Tech Week, mayor Sadiq Khan launched a city-wide initiative to harness the capital’s technology talent to address London’s most pressing problems

Using digital and smart city technology to solve urban challenges around air quality, city design and digital connectivity will be the focus of a London-wide initiative launched by London mayor Sadiq Khan this week.

Speaking at the launch of London Tech Week, Khan announced a bid to help address some of London’s most pressing problems by turning the capital into the smartest city in the world. His Smarter London Together roadmap comprises more than 20 initiatives designed to reinforce London’s credentials as a smart city.

“A year ago, I announced my ambition to make London the world’s leading smart city,” said Khan. “Today I am proud to unveil my vision for making that ambition a reality. We need a step-change in how we harness innovation for the benefit of all Londoners.

“Many of London’s advances in the application of data and smart technologies are globally recognised. We have clearly taken great steps, but I want us to do even more to meet the needs of Londoners.

“As one of the world’s leading technology hubs, we need to be bold and think big, to experiment and try things out that have not been done elsewhere. I see London’s future as a global ‘test-bed city’ for civic innovation, where the best ideas are developed, amplified and scaled.

“To solve the biggest problems our great city faces, I am calling for an ever-more collaborative approach than ever. We need our public services, major universities and technology community to mobilise their resources in new ways and partner with us to make London a fairer and more prosperous place.”

The roadmap comprises more than 20 distinct projects, such as the Civic Innovation Challenge, designed to help establish London as an innovation testbed, support the roll-out of smarter next-generation infrastructure, and attract even more investment into the city’s already vibrant startup scene. The challenge will see startups matched with public and private sector organisations to look at how technology can be brought to bear on issues such as inequality, climate change, and the challenge of an ageing urban population.

It also sets out a new approach to connectivity, proposing planning powers to bring full-fibre broadband connectivity into every home in London, working with Transport for London (TfL) to expand 4G using its existing infrastructure, and bidding for 5G funds from central government.

Elsewhere, a £365,000 investment in the London Office of Data Analytics will be put to work to promote greater data-sharing among public sector bodies, and the mayor also proposed the establishment of a new body to oversee and encourage closer, more productive relationships between London borough councils, technology firms and academia.

The roadmap also set out plans to support the commission of internet of things (IoT) technology, and other initiatives such as using street furniture to house air quality sensors, more public Wi-Fi, and charging stations for electric vehicles.

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On the security side, Khan also proposed the development of a citywide cyber security strategy, which could bring together new and existing bodies such as the London Digital Security Centre and the London Cyber Innovation Centre.

Khan said London had long led the way in pioneering technological innovation, and pointed to measures such as the successful introduction of contactless payments on public transport, and the roll-out of bodyworn video cameras in the Metropolitan Police Service.

Theo Blackwell, London’s chief digital officer, who is currently spearheading a drive around open data that aims to overcome public wariness of how data is collected and used, said Khan’s roadmap was aimed squarely at getting the “foundations for the future” right.

“We will properly mobilise the city’s resources to end not-spots, and propose planning powers to ensure new developments are connected,” said Blackwell. “We will put people’s priorities first through the Mayor’s Civic Innovation Challenge to mobilise the best in the tech sector to help solve urban problems.

“We will strike a new deal with citizens on use of their data so that when it is appropriate to share data, it is done in a trusted, safe way and for public benefit. Tech jobs should open for Londoners and we will invest in skills and support efforts to make the tech sector more diverse.

“All of this will succeed only through collaboration and partnership, which we are committed to. We call on the tech community in all its forms across London to join us in this challenge.”

Tech Week London ambassador and Passion Capital partner Eileen Burbidge said: “London is leading the way in developing innovative technologies in sectors such as fintech and artificial intelligence. These technologies not only have the potential to change the way we do business, but can also transform our cities to make them better places to live.

“London Tech Week will see some of the best minds gather in London from all over the world and there is a great opportunity for us to work together with other tech hubs and the global startup community to tackle urban challenges.”

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