Public and government attitudes to smart cities a vicious circle

A survey of attitudes towards smart cities conducted by comms infrastructure supplier Arqiva has revealed a vicious circle of ignorance

Local councils are not investing in smart city technology because they see no demand from their residents, yet residents are not clamouring for smart city technology because they see no benefits being espoused by their local councils.

A new report conducted by communications infrastructure and media services company Arqiva, with support from YouGov, has highlighted the levels of confusion and general ignorance that surrounds smart city technologies; although a few notable pilots in places such as Bristol and Milton Keynes forge ahead, most local authorities are barely conscious of the opportunity.

Arqiva’s report reinforces the findings of a recent Vodafone-ComRes poll which suggested that 67% of urban councilors did not know what machine-to-machine (M2M) technology was or how they could take advantage of it, even though 77% of urban residents said they would support council investment in smart cities.

The survey revealed that 96% of Britons surveyed online are not aware of any smart city initiatives being run by the local council, even though many readily identified issues such as traffic congestion as an area that could benefit from smart city sensor networks.

However, even though 57% of people who took the survey identified traffic congestion as a problem and 33% as a smart city spending priority, less than 10% identified the related issue of finding a parking space as a smart city spending priority – although Welsh respondents were unusually concerned that they couldn’t find a parking space.

Out of the lab, onto the streets

Overall, 48% of those surveyed said they felt that widespread adoption of smart city technology was still five years off, an issue of concern to Arqiva’s business development director of smart metering and M2M, Sean Weir, who said that the technology was ready to be deployed right now.

Speaking to Computer Weekly, Weir said: “In general it is the case that these networks are operating in laboratories and engaged with universities, but are struggling to transition from the lab into the real world, even though the technology is there.

“Councils need tangible demonstration projects to show how smart cities make a difference to people’s lives, they don’t need lab experiments or startup hackathons.”

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He suggested this would stimulate demand and help residents come back to councils with a clearer idea of what they wanted, as well as encouraging private sector investors to come forward.

Weir also called for local councils to look at how they could better collaborate across the different service silos they provide, such as roads, waste disposal and social care.

Arqiva has deployed an internet of things-ready network in 10 of the largest cities in the UK: Bristol, Birmingham, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Leeds, Leicester, Liverpool, London, Manchester and Sheffield, encompassing 30% of the country’s population.

There was one bright spot in the Arqiva survey, as more than a third of 18 to 24 year olds claimed to be passionate about their nearest city becoming smart, and a third said they would consider moving house to be near smarter cities if their own local authority did not step up.

“Councils desperately need to find a way to harness the enthusiasm of the tech-savvy younger generation,” said Weir. “If done correctly, they create powerful advocates to spread awareness – if done wrong, they risk their city’s economic future.”

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