How Did London City Get So Smart So Quickly?

London was voted the “smartest city” of the year for 2020 for its use of innovative smart technology in numerous sectors. The city uses smart, connected technology everywhere in an intelligent way. It uses it to combat problems in areas such as public transport and road use, pollution monitoring and retrofitting of buildings to make them smarter. This is to make the daily life of the inhabitants easier and give them a healthier environment to live in.

The present mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, has been a lynchpin in propelling the city into the technological age; “Easier said than done,” as what they say. London is not one single entity, but a sprawling conglomerate of 9 million people, led by thirty-three different local authorities. A mixture of public and private companies operates roads and public transport. The NHS (National Health Service) consists of 40 unique Trusts.  Each one of these serves a separate geographical area within the boundaries of London. 

A mind-boggling amount of organization goes into the coordination of all these organizations. This is the only way to make the smart technology function seamlessly from one end of the urban area to the other.  So, how does the City of London manage to do it? We will explore some of their efforts in this article, and discover the vital key to making a city smart. And no, although it seems as though the network is one of the most important parameters, it’s not through the installation of a 5G network!

The Key Component To Making A Smart City…Well…Smart.

How Did London City Get So Smart

A successful smart city interlinks all developments and makes them work seamlessly together. Surprisingly, technology is not the main component driving this. It is true that without innovative technology, nothing can be made smart. However, the technology is just a platform used to achieve a goal.  What matters, above all else, is the participation of the people who live in the city. 

Without their input and willingness to take part, you can throw all the money you want towards the set-up of innovations such as ubiquitous electric car chargers, or smart apps for public transport, without any success. Inhabitants who are unconvinced that technology will improve their lives will not use it.  If they believe that smart technology is just there so that the local government can track them, they will not use it.  If they feel as if they are being ordered to install apps on their smartphones or change their routine with no obvious advantage to their personal lives, the majority would rather choose not to take part.  After all, very few adults like being obliged to follow orders.

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So, what has London done to convince its inhabitants from all these different zones to participate and make the City of London the smartest city in the world?

They have created communities centered around smart technology, to give residents a sense of belonging.  The people now realize that they are part of the solution to make their environment a cleaner, better place.

Start With The Children

London Bridge In UK

To get people engaged, what better place to start than with children? If children get enthusiastic about their neighborhood, then the parents will, too. A team named “Breathe London” did exactly that. Breathe London installs sensors around the city to measure air quality.  The information they gather facilitates the creation of smart technology to counter local pollution. The organization recruited over 250 students and 33 teachers from five different primary schools. They gave them wearable backpack sensors for five days to walk around with. The data collected was then analyzed to find out how much pollution they were exposed to on their way to school.

In the end, the children became aware of their environment by taking part in collecting data. Not only that but they were also educated on how important air quality is for them. Special science lessons given by air quality scientists and Dyson engineers taught them how pollution affects them directly. Finally, to keep the children and their parents interested in the project, Breathe London shared data with the participating schools.  They also held focus groups in the neighborhoods concerned to find out how the project has altered the views on pollution in their area.

The Smart Way To Get Residents Involved

London Night Life

Sadiq Kahn, the mayor of London, has embraced the concept of putting citizens first and foremost in the move towards a smarter urban landscape.  He was quoted as saying, “When we create something from Londoners’ data, it’s made by London. But we want to make sure that that concept is morally owned by Londoners”.

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Diverse strategies used by local government involve the people of London in their city’s transformation. Advisory boards have been set up to create direct communication with as many community groups as possible and the city government. These community groups find out directly from the public which objectives they consider important to improve their local environment.  This can be an issue, from creating safer pedestrian areas to combating pollution from traffic or factories in their area.

A digital platform called “Crowdfund London” gives every resident a voice in the evolution of their area.  Anyone who lives in London can suggest an idea they have to solve an issue in their local community.  They can also use the platform to develop the idea and find local support and funding for it.  Consequently, this means that every Londoner has the potential to change the neighborhood they live in.

It’s All About Opening Communication Lines

London, UK

The mayor has initiated a road map called Smarter London Together. This plan opens communication channels between the 33 local authorities and public services like transport and health. This facilitates easier collaboration in digital technology projects.

To advise the mayor on how digital technology can improve investment and work life in the city, an advisory council called “The Smart London Board” also meets regularly. Diverse leaders in the community make up the board. The participants range from academics to entrepreneurs, who have a finger on the pulse of the economic heart of the city.

Not only is the City of London improving communication within its urban area, but it has also introduced a European “Sharing Cities” project.  This initiative links London with five other European cities to share technological objectives and practices. The collaborative projects help each city enhance its local smart technology infrastructure.  In working together, they are more able to find solutions for issues facing city residents.

Get Innovators Involved

London: Smartest City of 2020

To foster smart innovation to cover all sectors of the city’s population, the City of London launched “The Civic Innovation Challenge” in 2016. The competition has been held annually since then. It induces London-based technological start-ups to come up with smart solutions to some of the city’s most urgent social and logistical problems. The categories changing each year.  The issues range widely from preventing traffic congestion to making the city more accessible to the elderly and disabled, to countering violent online extremism. The winners each year work with private corporations and public entities to make their projects a reality.

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The Greater London Authority (GLA) has created an enormous database that anyone can access. “The London Datastore” holds data from many areas, such as public transport, environmental measurements, crime statistics, and recently, COVID incidence and vaccination rates, to name a few datasets.  All these data are freely accessible. As a result, it helps innovators develop technology and apps to improve life quality in any area they choose.

In The End, It’s All About The People

Imagining the Future City – London 2062

In summary, without all the input from people who live in the city, and all the data collected from smartphones carried by users of all the city’s facilities, a smart city cannot even get a foot off the ground. A smart city puts the people at the center of its decisions.  The governing body of London has realized that this is the key to making a truly smart urban area. People drive innovation and development and are a resource that London has in large numbers. Building communities to make London smarter has the added advantage of bringing the citizens of London closer together. The more they become involved in community projects, the more supportive they are of each other.

Thanks to the many social initiatives in play, what a Londoner dreams of today to make their part of the world a better place to live in, can become a reality tomorrow.

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