Technology is ever-changing, and its applications are always increasing, offering a wide range of benefits. With that in mind, municipalities all over the world are out to incorporate new technology in order to improve the lives of their citizens. The use of information and communications technology and Internet of Things technology can provide a large number of service improvements and enhance the communication that takes place between citizens and city employees and officials.
With the largest tech market in Europe, London has a vital interest in being a leader in the smart cities movement. The technology sector in the city is worth roughly £19 billion with 40,000 digital businesses and 200,000 employees in Greater London. What’s more, London expects to grow by 1 million people from 2011 to 2021 and to have a total of 10 million residents by 2030. With that in mind, then-Mayor Boris Johnson wanted to use digital technology resources to help London meet its growth challenges and the burden that would be put on city services, a mission that continues under current Mayor Sadiq Khan.
Many of London’s services are affected by population growth, including services that would not occur to most people. Transportation (including traffic, busses, the Underground, and Crossrail), power, waste, and water and sewer might be some of the first things that come to mind, but the demand on the city also includes more police calls for service, an influx of patients at hospitals, and an increase in visits to city websites. As part of the solution, Mayor Johnson helped to create the Smart London Board. The Board then developed the Smart Plan for London, putting Londoners at the centre of the city’s technological growth and setting goals commiserate with the population growth projections.
The Smart London Board laid out several measures for success in the Smart Plan, including: 1) the creation and dissemination of evidence-based stories to demonstrate the power of open data for Londoners and businesses; 2) an increase in the number of Londoners using digital technology to access city information; 3) publication of the Mayor’s Long Term Infrastructure Investment Plan by 2015; 4) evolve London’s Datastore into a global exemplar program by 2016; and 5) double the number of Londoners using Datastore and Dashboard by 2018. The infrastructure plan emerged as the London Infrastructure Plan 2050, which projects the city growing to nearly 12 million residents by mid-century. The plan’s scope not only includes water, sewer, transport, healthcare, housing, and schools, but also more progressive policies involving energy, green spaces, recycling, and digital infrastructure.
With the desire to improve its digital infrastructure, London has been proactive in not only improving its current Internet and technology offerings but partnering with the data and digital technology firms in the city. Through its Tech.London initiative, the city promotes jobs in the digital technology field and encourages the development of small businesses. The website also connects startups with investors, publishes the latest news on technology in the city, promotes educational opportunities in the field, and advertises upcoming events in London. The GLA has also promoted the Export Programme and International Business Programme, and the Super Connected Cities scheme. This last programme works to improve urban broadband in London and other cities to give city residents greater internet access.
As for the Smart London Board’s other goals, a 2016 report provided an update of each. To put Londoners at the centre, Talk London was established to permit citizens to have direct feedback online to the Greater London Authority. London Datastore provides anyone with access to information about the city as a data sharing portal offering over 700 datasets on topics that include public safety, GLA performance, housing, health, transport, communities, and more. To improve the quality of services using technology, the GLA has set up the Infrastructure Mapping Application, which allows anyone to see population growth projections, utility projects, transportation projects, growth corridors, and investments in everything from jobs to housing (and this is only the tip of the iceberg for this app). The Smart Borough London Partnership also works to increase data-sharing among London boroughs, allowing them to scale solutions as needed for each individual borough.
Following his election in 2016, Mayor Sadiq Khan pledged to continue the GLA’s efforts to make London a leading Smart City. Part of his plan includes a £1.6m Clean Tech Incubator called Better Futures that will assist 100 London-based businesses to develop low-carbon and green technology to address climate change. Fulfilling another of his pledges, Mayor Khan appointed the city’s first Chief Digital Officer in Theo Blackwell, Camden’s cabinet member for finance, technology, and growth. A vocal advocate in better digital strategies for local government, Mr. Blackwell will further develop and implement the Smart London Plan, build collaboration between the boroughs and the tech industry, and promote the digital transformation of city services.
Going forward, the GLA will seek to create the London Office for Technology and Innovation, fix problem areas for mobile and broadband connectivity, and develop the £7 million Digital Talent Programme. The Digital Talent Programme will focus on getting young people (especially women, minorities, and people from disadvantaged communities) into the tech field. In doing so, the city will promote individuals in the tech field who will become even more invested in their community’s growth and give the city’s tech companies employees who truly understand London. Greater London will then create a cycle that will benefit the next generation of Londoners, the city’s tech businesses, and Greater London as a whole.
For the past six years, London has worked hard to achieve its status as a Smart City, becoming the second leading metropolis in the world behind New York City. As London growths, the GLA will continue to promote its tech industry, improve its technology infrastructure, develop its digital services to transform itself for the future, and thus become the world’s no. 1 Smart City. As technology changes, Greater London will adapt to be at the forefront and turn new developments to the benefit of its residents and visitors. For more information, you can visit Smart London’s webpage at Smart London and discover London’s transformation for yourself.