New report reveals public apathy for ‘smart cities’

Only 18 per cent of the British public has heard of a ‘smart city’, according to research carried out by the Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET). The research is reported in a new IET report, ‘Smart Cities – Time to involve the people’, which also reveals a lack of consumer consensus on the relevance of technologies typically associated with smart cities.


Awareness of ‘smart cities ‘is lowest amongst those aged over 65 (6 per cent) and highest among those aged 18-34 (37 per cent). One third of respondents were unable to select the correct definition of a smart city from a list of options. Eight per cent of respondents opted for “a city that has a higher than average proportion of universities and colleges and aims to attract the most intellectual”, and a further five per cent saw it as “a city that has a strict cleaning regime for its buildings, roads and public places”.


Cities’ adoption of new technologies has traditionally involved little consultation with consumers. As a result, the report suggests that the public has yet to buy into the idea of smart cities – and be convinced of the value and benefits that technology, delivered on a city-scale, could bring to their daily lives. New disruptive technologies and applications such as Uber (on-demand taxi services) and Airbnb (online accommodation service) may help to change hearts and minds, but the findings suggest there is still some way to go.


When asked for their views on five smart city technologies and how useful they might be if they were introduced in their local area, the results revealed a lack of any clear consensus:

  • 29 per cent of respondents felt that ‘intelligent’ streetlights activated by movement to improve safety, deter crime and save energy would be most useful.
  • 25 per cent were most interested in buildings that generate their own energy – and collect and recycle water and waste.
  • 23 per cent thought sensors embedded in roads and buildings which measure traffic flows, predict congestion, and adjust traffic lights and signals, would be most useful.
  • 15 per cent would most like to receive up-to-the-minute travel information via smart phone, enabling them to plan and pay for journeys, using different types of transport.
  • 8 per cent saw most value in being able to order driverless or electric transport from their smart phone.


The report also cites projects in GlasgowPeterboroughBristol and London that have successfully taken a people-centred approach to smart cities and offer examples of how technology can improve the quality of life for residents, workers and visitors alike.


Commenting on the research,  Alan Howard, IET Head of Thought Leadership,  says: “In spite of substantial investment in smart cities from the Government, local authorities and businesses, most people don’t understand the concept or, more importantly, how smart city digital communications technology could improve their quality of life by enhancing infrastructure and public services, including transport and traffic management, energy, water and waste management, healthcare and other community services.


“Promoting ‘lessons learned’ from pilots like those in Glasgow, Peterborough, Bristol and London will help inspire, inform and influence more local authorities and communities about how technologies can improve the quality of the daily lives of their citizens.


“It’s also important that public authorities, businesses and service providers understand the innovations and issues that people want to see in smart cities and communities – and put greater emphasis on the human and societal outcomes of their initiatives. Putting people first, rather than technology, is essential if we are to improve quality of life and create liveable, connected and sustainable cities and communities in which to live, work and invest.


“Without this, we risk developing technology-enabled cities and communities that people neither recognise or value.”