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Smart cities: London

The UK capital is one of the leading metropolises for innovation and digital development.

by Sabato Angieri
04 June 2021
8 min read
by Sabato Angieri
04 June 2021
8 min read

In 2018, the European Union introduced the concept of smart city, meaning a place where traditional networks and services are made more efficient through the use of digital and telecommunication technologies, which also impact how urban centres are assessed using indicators that help key sectors in technological, environmental and sustainable development. All of these things are to the benefit of inhabitants and businesses.

Defining criteria

With the systematic use of new building methods and materials, artificial intelligence and the Internet of things (IoT), the goal is to reduce emissions and optimise performance. Because of this, more efficient and cleaner urban transport services, functional and well-managed water supply systems, adequate waste disposal facilities and more efficient street lighting and heating systems are essential. However, social factors, which are a fundamental part of what makes urban centres liveable, should not be overlooked; examples include the ability to interact with the public administration, such as presenting motions or proposals, access to safe public spaces and services required for an ageing population.

City right

For the past several years, even the mayors of some of Europe’s most populous cities have begun to think along these same lines. To give an example, on 3 July 2018, Barcelona’s leader and his counterpart in London, Sadiq Khan, penned an article together in The Guardian which became something of a manifesto for the right to the city, and against speculation and pollution. The two mayors showed themselves to be proponents of environmental policies aimed at preserving and creating urban parks, electric and alternative mobility and reducing greenhouse gas emissions

To go into further detail and analyse what these action areas actually consist of, take the UK’s capital as an example, using data provided by the seventh Cities in Motion Index (CIMI) from the University of Navarra’s Business School. Based on 101 indicators collected in nine key fields (human capital, social cohesion, economy, governance, environment, mobility and transportation, urban planning, international projection and technology), CIMI analysts compiled a ranking that, through objective and subjective data, offers a comprehensive view of 174 cities from 80 countries around the world.

London on top

Among these, London is at the top of the overall ranking, given its very high scores in many of the fields analysed. In the field of digital infrastructure and new technologies, for example, the UK’s capital is home to more start-ups and programmers than almost any other city in the world. It launched the Smarter London Together project, which aims to be a structured but flexible digital development plan to make it the smartest city, technologically speaking, in the world. The project's roadmap includes stable cooperation with the various boroughs concerning services in the capital, from transportation to health care. At the same time, the project includes, among its stated objectives, more effective collaboration with the technology sector, universities and other cities. London is described as a kind of global test-bed city for innovation, where the best ideas are developed with the highest standards of privacy and security. From there, they then spread across the world. With this in mind, five areas for development have been identified: design, data exchange, connectivity, expertise and collaboration.

The CIMI index considers London to be well ranked in almost all fields, especially for human capital and international projection, where it achieved first place. The least positive ranking was given in the field of social cohesion (64th place) and the reason is not difficult to imagine. London is one of the world capitals of trade, banking and insurance funds, and its city centre over the years has taken on the characteristics of what urban planners call a non-place. Not only that, but buildings and activities are at the centre of an international buying and selling market that attracts global investors only interested in turning a profit. Which brings us back to Khan's words: a city must also be a place of production and trade, but it cannot forget and leave behind its inhabitants, those who keep it alive and are building its history. 

In contrast, in terms of human capital it earned first place due to its internationally renowned business schools and the fact that it has the highest number of universities ranked among the top 500 in the world. In addition, the city has a very large number of secondary schools, both public and private, which over the years have significantly increased the percentage of the population with secondary and higher education to very high levels. The cultural offer is also valued in this field, which here reflects the presence of important museums that attract millions of visitors every year, and the significant presence of theatres, museums and art galleries.

First for global exposure

In modern history, one of the strengths of the UK’s capital is the city’s international projection, which it has boasted for more than two centuries, as CIMI data confirms. Despite competition from New York and Paris, London, a city that has seen a growing number of Asian communities arriving over the years, has risen to the top. Not to mention the significant presence of hotels and the number of international conferences organised there every year. In addition, Londoners rank first in the world in terms of airline ticket purchases, which is closely linked to the fact that most international air routes pass through London.

Social equity and health

Finally, it is worth mentioning the initiatives for social inclusion that have characterised the city's public communications in recent years. Throughout 2018, for example, London mayor Sadiq Khan sponsored celebrations to mark the 100th anniversary of women’s right to vote in the UK. Its social media campaign, #BehindEveryGreatCity, seized the opportunity to celebrate London's role in the fight for universal suffrage, while also creating an opportunity to raise awareness on a range of initiatives aimed at reinvigorating the gender equality discussion.

Or, to give another example, in October last year, the mayor's offices commissioned a study on the incidence of COVID-19 in the various segments of the London population. The results, which highlighted the vulnerability of certain portions of the population, were then used to launch a citywide and national campaign to promote greater access to health care and more investment in the National Health Service. Cities are increasingly presented as administrative centres, which, by impacting the region, serve the good of all. In this sense, the concept of smart city and community overlaps, offering an example of how history and progress can be successfully combined.

The author: Sabato Angieri

Graduated in European Literature at the University La Sapienza of Rome, he is a freelance journalist and editorial translator, he has collaborated in several cultural and artistic projects as an author and writer. He currently collaborates with Media Duemila, Lonely Planet as an author and with Elliot Publishing.