Smart cities and all that jazz

There’s a lot of chatter about smart cities – but what makes a smart city, where do you start, and what if you’re not a city?

Smart cities has become a byword (byphrase?) for investing in and embedding technology, but it’s much, much more than a future-proof IT system, cloud computing and a strong internet connection (although these are of course essential). The concept of a smart city, campus, precinct or place is about connecting people with the environment around them.

It applies just as much in rural areas as it does in conurbations, albeit that the aforementioned essentials may be in place, easier to install or at least more cost-effectively implemented in a built-up area with lots of potential users (aka humans). However, you have to ask the ‘why’ question, at which point it all opens up.

So, why? Well, because connecting people and places can do several things:

  • improve services
  • reduce impacts
  • reduce cost of delivery


Taking healthcare as an example, by connecting with a patient recovering from an operation at home (where it is proven that speed of recovering increases and the risk of secondary infections decreases), the healthcare can be highly targeted. Getting people back to health quicker has huge benefits across society, so it makes sense to connect with people in their homes.

This means you have to connect homes, buildings, services and ‘things’. Which means investment. And front-loaded investment at that.

At the moment, this all looks like ‘cost’ – but if the benefits of connecting people and places can be set out clearly, with £££s spent and saved presented, in many cases the investment is a very small price to pay. The government’s new Civil Society Strategy is well worth a read, complementing the 2012 Social Value Act and setting out the case for ensuring investments in major projects deliver wider societal benefit.

The strategy states: “The government’s vision is for the principles of the Social Value Act to be applied to the whole of government spending and decision-making. Central government departments will be expected to apply the terms of the Social Value Act to goods and works as well as services. They will also be expected to ‘account for’ the social value of new procurements, rather than just ‘consider’ it as currently. The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport will lead the way by applying this wider remit of the Social Value Act to major projects. Other departments will follow in due course.”

It goes on to note that the government will also look into the potential for the use of social value in grants as well as contracts, and explore the how it should be applied to other areas of public decision-making such as planning and community asset transfer. Which all makes for very interesting reading.

Many of the projects env23 is working on relate to smart cities and social value – across civil society in rural economies, towns and cities – and cover a wide range of issues from economic development to environmental improvement through the medium of stakeholder engagement, connecting people and places.

We will have much more to say over the course of this year, but in the mean time please get in touch if you would like to know more.