Bristol pushes past London as the UK's leading smart city

London was the top smart city in the UK last year, according to Navigant Research, but this year Bristol moved forward due to its strategy and execution of smart city technology.


Bristol, England, is the top ranking smart city in the UK.

Image: iStock/Russinating

Smart city ideas are being incorporated into daily operations in more UK cities, and Bristol is leading the pack with innovative projects to improve public safety, sustainability, and more, according to a report from Navigant Research.

The report focused on the strategy and execution of 20 leading smart cities in the UK. In last year's Navigant report, London was the No. 1 smart city. This year, Bristol moved ahead of London to snag the top spot, moving London to the No. 2 position.

"The way we have approached it in this report and its predecessor has always been to look at how cities are progressing on the journey to being a Smart City. So it wasn't an attempt to work out the city that has got the best transport or the city that has got the best healthcare or any of those metrics because that is a different type of assessment and tends to favor those that are already well established with good infrastructure," said Eric Woods, research director with Navigant.

SEE: 5 lessons from IoT leaders creating sustainable, smart cities (TechRepublic)

According to the report, UK cities are demonstrating a commitment to service and technology innovation. Many cities are now embedding smart city ideas into city planning and operations while preparing for the impact of the next wave of technologies, including 5G, autonomous vehicles, and machine learning.

In the report, Woods said, "We wanted to look at those that were looking at the new technologies, digital technologies, and how they would improve services in the city as well as addressing the environmental and economic issues. And we looked at that in terms of the strategy overall so whether they had outlined the smart city objectives and to what level and degree and how deeply that is embedded in the city in terms of their work on digital infrastructure and then also how it is impacting on particular services so where the innovation is coming in and applying those technologies in transport or in health or in energy."

The cities were scored on which ones stood out in each category. "We were looking to see which cities were building on initial work that had taken it forward in terms of elaborating the strategy and obviously those that actually scaled up projects or implemented a wider range of projects. So you could really see a difference in what the city is doing in the last 12, 18 months," he said.

The reason Bristol landed the top spot was due to the continued development of its program. "It is an ambitious program, and they have now not only got a strong IoT network test bed, but a city operations center where they are implementing some of the successful systems. They're starting to make an impact on broader city policy," Woods said.

But London isn't a shrinking violet in terms of smart city technology. "London is still doing a lot. London has had a new mayor so there has been a bit of a catch up time as it puts in place a new strategy around the new mayor's vision. To be honest comparing London with anywhere else in the UK, probably anywhere else in Europe, is difficult. London is very unique," he said.

"There is probably only a handful of cities in the world that you would compare with London so we tried to do a comparison with the rest of the UK cities in terms of their momentum and what it's doing and I think it is a fair representation but over the last 12, 18 months we think that Bristol has just done that bit more in terms of pushing the envelope, such as in terms of where its strategy is going and particularly how it is tying that vision for the smart city into actual city operations and city policy," he said.

Overall, the report identified five key developments in smart city technology:

  • Bridging the gap between smart city programs and strategic city priorities: Cities are building the links that will embed digital innovation in frontline services.
  • Supporting the emergence of city platforms: More cohesive strategies are being developed for the deployment of new technologies, including big data analytics and citywide Internet of Things (IoT) solutions.
  • Strengthening regional perspectives: As the extended scope of smart cities is recognised, smart city programmes are developing collaboration networks across combined authorities, county authorities, and regional agencies.
  • Expanding the partner ecosystems needed to deliver a smart city vision: The increasingly important role that local universities are playing in shaping and developing urban innovation programs is one notable development.
  • Developing more integrated approaches to city issues: A growing number of projects recognise the interconnection between transport, health, energy, and housing, for example, and the need to assess the impact of innovations across these traditional siloes.

The report also commended other UK cities with notable smart city projects:

  • Manchester--The CityVerve project is showing the opportunities and challenges of implementing urban IoT solutions.
  • Birmingham--The city is implementing a well-established city strategy with the potential offered by taking a broader approach to the development of digital infrastructure. It is also building closer links between the city's internal organization and its innovation programs.
  • Leeds--It has refreshed its approach to smart city development and continues to be a leader in the development of urban data programs and has a holistic approach to developing a healthy city.
  • Milton Keynes--It has established itself as a center for the testing of new urban technologies and is now moving into a new phase in the evolution of MK:Smart project.
  • Glasgow--It has benefited from the investment made available by the Future City Demonstrator award and now has a strong platform for future innovation.
  • Nottingham--It has a strong roster of energy and transport initiatives and projects and is now starting to bring these together within a broader, more coordinated smart city strategy.

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