by Ed Craig, ECCI Head of Enterprise and Innovation
Appeared in Scotsman Opinion
There is no absolute definition of “smart city” but it is often described throughout policy and the media as a process, or series of steps, by which cities are encouraged to become more liveable and resilient. Although the term is often generalised, spoken about and regularly aspired to, it is rarely achieved.
Whilst we have seen a revolution in information and communication technology over the last 30 years, the practicalities of applying this technology to improve outcomes of complex, overlapping social issues, such as energy and resource use and mobility, have proved much more difficult. This often reflects the challenge of bringing together multiple public and private sector stakeholders, with different language, agendas and timescales, around a common challenge. Research points to the fact that cities are the key engines for economic growth, both for the cities themselves and their local regions. Many cities have significant opportunities to improve their economic, social and environmental performance to the betterment of their citizens.
There are a growing number of exemplar cities around the world, which can be emulated through exchange of ideas and the development of partnerships. However, it is also important not to over-focus on cities and lose the opportunity to create a legacy of sustainable economic development in our rural, peripheral regions and island communities. In Scotland there are numerous planned but stalled, or potential projects that can be defined as ‘smart city region’ or ‘smart island’ initiatives.
Terminology aside, it is considered a priority area internationally for regional authorities, as well as development and enterprise agencies. Significant public and private funding is available to develop and implement well-planned projects, ranging from Scottish Government and public sector initiatives to large corporations and specialist investment agencies such as the Green Investment Bank (GIB). In addition, international development agencies such as the IDB (Inter-American Development Bank) are seeking expertise and good practices to accelerate the development of up to 100 ‘smart and sustainable cities and communities’ in the Caribbean, Central and Southern America. The EU have prioritized ‘smart and sustainable cities’ funding through its prestigious ‘Horizon 2020’ funding, that provides more than €80 billion in funding to innovative projects between 2014-2020.
Accessing funding is not therefore the key barrier to progressing successful ‘smart’ projects in Scotland. Evidence suggests that successful ‘smart’ projects need to be underpinned by a clear, compelling vision, be owned by the relevant stakeholders and be specifically “citizen-centric”. The project has to be built on the hard-nosed application of good ideas (innovation) and preferably based upon existing good practice. All too often, projects do not take full advantage of the good and bad experiences and knowledge available from other international and UK-based projects that have been previously developed. ‘Smart’ project designers and partners within potential initiatives must consider not only the key outcomes, intended impacts and the financial scale to enable project funding but also the appropriate shape and size of the partnership.
It is curious that despite the key role of small and medium sized enterprises in Scotland’s sustainable economic development – enshrined in all levels of government policy – it is rare for these enterprises to be integrated into the development of ‘smart’ project partnerships or the provision of product and service solutions. The engagement of small and medium sized Scottish companies within this development process is challenging due to the complexity and time commitment required, but is essential if we wish to build effective and truly innovative projects that develop Scotland’s economy through its locally owned business base. A similar argument can be made for our ‘world class’ academic institutions, whose role as both knowledge owner and knowledge broker should be exploited more effectively. In Scotland, multiple public sector agencies and stakeholders have come together under the banner of the ‘Smart Accelerator’ initiative to support the identification, development and acceleration of these large-scale “smart” projects with the aim of improving the wellbeing of Scottish citizens as well as supporting Scotland’s transition to a low carbon economy.
These projects aim to create more resource-efficient, low carbon, “smart” city regions and islands, drawing on international good practice and integrating and drawing on the knowledge and expert know-how of Scottish companies and Universities. This partnership is led by the Edinburgh Centre for Carbon Innovation (ECCI), and funded and supported by the Scottish Government, Transport Scotland, the Cities Alliance, Scottish Enterprise and Highlands and Islands Enterprise. The partnership will assess and prioritise a list of preferred projects over the coming three months, whilst also challenging and supporting our business sector to offer new, ground-breaking ideas and projects. Emerging project proposals include the integration of data from increasingly instrumented and interconnected city region systems on energy, sustainable port infrastructure, innovative transportation fuels, mobility, and food and waste/water provision to support more effective products and services for Scottish citizens.
The partnership will then provide the necessary drive, coordination, staff and expert resources and “know how” to work with the project teams and accelerate the project proposals to the point where they are independently investable. Supported projects will have access to examples of international good practice and will work with local companies developing supporting products and services.
This initiative has been designed to overcome many of the barriers to delivering these vital but complex projects in Scotland and all those involved believe that Scotland has a significant opportunity to become a test-bed for new innovative ideas that can improve the economic, social and environmental conditions of its citizens, as well as creating strong export opportunities for its enterprise.
If you are interested in the project, would like to become involved or simply would like more information please contact Ed Craig at email@example.com or visit our website http://www.edinburghcentre.org. Ed Craig is Head of Enterprise & Innovation, ECCI