Issue 8: January 2014


By Janine Ewen, Researcher, Public Health and Human Rights

What is a ‘Smart City’?

The concept of 'smart city' is a multi-faceted one, which resonates differently with different people.  A common understanding will draw on a wide range of building blocks to define if a city is made ‘smart’. This will  include  investments in human and social capital, modern communication infrastructure, sustainable economic development, management of natural resources and a high quality of life.  There is no absolute definition, but it is described throughout policy and media as a process, or series of steps, by which cities are encouraged to become more livable and resilient.  Smart city development is worth $400 billion globally, shifting from a climate of discussing ‘what’ to a 21st century ‘how’.

And Why?

The United Nations have estimated that as we face a rapid era of urbanization, half of the world's population will live in cities by 2050 (six billion people).  Accompanying this expected “boom” in city growth, there is also a real need for a more integrated approach towards tackling some of the most pressing societal needs; high crime, poor health and overall inequality of living, fueling sustainable development, while providing more attractive living environments.  Smart city development is not primarily technology driven, but also very political, economic and social.  There is a global challenge in getting our cities fit for purpose for our populations if we are to avoid deep societal divides.  Failure to meet standards within the time constraints could result in the complete opposite fueling crime, disease prevalence, poverty and harming our living environments through increased co2 emissions - it is a definite challenge with a strict timeline.

Is Scotland smart enough to get involved?

Scotland is a very traditional setting and we promote it to international visitors as having the most scenic and stunning views. It is one of the oldest nations in Europe, but it seems Scotland is on the path of becoming smarter through the country’s commitment to the UK’s Sustainable Development Strategy and proposal to meet Europe’s energy saving and carbon reduction targets. 

Smart city development is worth $400 billion globally, shifting from a climate of discussing ‘what’ to a 21st century ‘how’.

Professor Mark Deakin based at Edinburgh Napier University, leads the Centre for Sustainable Communities, focusing on the importance of networking, innovation and creative partnerships in meeting the objectives of a sustainable development. As Professor of Built Environment and has research interests on sustainable urban development, intelligent cities, smart cities and communities.

Aside from these commitments, Professor Deakin is supporting the European Union's SmartCities project at Napier, funded by the Interreg IVB North Sea Region Programme of the European Union. The North Sea Region Programme 2007-2013 works with regional development projects around the North Sea promoting transnational cooperation. The Programme aims to make the region a better place to live, work and invest in. Scottish Policy Now spoke with Professor Deakin to find out more, especially to determine where the project stands today and what Scotland will gain from these developments.

Professor Mark Deakin is helping to lead Scotland on the way towards invested interests in smart city developments through the European Union SmartCities Project at Napier University.

Can you give our readers a brief overview of what the EU Smart Cities Project is?

The SmartCities project is an innovation network made up of nine cities and five Institutes of Higher Education across the North Sea Region. Set up four years ago the network focuses on the development of e-service provision across the public sector. The eco-system developed by SCRAN (the Smart Cities (inter) Regional Academic Network) for such developments produced 32 electronically-enhanced services ranging from “call centre” customer management systems to APIs for the timetabling of public transport services.

Particular attention was given to a matter of concern to all members of the network: the development of electronically-enhanced services capable of saving energy and creating energy low carbon zones. Two years on the partnership have developed a customization process, with the level of multi-channel access needed to assess the consumption of energy and emission of carbon related to the retrofit proposals of leading urban regeneration programmes.

Will Scotland directly benefit from this project and if so in what way?

Given Scotland’s commitment to the UK’s Sustainable Development Strategy and proposal to meet Europe’s energy saving and carbon reduction targets, the SmartCities project focused particular attention on how to codify the retrofit proposals of leading urban regeneration programmes so any innovations in the delivery of electronically-enhanced services can match them.

Why was the North Sea Region of particular focus?

This matter is of particular concern to all member states within the North Sea (transnational) region because they are situated in what is commonly referred to as a “cold climate” with a stock of residential properties whose housing is not only “hard to heat”, but also “hard to treat”.

Can you give a small update of where the project stands currently?

As successful regional innovation projects, all the electronic service developments have been embedded in the partner cities and the innovations have also been factored into the North Sea Digital Agenda for Horizon 2020. The project has also provided the means to go on and further augment the service developments in relation to the EC’s Smart Cities and Communities Programme. In relation to smart city developments, all concerned knew that state-of-the-art urban regeneration programmes still use lots of energy and emit large amounts of carbon. Indeed this still remains one of the great challenges which face those looking to save energy and lower carbon emissions, especially in relation to urban regeneration programmes.

In light of this, SCRAN went on to examine an urban regeneration programme championed by one of the most innovative London Boroughs. They wanted the retrofit proposal to save energy and reduce the level of carbon emission, so as to be in line with UK Government targets for domestic buildings.  While the local authority had already undertaken some technical analysis of the retrofit proposal’s built fabric, the SmartCities project produced a social-demographic baseline for the buildings and combined this with the technical analysis in order to establish whether the energy savings and reduced levels of carbon emission are environmentally sustainable. 

The SmartCities project is an innovation network made up of nine cities and five Institutes of Higher Education across the North Sea Region.

Anomalies aside, what we now see is that many of the components which make up such proto-type experiments quickly get transferred into corporate organizations and their global research programmes. Universities and companies in turn take them on as generic components of their Smart City projects. This is why Smart Cities favor interdisciplinary research and technical development partnerships. This is because only with such interdisciplinary teams can governance issues and matters surrounding the equity, socio-demographic baseline and environmental profiles not only come to the fore, but be analyzed for what they are. In that sense, they are analyzed as part of an evolving eco-system and in terms of what their index of social and environmental relations contribute to the equity and efficiency of both energy consumption and carbon emissions. That is to say, meet them in social, environmental and technical terms, rather than in merely technical terms, which has tended to be the legacy of the service developments underpinning previous action of this kind.

Why is Smart City development so important?

This is why smart city development is so important, not only because it can begin laying down many of the standards set by government to reach such targets, but for the reason it also draws all the intelligence available to assess the so-called “triple bottom-line” of such proposals. That triple bottom-line which is otherwise known as social, environmental and economic sustainability of such development proposals.

Scotland is a country based on old traditions, but do you believe Scotland can become a Smart City?

As many of these electronic enhancements are referred to as “non-disruptive”, the changes such development ushers in are perhaps uniquely positioned, not to so much exchange “new for old”, but instead provide long held traditions which the public set a such store in with the technical means that are needed for them to evolve. In particular, the technical means that are needed for them to evolve and thereby allow cities to “generate” energy-efficient low carbon zones as part of an ongoing modernization, itself capable of adapting to climate change as part of a sustainable development.

For further information:
Smart Cities Council
The North Sea Region Programme 2007-2013
United Nations Global Issues: Human Settlements
Cruickshank, P., Deakin, M. (2011). Co-design in Smart Cities. Smart Cities Guide.
Glasgow is to become the UK’s first smart city

Janine Ewen is a Public Health and Human Rights Researcher based in Scotland. She has experience in carrying out international primary research and received recognition from the Red Cross for extensive humanitarian tasks on home soil as well as activities in East Africa and Brazil. Major interests are in Public Health, Corruption and Sustainable Development.

By Janine Ewen, Researcher, Public Health and Human Rights

Issue 8: January 2014


Looking for a previous issue? Use the menu below to select an issue.