Bristol leads in Navigant Smart Cities Index

Report shows city on top spot and highlights need to embed idea of smart capabilities into most major projects

Bristol has knocked London off top spot in the Navigant Consulting Smart Cities Index, with the two standing out among the 20 urban areas examined in the report.

Illustration of smart citiesCommissioned by technology company Huawei, it also paints an encouraging picture of progress around the country, but identifies challenges in the shape of finance, risk, the need for cultural change and a stronger digital infrastructure.

While the assessment of which cities stand out is somewhat subjective – just last week another report placed London in top spot – the Navigant assessment takes a more in-depth look than some in assessing the progress.

It places Bristol and London clear of others as the only two ‘leaders’ in the field, and attributes Bristol’s ranking to its deployment of pilots and integration of successful projects into city operations. The Bristol Is Open project provides a large scale connectivity testbed for urban innovation, which the new City Operations Centre provides an evolving platform for the integration of services.

The city is also among the leaders in areas such as open data access, energy innovation and community engagement. The aggregation of all these factors gave it an overall score 82.7 in Navigant’s rankings.

Mayor effect

London’s initiatives have found a fresh lease of life since the election of Sadiq Khan as mayor last year, and been reinforced by the appointment of Theo Blackwell as its first chief digital officer. Initiatives run by some of its boroughs, notably the Digital Greenwich programme, have also made important contributions.

These factors added up to provide a score of 81.2 for the city.

The largest grouping of cities is in the following ‘contender’ bracket, and comprises Manchester, Birmingham, Leeds, Milton Keynes, Glasgow, Nottingham, Peterborough, Cambridge, Oxford, Aberdeen, Edinburgh and Newcastle.

Four cities are rated as ‘challengers’ – Belfast, Sheffield, Reading and Liverpool – while Cardiff and Exeter are ranked as ‘followers’.

Among the positive trends identified in the report are that several cities have made advances in strengthening their smart city leadership and overall framework, especially in consolidating the links with their broader social and economic targets. The report points to Aberdeen and Birmingham as examples.

Testbeds, Wi-Fi and data

There has also been plenty of progress in digital innovation, with testbeds being established in several cities, a more ambitious approach to Wi-Fi availability than simply providing it in city centres, and the development of data platforms as a key element of a strategy.

In addition, there are more efforts to support service innovation, especially in transport and healthcare, and ambitious targets for environmental sustainability.

All this is being backed up by the extension of partnership arrangements with public and private sectors, with most smart city programmes involving close relationships with universities.

The challenges identified in the report include the need to step up successful pilots into full scale projects. Given that much of the funding for the former has come from government, and limits on public spending will keep this in short supply, there is a need to find new funding sources and develop strong business cases.

This will be accompanied by a need to replace siloed working in local authorities with a more holistic approach that understands the links between transport, health and housing policy. This will have to be accompanied by the creation of internal processes and targets that reduce the barriers to introducing innovative solutions.

Collaboration call

The report acknowledges the role of the Future Cities Catapult in supporting collaboration between cities, but says there is still room for better knowledge sharing on common problems, such as monitoring air quality.

While most cities are doing their best to exploit 4G networks, and several are exploring the future potential of 5G, more work is needed to ensure the relevant services will be accessible to all residents and businesses.

Smart city teams also need to work with city leaders and managers to develop a common understanding on key objectives, the report says. The goal should be to embed the idea of smart capabilities into most major projects or service redesigns.

Impressive commitment

Eric Woods, research director at Navigant Consulting, who led the study, said: “UK cities are demonstrating an impressive commitment to service and technology innovation. They are now embedding smart city ideas into city planning and operations.

“They are also preparing for the impact of the next wave of technologies, including 5G, autonomous vehicles, and machine learning. The growing contribution that local universities are making to these programmes further emphasises the importance of advanced technologies to the future of UK cities.”

Image from Huawei, detail of report cover