What makes Bristol a smart city?
Last year Bristol has overtaken London as the UK’s leading 'smart city'. As I am living right between London and Bristol, I was wondering: How exactly can a city be 'smart'?
The vibrating culture cities offer, leads to a lot of young people moving to urban areas. Can new technolgies improve the way we live and interact with cities?
The Smart Cities Index is based on evaluations of 20 UK cities. It investigates their strategies to use digital technologies for civic services such as transport infrastructure, public security or healthcare. Here’s how Bristol landed the top spot on the list.
Digital solutions for real world problems
Bristol is a city in the South West of England with a population of roughly 450,000 people. And as any other city it has to deal with a variety of problems: Traffic jams and a rising air pollution, social inequality, housing issues and a high youth unemployment rate.
To tackle some of this issues, Bristol is implementing a digital strategy that includes “Internet of Things” technologies, data-driven solutions and new ways to engage their young citizens in city activities.
Internet of lamp posts
The buzzword “Internet of things” (IoT) refers to cyber-physical systems connecting physical objects (things) with the internet and each other. We know this from smart homes or interconnected manufacturing systems. In the world of smart cities “things” include street furniture like bus and train stations, interactive city maps and information terminals or responsive street lights.
For example, smart street lights can collect data of integrated sensors. Based on that they can switch off automatically, when the ambient light is bright enough or when no motion is detected in the area. This way of saving energy does not only save costs for the council, but gives young people the perpective of a more sustainable and green future.
Due to the widespread nature of streetlights in urban areas, they can also be used to provide public Wi-Fi or communication networks for IoT devices. Bristol has updated 1,500 of its lamp posts to create such a network for citizens and visitors.
Data for damp busters
Another example of how Bristol is using data to improve their urban structures is “Citizen Sensing”. Citizen Sensing is a process where citizens build and use sensors to gather data that will help tackling an issue that is important to them.
As a lot of Bristolians struggle with damp in homes, the Damp Busters initiative aims to gather data about the problem. The project started with a design phase that explored a number of ways to measure levels of damp in people’s homes. The result is a frog-shaped temperature and humidity sensor that is easy to build, operate and understand for everyone.
The data of the damp-sensing frogs helps painting a clearer picture on the housing conditions. This provides residents with knowledge and resources to help them solve issues of damp or challenge landlords to take action. In the longer term, the council hopes this will become one of many initiatives that empower residents with tools and know-how.
Bristol is open
Especially for young people it is interesting to see, where their city is headed. Can they be part of shaping the future? Do their opinions matter? How can they be involved in city discussions and problem solving?
“Bristol is open” is not only a great way to describe the vibrating city, it is also the name of its open data research and development project. It’s a collaboration between the University of Bristol and the city council that aims to connect local communities.
City-wide projects require input from all generations to identify the issues they face and include everyone on the way to digital solutions. That’s why above all, Bristol invests in community engagement. “Bristol is open” puts it like this:
“Being open means we proactively share what we learn with other cities, technology companies, universities and citizens”
As part of this concept the city is inviting a variety of different stakeholders to workshops, events and panels. This ranges from DIY workshops with school kids, to hackathons with students and international conferences with smart city leaders.
A great example of how the city reconnects communities is the Bristol Approach, which featured the work of data scientists and artists. This collaboration resulted in an event in the Bristol’s Data Dome, where the city’s environmental data was presented in a fun and interactive way. For the students attending it felt more like a night out, than a learning experience. In the end it made citizens see their home in a new way and encouraged young and old to explore urban open data.
Towards a digital future
The fact that Bristol emphasised the role of the local community in their digital strategy gained them their standing as the UK’s smartest city. Yet there are still a lot of issues to address. In the long run, results will show if the new technologies, data-driven practices and fresh ideas from young citizens can lead to a more sustainable and liveable city. Until then Bristol offers some creative examples for other European cities to embrace their digital future.