Londoners are smart – you only have to look at the thousands of exciting, innovative new businesses sprouting up across the capital to see the benefits of such a tremendous concentration of human and intellectual capital.
But is the capital itself as smart as the people who call it home? The new mayor, whoever it may be, must have the same creative and entrepreneurial spirit as London’s citizens and businesses. That means, quite literally, making London the “smartest city” in the world.
Smart cities – essentially, the use of data, analytics and new technology to solve urban problems like congestion, housing, and transport – have been in vogue for a number of years. There isn’t a major city in the world that doesn’t have a “smart city plan” buried somewhere at the back-end of its website. Berlin, for instance, has Smart City 2030, which incorporates everything from connected cars to a deal with Cisco allowing hospitals, clinics and emergency services to share data.
London, too, has its plan. There have been notable successes; the must-have app Citymapper, for instance, is built off of open-source Transport for London data. But much more can be done. In Working Capital, the IoD’s manifesto for London, launched later this week, we call on the new mayor to increase the number of “Smart City Competitions” and invite every entrepreneur, employee, school pupil, and university student to take part.
The potential to transform our city through greater use of competitions is extraordinary. Last year’s entrants in London included an app, LivePark, which uses CCTV images to identify parking spots. Other cities have found ways to make cycling safer by analysing traffic flows and, in the South West, Bristol is trying to future-proof its own infrastructure with 1,500 lampposts which double as 5G Wifi hotspots.
Most would agree that Londoners and the capital’s businesses are a lot more tech-savvy than working groups sitting inside City Hall, so it’s crucial that we harness their abilities – and desire – to make London the smartest and most meritocratic urban hub in the world. Entrepreneurship is teeming in every borough of the capital, so inclusive city-wide competitions not only have the potential to revolutionise local services and save millions, but boost the life chances of those who feel like London’s boom is taking place in every neighbourhood but their own.
Three-quarters of the mayor’s money comes from central government grants, so splurging on big investments (transport aside) is probably out of the question. The role of the mayor, then, includes a fair amount of old-fashioned politicking; bringing people together, and roping stakeholders into low-cost initiatives that encourage innovative thinking.
This has proved a recipe for success in recent years – forcing London’s bureaucrats to think as imaginatively and frugally as a startup can only be a good thing. And small, “signalling” measures can deliver an impressive bang-for-their buck. With some warm words and a few choice speeches from government ministers, London’s vibrant fintech sector is arguably the most confident and dynamic in the world.
London’s businesses and consumers have led the way in integrating technology into their everyday lives. We had chip-and-pin a decade before the United States and more than £1bn is spent every month on contactless cards across the UK. London’s entrepreneurship scene is thriving and forward-looking; it’s crucial that the city’s government is too. Expanding the Smart Cities Competition is exactly the kind of thing the next mayor of London needs to do.