Smart cities: Destination or journey?

The main purpose of the UK-China Smartcities project is to help transform a major urbanisation initiative in Wuhan into a global exemplar of smart city development through the integrated design and delivery of smart city solutions.

It is important this project is not seen in isolation, but seen as being part of and contributing to a much larger journey within which UK partners should be seen as being leading players.

The development of smart cities, as well as being a major policy initiative of both the UK and Chinese governments, is also at the heart of the European Commission’s drive to having an Innovation Union and has been the subject of several High Level Ministerial-led discussions and is currently a topic within the current EU-China Dialogue taking place around ICT.

Definitions of what constitutes a smart city abound. However, it is clear that whatever the definition, it will never be reached as new technologies emerge and targets move as we race into the future. It should be seen as a journey towards achieving these constantly evolving visions. Taking such a view, we are drawn to other initiatives operating at a variety of levels, EU, Member State, Chinese Ministry, city to city etc and which contribute to furthering collaboration with China that fosters an increasingly shared vision of what becoming a smart city entails.

The UK-China Smartcities project certainly recognises there is great advantage to be gained from close association with EU-driven initiatives in this field. Utilising funding from the EU, such as for its Horizon2020 Triangulum project, the project can build upon its UK Government funding, such as for a significant new RFID project, and boost its capacity for action.

At the EU-level, the major initiative is the European Innovation Partnership on Smart Cities and Communities (EIP-SCC). The partnership has secured several hundred “commitments” by organisations across the EU to work towards achieving smart cities by focussing on specific contributions to the vision, grouped together in clusters.

The six Action Clusters which have been set up so far are:

Principles underpinning the activity emerging from these clusters, such as having compelling targets and a clear way forward, sufficient pace, scale and impact on the implementation of integrated solutions, enabling replicability and collaboration which can easily be communicated to decision-takers, are equally valid for the task of taking UK best practice to China because they are in the series of EU-China smart cities projects.

Partners within the UK-China project have held leading roles in the first phase of the EU-China Smartcities project. Outcomes from this initiative gave a clear sense of what kind of collaboration and assistance the Chinese themselves thought would be most beneficial. Furthermore, Manchester has been selected as a best practice exemplar for its work with Wuhan in the UK-China project and to participate in the second phase of the EU-China project which will create conditions for moving to demonstration activities and is being funded by the Horizon 2020 programme.

Whilst collaborative demonstration projects will open doors for EU companies and SMEs to the Chinese market and enable promising EU/Chinese company collaborations, there are several other initiatives contributing to accelerating the pace of the journey by collaboratively developing the next generations of technology. EU Network and Support Actions such as CHOICE and DRAGON STAR have sought to involve Chinese researchers in Horizon 2020 projects and these will continue to be funded. In addition, a new support action specifically designed to support EU-China smart city collaboration and to roadmap more demonstration projects is envisaged along with joint research on the socio-economic and cultural implications of moving towards smart cities in the EU and China.

In addition to the UK funding from the Foreign Office for the UK-China Smartcities project, there is a continuing call from the prosperity fund for new projects despite a raft of related projects already being funded. Another example of UK-China collaboration in this field is the joint call issued by Innovate UK and the Chinese Ministry for Science and Technology.

All this activity cross-fertilises, and, given the scale of the opportunities afforded by the Chinese market for smart technologies and smart city development, there is every gain to be made by collaborating fully with all the initiatives mentioned and to maximise the impact of all these related initiatives. As such, the UK China Smart Cities partners will continually strive to maximise the impact of this project by collaborating wherever possible to multiply the benefits accruing.

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