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Smart cities need smart thinking

smart cities

Written by Chris Yiu, General Manager for Scotland and the North East at Uber

Our cities are home to millions of people and are places where incredible innovation and creativity can thrive. To make the most of this opportunity, and to maximise the benefits for residents and local businesses, cities have to be ready to embrace the digital world.

The Edinburgh Festivals are one of the world’s great city celebrations, as each year performers, visitors and locals alike are immersed in the best arts, culture and comedy on the planet. But welcoming the world can be challenging: summer here has more than its fair share of liquid sunshine, and in years gone by I’ve spent many an hour trying and failing to hail a cab at the end of an evening.

Helping people get from A to B easily and affordably is just one of the many challenges that cities and city regions need to solve if they want to guarantee great quality of life for residents and a productive environment for local businesses. And in this and many other domains – from public service reform to protecting the environment – modern technology and the internet of things has a huge role to play.

The smart city agenda is moving quickly, and many of the things that seemed like science fiction only a few years ago are now a reality in places around the world. Here are three examples of how smart technologies are bringing benefits that are entirely within the grasp of policymakers in the UK:

  • Extending the reach of public transport. Public transport will always be a key part of how people navigate cities, but no system can go everywhere. That’s why it’s important for options to help navigate the so-called ‘first mile’ and ‘last mile’. Services like Uber can help complement and extend the reach of public transport, and by integrating APIs from private sector platforms we can give residents more and better choices about how to get around their cities. When it’s easier for people to get to a transport hub or interchange then ridership on transit can actually go up, and meanwhile technologies like UberPOOL can dramatically increase efficiency on our roads.
  • Helping people access the economic opportunities provided by technology. Cities are full of people spinning several plates at once – this is part of what makes them such vibrant and exciting places to live. Nowadays, armed with a smartphone, it’s easier than ever to make money on a schedule that you set, and that can fit around the other commitments in your life. Cities that remove barriers to entry make it easier for people to manage busy lives and be their own boss.
  • Supporting startups and accelerating local innovation. Entrepreneurs love to solve the sorts of tough problems that cities generate, and smart / mobile technology is making all sorts of imaginative solutions possible. Cities that foster high-tech startups and nurture an ecosystem with great access to skills, talent, capital and networks will be in the driving seat for the years ahead.

It’s encouraging to see cities across the UK starting to engage with these sorts of discussions, and recognising that active steps need to be taken if those in positions of power are serious about the long term potential of the cities they care for. Get this right, and a happier, more productive and more sustainable future lies ahead.

Here in Edinburgh the times are definitely changing. This August the inaugural Edinburgh Digital Entertainment Festival introduced VR and gaming to the crowds gathered on George Street. And at the end of another long night, a tap of a button in the Uber app was all it took to get me home.

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