Smart cities in the making: learning from Milton Keynes 2017-2019

Rose, Gillian and Bingham, Nick and Cook, Matthew and Raghuram, Parvati and Watson, Sophie and Valdez, Alan-Miguel and Wigley, Edward and Zanetti, Oliver (2019). Smart cities in the making: learning from Milton Keynes 2017-2019. [Data Collection]. Colchester, Essex: UK Data Service. 10.5255/UKDA-SN-853674

The past decade has seen the widespread emergence of what are now often called 'smart cities'. Smart cities are generally understood to use the data produced by digital technologies to enhance their sustainability (by encouraging more efficient use of resources), economic growth (through innovating new products and markets) and openness (by enabling greater citizen participation in city governance). 'Smart cities' are a global phenomenon at the heart of how many cities are planning for future growth, and the UK is no exception. Over half of UK cities are implementing smart projects, and the government's Information Economy Strategy aims to make the UK a global hub of smart city delivery by capturing 10 per cent of the global smart city market by 2020. The government directly funds several large smart city projects, sponsors three innovation Catapults with direct links to smart initiatives, and the British Standards Institute is developing a framework for implementing smart city technologies. 'Smart', then, is increasingly central to UK urban development. Smart technology in UK cities takes many forms, from smart grids, to sensors and chargers embedded in the built environment, to smartphone apps, to online open data repositories and dashboards. Smart cities are much, much more than their technological devices, though: a smart city also requires smart urban policy-making, it produces smart products, it has 'smart citizens' and it has visions of what smart is and should be, and all these things converge and diverge in all sorts of ways. Currently, although local community and citizen participation is repeatedly asserted to be a prequisite for a successful smart city, almost nothing is known about how the development and rollout of smart policies and technologies actually engage city residents and workers. Who are smartphone apps designed for and what social needs do they ignore? What kind of populations are described by smart data hubs, and who do policies using such data therefore address? Indeed, various concerns have been voiced by journalists, academics and urban activists that smart activity may well not reach socially marginalised groups and individuals, for example, and that it might therefore contribute to increased levels of social polarisation in cities between the digital 'haves' and 'have-nots'. This project grasps the chance to answer these questions at a critical moment in the maturing of smart, and offers a real opportunity to generate social science that can both analyse and inform developments. Through a detailed empirical study of an actually-existing smart city - Milton Keynes - this project examines how smart policies, technologies, products, visions and engagement activities imagine particular kinds of users, citizens and consumers. It will thus enable a wide range of public and private-sector local stakeholders in MK to understand much better who their smart activity is engaging, how and why. These findings will then help to ensure that smart city activities are as accessible to as many different kinds of people as possible, and that as many people as possible are engaged by the smart city emerging in Milton Keynes. The project has been designed in collaboration with a range of local and national stakeholders in the UK smart city scene, including MK Council, MK:Smart, the Transport Systems Catapult, as well as Community Action MK, the umbrella group for voluntary and community groups in the city. This means that not only will its findings help MK to be a socially-inclusive smart city, but also that the project's findings will have impact on smart cities across the UK and beyond.

Data description (abstract)

Interviews were undertaken with relevant players and stakeholders in their field.The project’s central research question was ‘how is smart assembling and engaging different forms of social difference in Milton Keynes?’. It investigated this across five ‘slices’ in our case study city of Milton Keynes (MK). The five slices became the five work packages: smart citizens, smart businesses, smart governance, smart data and smart visuals. MK was chosen for two reasons. First, it is one of the UK’s leading smart cities with a number of significant public and privately funded smart city interventions underway or recently completed at the time of the project. Second, in a field where most research was based on urban areas in some ways exceptional, this project looked at an ordinary city. Its aim was to be attentive to the way smart city interventions come about in an average sized urban area, resembling the kinds of towns and cities and most people live in.

Data creators:
Creator Name Affiliation ORCID (as URL)
Rose Gillian The University of Oxford
Bingham Nick The Open University
Cook Matthew The Open University
Raghuram Parvati The Open University
Watson Sophie The Open University
Valdez Alan-Miguel The Open University
Wigley Edward The University of Reading
Zanetti Oliver The University of Oxford
Sponsors: Economic and Social Research Council
Grant reference: ES/N014421/1
Topic classification: Science and technology
Social stratification and groupings
Keywords: citizenship, urban areas, businesses, technical assistance
Project title: Smart Cities in the Making: Learning from Milton Keynes
Grant holders: Gillian Rose, Sophie Watson, Matthew Cook, Nick Bingham, Parvati Raghuram
Project dates:
1 January 201730 April 2019
Date published: 21 Jun 2019 14:35
Last modified: 21 Jun 2019 14:35

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