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Glasgow: U.K.'s First 'Smart City'

Scrappy Scottish city will be paid to help develop smart technology solutions to urban problems.

IBM Smarter Cities Challenge: 10 Towns Raise Tech IQs
IBM Smarter Cities Challenge: 10 Towns Raise Tech IQs
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Once the "Second City" of the British Empire, scrappy Glasgow -- whose now-demolished Gorbals was once known for urban grimness on a par with Chicago's South Side or New York's Hell's Kitchen -- has the chance for a whole new lease on life as the U.K.'s first "smart city."

The U.K.'s government has just announced a $38 million (£24 million) grant to fund pilot projects in the city that show how mass deployment of sensors and real-time information can help local government run more efficiently while also boosting the quality of life for its 600,000 citizens. Glasgow won the prize in a competition among 30 British towns and cities for state help in looking at the possible contribution of smart technology.

The money will come from a section of government called the Technology Strategy Board, which tries to stimulate technology-enabled innovation in the public sector. Glasgow's participation in its Future Cities Demonstrator is designed to act as a blueprint for other centers.

[ U.K. infrastructure project is greeted with derision. See Why Build A New U.K. Railway? Better Broadband! ]

The city, despite ongoing commitment to urban renewal, has had to deal with the loss of much of its once-thriving maritime trade, especially its now long-vanished Clyde shipbuilding industry. Rival Scottish city Edinburgh may have been the setting for iconic 1990s drug culture movie "Trainspotting," but Glasgow has had its own demons to battle in the last few decades; it currently has the lowest life expectancy of any city in the U.K. Scott Cain, the board's project leader for Future Cities, notes that the city has "some quite extreme challenges."

The plan, according to Cain, is to look for ways to improve the way Glasgow uses energy, runs its transport, manages its public safety and distributes health services, with the goal of making it a more efficient and better place to live.

Smart technology will play a role in managing real-time transport data, helping residents communicate with their city government and report issues more efficiently, and better monitoring of power and utility usage. The U.K. -- already supposedly one of the biggest global users of street TV monitors (CCTV) -- may also see more utilization of smart city work, such as more linkages between city cameras and central traffic management unit to identify traffic incidents more quickly.

What's striking about the announcement is that while U.S. cities like San Francisco have been experimenting with so-called "smart" ways of working with its environment, the U.K. has been far behind the curve. But now it's definitely in catch-up mode, with other urban areas such as London and Birmingham said to be far advanced with plans to test smart applications.

For the government, that has to be a good thing. Universities and Science Minister David "Two Brains" Willetts noted, "From transport systems to energy use and health, this demonstrator will play a key part in the government's industrial strategy and give real insight into how our cities can be shaped in the future… With more people than ever before living in our cities, they need to be able to provide people with a better quality of life and a thriving economy."

Mobile applications are the new way to extend government information and services to on-the-go citizens and employees. Also in the new, all-digital Anytime, Anywhere issue of InformationWeek Government: A new initiative aims to shift the 17-member Intelligence Community from agency-specific IT silos to an enterprise environment of shared systems and services. (Free registration required.)

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