South Korea’s over-arching plan is to fund four massive-scale demonstrations to deploy innovative technologies. New solutions will be grafted onto existing infrastructure in the cities of Sihueng and Daegu; the new cities of Sejong and Busan Eco-Delta will be built smart from the ground up.
Bitcoin for data
Apps and robots will deliver everything from healthcare to education; officials will integrate data from citizens’ mobility choices, health, energy use, and local environment to track needs and improve performance; citizens will be rewarded for their data with bitcoin. It’s a futuristic data circus.
South Korea’s smart city mega-projects are reminiscent of similarly-branded efforts the world over—from Google’s Quayside in Toronto to Saudi Arabia’s Neom. But Korea’s case is different: it’s based on experience from dozens of successful (and unsuccessful) pilots; it’s supported at the highest levels of government as a key component of the industrial strategy; and it exists at multiple sites and scales, with unique features adapted to local characteristics.
UK in comparison
Compared with the UK, South Korea’s ambitions on smart city implementation are certainly grander. The UK has a small number of smart city pilots and demonstration sites, with no national-level strategy or programme.
Innovate UK, for its part, has funded the Smart Mobility Living Lab in London, Future City Glasgow, and CityVerve in Manchester. Global rankings have put London top of smart city tables (just above Seoul)—and Bristol won a global smart city competition in 2018. Nonetheless, the UK lags behind South Korea in the scale and comprehensiveness of its smart city ambitions.
Recent developments may help the UK to catch up, however. One catalyst is the government’s commitment to net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. Concrete targets signal to public and private sectors that sustainability is non-negotiable. A multitude of smart city tenets—like resource efficiency and digitisation–are synonymous with emissions reduction.
Cities in the UK are accelerating their investments in smart infrastructure. Stock image of a UK city street view at night.
Another boon in the UK are the quasi-public innovation centres called Catapults. Two of these Innovate UK-funded organisation (Transport Systems and Future Cities) tended to the smart cities sector.
In April of this year, however, these two were combined into the Connected Places Catapult (CPC). The merger integrated UK best practices in connected urban infrastructure, digitized urban planning, and the future of mobility.
With a new joined-up approach, the CPC will address hindrances to the advancement of new solutions—things like developing digital standards, understanding human behaviour and market insights, and helping to scale-up promising SMEs.