back to article Brits who live in 'smart cities' don't really know or care

The British public remains "clueless or indifferent" to smart cities, according to a report released by the Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET). This is despite a government drive to champion smart cities and invest £50m in smart city technology to make urban areas more efficient and sustainable. In 2013, Glasgow …

  1. Crisp Silver badge

    What a fantastic lark!

    1. Invent a new term no one has ever heard of.

    2. Commission a report finding out no one's heard of it.

    3. ????

    4. Win £24,000,000

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: What a fantastic lark!

      Exactly my thoughts.

      What is a 'Smart City' then?

      Was the term dreamed up by the same team who came up with DevOps and the Siemens Medical re-branding?

      What a load of old cock.

      All that money will be used to buy one or more of the following

      - A new Ferrari/Lambo/Tesla

      - A holiday home in a nice warm place with no extradition to the UK

      What will that money deliver?


      1. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge

        Re: What a fantastic lark!

        My Tesla would certainly fit into my smart city while I admire the sunset from my cyberterrasse tended by robogardeners which excusitely cut the leaves of bioengineered salad growing in my sustainable conapt microgarden, with the IoT fridge loudly wifiing out for more lettuce!

        1. ecofeco Silver badge

          Re: What a fantastic lark!

          D.A.M. for COTD.

  2. Tom7


    What are smart cities?

    1. Jason Bloomberg Silver badge

      Re: Soooooo.......

      Had to look it up myself. Paraphrased from Wackypedia; it's connecting everything up with the intent of improving quality of life and efficiency of service delivery for residents.

      So basically monitoring the monorail and the bridge someone sold you.

      I imagine the general public's view will be, "sounds great, let me know when it's working and what benefits it's giving me".

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Soooooo.......

      What are smart cities?

      Those that follow the UN Agenda 21 outline.

      1. Dwarf Silver badge

        Re: Soooooo.......

        If they are smart cities, then shouldn't they know what the people think.

        There's a picture of Marvin in my mind at this point in time.

        Something about a pain in the diodes down his left side.

        What a complete load of marketing tosh. We should put them all on a space ship :-)

        1. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge

          Re: Soooooo.......


          Smart cities are disliked by Coalitions of the Willing and other astroturf outfits.

    3. ZanzibarRastapopulous

      Re: Soooooo.......

      They have "smart motorways" which are motorways with lower speed limits and more speed cameras.

    4. Vincent Ballard

      Re: Soooooo.......

      If they'd asked me for a definition, I'd have replied "An IoT buzzword".

      1. VinceH Silver badge

        Re: Soooooo.......

        'If they'd asked me for a definition, I'd have replied "An IoT buzzword".'

        Quite. And I might have added something about increased surveillance on the general population.

    5. allthecoolshortnamesweretaken Silver badge

      Re: Soooooo.......

      Hmm... clean streets, no canine landmines on the sidewalks, freshly painted picket fences?

    6. Triggerfish

      Re: Soooooo.......

      I always imagine on paper drawn up by consultants, they look like Tomorrowland, after Capita runs the contract they look like that bit from Terminator where a metal skeletal terminator foot crushes a skull underneath it in an apolcalytic landscape.

  3. Credas Silver badge

    No surprise

    If any citizen had read the waffly bullshit on their website they'd still be none the wiser as to what the point is or what real benefit it will be to them, so it's not exactly surprising that they're completely uninterested in it. It just sounds like yet more Shoreditch Shite to me.

  4. Individual #6/42

    And since when did asking customers help?

    "We'd like a device to clear the horseshit off our streets, new quills for our pens and fresh vellum".

    A truly smart city would be one that you don't have to live in.

  5. h4rm0ny

    There's not really any community presence online, that's the real issue. E.g. there's no online "hub" for Glasgow or York or London that anyone visiting or living in those places would naturally connect to. Sure, there might be council websites or something, there are some geographic apps that swing in and out of popularity, but that's it.

    If they want to get their message out, if they want to do things like engage cyclists to log their routes, they need to build up some sort of community presence in a standard way that people will want to connect to.

    That doesn't seem to exist, yet.

    1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      "If they want to get their message out, if they want to do things like engage cyclists to log their routes, they need to build up some sort of community presence in a standard way that people will want to connect to."

      And while outsourcing is king, it never will. Unless you want a different app and account for each city you visit with a totally different "hip" UI.

  6. John Sturdy

    A smart city shouldn't be casually detectable

    If you notice your city being smart around you, it's not smart.

    Things like this should Just Work, quietly and inconspicuously.

    Maybe over the long term you might notice things working better than they did before, but moment-to-moment, things you notice are likely to cockups.

  7. Arthur the cat Silver badge

    Too many marketroids

    "Smart city" sounds like every other piece of marketing bullshit - a noise that could mean anything from new paint to Orwellian surveillance in the name of "safety".

    Cities evolve from the changing needs and desires of the citizens, not top down campaigns designed by clueless politicians who've fallen for the fairy tales of the latest bunch of vapourware vendors and tech evangelists. Round here fixing up the potholes deep enough to swim in would be a better use of money than WiFi enabled litter bins.

    1. Commswonk Silver badge

      Re: Too many marketroids

      Round here fixing up the potholes deep enough to swim in would be a better use of money than WiFi enabled litter bins.

      You don't live in Edinburgh by any chance, do you? At the risk of providing a tiny clue to my identity what was the city of my birth and upbringing deserves the title "European Capital of Potholes". I am convinced that the city has a permanent exhibition of "Europe's Best Potholes" for everyone to enjoy throughout the year.

      I hope Edinburgh hasn't spent money on becoming a "Smart City" when the Mark 1 eyeball and a few telephone calls would be more than enough to point out where remedial action is required.

      1. Ledswinger Silver badge

        Re: Too many marketroids

        I hope Edinburgh hasn't spent money on becoming a "Smart City"

        I think they spent the money on a circa £1bn tram line, and some schools that are in danger of falling down.

      2. jonathanb Silver badge

        Re: Too many marketroids

        Rome is way ahead of Edinburgh for potholes. How the buses manage not to disintegrate into a pile of vehicle components, I've no idea.

    2. Doctor_Wibble

      Re: Too many marketroids

      > anything from new paint to Orwellian surveillance

      It's both - hats are banned and the top of your head has to have a number painted on it to make sure the surveillance works properly.

  8. LesB

    It's a test, isn't it?

    Obviously El Reg regulars are completely clued-up and know all about these things, and if you need to ask what a Smart City is, you'll have your commenting privileges revoked, or at the very least be subjected to mockery and obfuscated links to

    Or something. (Actual search results filled my Buzzword Bingo card)

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: It's a test, isn't it?

      I regularly read IEEE Intelligent Systems, so I ace these kinds of test!

  9. Brent Longborough

    A couple of laws:

    Brent's Law of New Ideas:

    If it sounds like BS, people will ignore it.

    Brent's Law of Cities:

    Cities must never be more intelligent that their managers.

  10. Sir Sham Cad

    The options

    Right, so a "Smart City" can offer me:

    intelligent streetlights activated by movement

    No thanks, I like to see where I'm going to, what's way ahead of me. That's just a simple safety thing.

    driverless cars

    Don't exist yet outside of private, limited trials

    electric buses

    What's the powertrain on a bus owned by a private transit company got to do with "Smart City" apart from something the council can stick in a brochure?

    and cars which could be ordered by smartphones.

    That's Uber, that is. Also other taxi companies that you can, you know, phone. From your smartphone.

    It's no wonder ordinary people don't know what a "Smart City" is because the people trying to sell us this shit don't know either.

  11. ZanzibarRastapopulous

    Rated least useful....

    > driverless cars

    Commercial development and sod all to do with government.

    > electric buses

    It's just a bus, who gives a toss how it's powered?

    > cars which could be ordered by smartphones.

    Commercial development and sod all to do with government.

  12. ChunkyMonkey

    I'm sick of smart

    Why don’t we just go with the dumb stuff. I mean, it works, it lasts longer, it's cheaper...

    These people that insist on every sodding thing connected need to have a connected devices shoved up their arse to monitor which end produces the most shit!

    There's a product, just there..

    1. Warm Braw Silver badge

      Re: I'm sick of smart

      My local authority has removed the option of speaking to their bin collection and Street cleaning department - you can only communicate online by means of a sequence of structured questions. Unfortunately, the IT spec failed to capture the full range and nuanced detail of the services provided and the problems that might arise. And in the interests of preventing citizens taking short cuts there is no "anything else" option. Smart services are dumber than the alternative.

      1. Terry 6 Silver badge

        Re: I'm sick of smart

        Yes, and Camden's parking penalty appeals have to be submitted online, but when they fail to respond within the required time period you can only contact them online, and when they fail to respond to that you can only contact them online.

        There is an automated phone system. But unless you belong in a couple of very specific categories it tells you it can't answer you and that you have to contact

        That's Smart Cities. Automated systems saying .........

    2. ecofeco Silver badge

      Re: I'm sick of smart

      These people that insist on every sodding thing connected need to have a connected devices shoved up their arse to monitor which end produces the most shit!

      They all suffer from recto-cranial-inversion so determining which end produces the most shit is rather difficult.

      Other than that, well said and have an upvote.

  13. Commswonk Silver badge


    Scotland is currently in the process of expanding the amount of smart cities it has...

    That is an abomination, as any fule kno. I would have thought that a contributor to El Reg would have known better than to write such a thing.

    I want the sentence written out correctly 100 times first thing tomorrow. (I nearly posted "100 times on my desk" but realised just in time that that wasn't really what I meant. Think about it...)

    1. BurnT'offering

      Re: Argghh!

      I think that sentence is correct. Whatever 'Smart Cities' is, it is probably measured by weight, and good for the roses.

      1. Commswonk Silver badge

        Re: Argghh!

        I see what you did there; have an upvote, even if I am standing by my original posting!

  14. Marketing Hack Silver badge

    More fluff....

    First, if people don't know what your product (smart cities) is, it's your fault as a provider, not theirs as consumers. Give them something memorable, and a reason to remember it. For example, something that solves an actual desire or problem. "Smart cities" is just so much vague fluff that could mean anything, from population education policies to regulations that are more effective/less cumbersome to use of computerization that improves city services .

    Second, some of the suggested "smart services" are pretty dumb. The motion detecting streetlights for example. If I am walking down the street, I want to be able to see a couple hundred yards ahead. I don't want to be surprised by muggers or feral dogs or something. I also don't need on-and-off streetlights messing with my night vision. And if I am driving, I don't want to be surprised by pedestrians moving from the shadows into the street.

    1. Jason Bloomberg Silver badge

      Re: More fluff....

      Second, some of the suggested "smart services" are pretty dumb. The motion detecting streetlights for example. If I am walking down the street, I want to be able to see a couple hundred yards ahead.

      I would expect a decent interconnected streetlight system (which is what this is all about) would be smart enough to figure where you were coming from and likely going to so it could turn on the next light before you needed it. If they lit up far enough in advance you might never know they weren't permanently on, always are from your perspective.

      As someone earlier noted; 'smart' works best when you don't even notice it.

      1. The_Idiot

        Re: More fluff....

        The streetlight models work fine in a thought experiment where there's only one person on the street. The minute you get two or three, either the lights all fuse and burn out from the rapid switching on and off as the 'organic triggering agents' go about their business, or all of the bloody things stay on all the time as said agents go about said business. Which rather defeats the objective of 'smart streetlights', as opposed to dumb ones that think 'oh bugger it. If the light level's low I'll bloody well stay on, and to heck with the damn people.'

        Alternatively, imagine one of said 'smart' street lights is just outside your bedroom window. You drop off to sleep. The ratted thing comes on. You wake up. You swear. You count, um, county-things. You get used to it being on. You drop off. AND THE BLOODY THING SWITCHES OFF AND WAKES YOU UP. Repeat county things, but imagine they all have the heads of whoever designed the bloody lamp, and stick knives in them. Drop off, listening to them scream. Suddenly, the room is lit with a bright light...


      2. Marketing Hack Silver badge

        Re: More fluff....

        @Jason Bloomberg:

        I don't think what you are describing is going to work very well. Just in my little suburban home, the block I live on is about 250-300 yards long, with houses on both sides of the street and a couple side streets and courts splitting off of that. We do get pedestrian traffic during the evenings, and we have dogs (occasionally unfriendly), skunks (always skittish and smelly) and raccoons (sometimes hostile and always a good potential disease vector).

        So just because you start walking down one end of the block and start triggering streetlights for some pre-determined safe distance ahead of you doesn't mean that A), you aren't going to step off the sidewalk into your home B) cross the street to the other sidewalk and set off still more streetlights on that side C) turn onto one of the adjoining courts or side streets, meaning that streetlights ahead of you turned on "for nothing" D) stop and talk to one of your neighbors for 5-10 minutes, while streetlights start turning off on the path you would take ahead or back in the direction you came from because of inactivity.

        Then you have the various neighborhood critters, which you want to see as far ahead of you as possible. You don't want your evening jaunt to surprise a skunk that sprays you. You don't want to hit a skunk with your car and stink up your vehicle and half the block in the process. You don't want to hit a dog, which may be rather large and belong to a local family. You don't want to hit a family cat that might be outdoors after dark. You don't want to get bitten or scared by the occasional unfriendly dog or the raccoons. You also don't want all these animals triggering streetlights as they move up and down the streets, which our very nocturnal skunks and raccoons do all night long.

        Oh, and the local children. We have lots of them on the block. And while they pretty much stay inside or on the lawns and sidewalks after dark, I would not put it past one of them to run out in the street from time-to-time.

      3. ecofeco Silver badge

        Re: More fluff....

        Turning streetlights off and on at night defeats the purpose.

        Have people really become this stupid?

    2. Captain DaFt

      Re: More fluff....

      "Give them something memorable, and a reason to remember it."

      Forebodingly, The first example that sprang up in my head was "The Titanic".

      1. Marketing Hack Silver badge

        Re: More fluff....

        @Captain Daft

        Perhaps the Great Chicago Fire or the London fire of 1666 would work better in the context at hand. Certainly memorable.

        If the Smart Cities people had got hold of those, they could have marketed them not as disasters, but as opportunities for urban renewal.

    3. ecofeco Silver badge

      Re: More fluff....

      No, no, no! I have have several downvotes in another thread that proves customers are always at fault!

    4. hplasm Silver badge

      Re: More fluff....

      "I don't want to be surprised by muggers or feral dogs or something"

      To be fair- they would have to keep still whilst waiting to attack you....or you would see them.

  15. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Santander, a Smart City

    Santander in Spain is a good example of a smart city.


    "Since 2010, 12,500 sensors have been placed in and around the city’s downtown district, where they measure everything from the amount of trash in containers, to the number of parking spaces available, to the size of crowds on the sidewalks. In addition, sensors on vehicles such as police cars and taxicabs measure air pollution levels and traffic conditions.

    The data from these sensors flows to banks of computers that analyze the real-time information and give city officials the kind of big picture that allows them to adjust the amount of energy they use, the number of trash pickups needed in a given week and how much water to sprinkle on the lawns of city parks."

  16. cantankerous swineherd Silver badge

    "highlight any roads that could be made

    safer" as if. every time there's a accident the locals get on their hind legs and give a history of accidents at that site. the council say la la la we can't hear you. rinse, repeat. easy answer: stop posing about with computers and do some real work.

    @copy; an old git.

  17. cd

    This read like something from The Framley Examiner.

  18. Cynic_999 Silver badge

    But in the Real World ...

    The more "smart" devices that are deployed in public, the more mischief the kids will get up to by figuring out how to fool the devices. Decades ago when I was a teen, the council installed light sensors in various places that controlled the street lights - the idea being that whatever the time of year and whether or not there were dark storm clouds, the lights would only come on when it was dark enough to be necessary, and they would go off as soon as it was light enough. Thus saving lots of lekky. My mates and myself had great fun at night spraying black paint over the sensors so that the street lights stayed on 24/7. We did it for the same reason that people climb mountains - "because they are there".

    1. BostonEddie

      Re: But in the Real World ...

      We used to hit the light sensor on the lamppost with a laser pointer to stop the light from coming on. Made nighttime starwatching much more pleasant.

  19. toxicdragon

    Now here's a thought, what with all this money spent has anyone actually bothered to ask what the people living in the city want?

  20. Will 28

    Movement activated lighting, the basis of a lot of horror scenes

    Did anyone else flag that up from the movies?

    You have to walk into a dimly lit area, in the hope that the light will then come on, only then when in proximity do you discover what's in the dimly lit area. Suddenly you're face to face with the masked killer!

    I wonder which direction I need to walk for the next one to come on. Lets try over here and AARRRGGG, I WAS ON A BRRIIIDDDGGGEE.

  21. pubsecit

    IBM had a massive campaign around Smart Cities up until a year or so ago; this involved analytics to deliver services is a more logical way; a single view of the citizen (essentially master data management) etc. I'm surprised this seems a foreign concept to the readership here; or the article is remotely news-worthy, but still..

  22. allthecoolshortnamesweretaken Silver badge

    IoT litter bins. What a great time to be alive.

    1. Oengus Silver badge

      Litter bins

      What litter bins? The local council here removed litter bins because they were a terrorist risk (not to save money on people emptying them).

  23. ecofeco Silver badge

    Marketing FAIL

    "Smart"? Sooo descriptive. Not.

    How about "connected"? Too obvious? Not enough words? I know marketing departments are loathe to use accurate descriptions so I doubt this will ever catch on.

  24. Starting
    Thumb Down

    Cycling in Glasgow?

    The weather's lousy, it's all uphill and the roads don't have enough room for cycle lanes. Furthermore half the people who work in Glasgow don't live within cycling distance. But let's encourage idiots to dive with death because that's the politically correct solution. Wasting money on an app will fix the problem. OMG.

  25. IanRS

    You can teach an old dog new tricks.

    "In the future, Walker said he hopes that the development of smart cities will be driven by asking residents what they really need rather than improved technology."

    A clue! He has a clue! Ask the users about their requirements before completing the project.

    That's his career in the public sector over then.

  26. 0laf Silver badge


    Because the pork barrel needs a new term after 'Cyber' and 'Digital' are all used up.

  27. strum Silver badge

    Ignorant commentards

    Blimey, I'm amazed that so many commentards remain ignorant about smart city development. I'm not even in IT, and I seem to know more about it than you lot.

    And for those cynics who dismiss it as much ado about nothing, you might want to look at the actual facts - like the way Transport for London monitor bus movement to reveal blockages before the police find out about them (and then send buses round the blockages).

    I'm not particularly surprised that the man in the street doesn't know about it - it should all be operating, out of sight, reducing aggro they didn't even know existed. But I am surprised at you lot. Shame on you.

    1. keithpeter

      Re: Ignorant commentards


      Birmingham has its tracking on the buses: txt a code to an 84 number or scan a qr code on any given bus stop and you get a list of the next 3 or 4 buses. Real time and very useful for deciding on route changes at peak times. The next step is epaper real time bus timetable displays - there is a pilot bus stop with those out in West Bromwich.

      We need to do a lot of joining up in UK cities to get away from the public transport fragmentation that Thatcher or her successor Major left us with. I want one ticket and I want buses/metro/trains integrated. My commute could be half what it is if we did that.

  28. jb99

    Street lights

    You don't turn lights on when someone is close, as many people have pointed out, that is unlikely to work. Instead you turn them off when there is no sign of anyone nearby.

    Yes that won't work in a big city very well, but in a small residential area you might be able to turn the lights off for quite a few hours. It will still be irritating to people living in the houses though I suppose.

  29. Soap Distant


    ... give everyone night vision goggles and remove the lighting altogether. Cheaper option, just issue free torches...

    Seriously, I'd just like to see the return of public conveniences in towns, much more useful than wanking around with the street lighting imo


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