Majority of Brits unsure what a smart city is, despite billions of investment

New research reveals that over half of the UK population don’t know what a smart city is, despite global spend reaching $124 billion in 2020 and at least 18 cities across the UK already having rolled out smart technology.

When asked if they understand what is meant by ‘smart city’, just 18% of people said that they are very familiar with the concept, while 28% said that they think they have a rough understanding.

On the other hand, a fifth (20%) of people had never even heard the term before, a quarter (25%) said they weren’t sure, and 10% either found the concept of smart cities confusing or had heard the term but didn’t know what it meant.

While awareness is low, the research, published in a new report into public perception of smart cities by video management solution provider Milestone Systems, did also show that feelings towards the growing prevalence of smart city technology are largely positive.

Around a quarter (24%) of people said that they were ‘very excited’ about future smart city developments, and a third (32%) said that they believe it’ll be a good thing.

Only 13% of people were actively against further implementation of smart city technology, but a fifth (20%) said that they don’t know enough about the concept to know how they feel.

Malou Toft, EMEA VP at Milestone Systems, commented: “The UK has been one of the earliest adopters of smart city technology and is recognised as a global pioneer, with London, Manchester and Newcastle all ranked within the top 25 smart cities in the world in 2020. Yet the majority of the public are seemingly unaware of this progress.

“While this hasn’t caused any problems yet, we can see from the recent protests against the roll-out of low-traffic neighbourhoods that buy-in from the general public is essential to the successful evolution of urban areas. Communicating the benefits of smart technology over the coming years will help to maintain the current positive feeling towards smarter cities, and ensure there is no backlash to further digital transformation.”

The youngest age groups were the most likely to say that they were very familiar with the term ‘smart city’, with 27% of 18-34 year old giving this response. These numbers dramatically decreased with age, with only 6% of 55–64-year-olds and 2% of those 65+ confident that they understand what a smart city is.

More unexpectedly, the data also shows a marked difference between men and women: 21% of men said that they were very familiar with the smart cities concept, compared with 15% of women, while 23% of women had never heard the term before, compared with 15% of men.

The groups with the best understanding were most likely to be ‘very excited’ about the prospect of smarter cities, and also no more likely to be opposed to the idea than the average, suggesting that greater knowledge and understanding of smart city technology typically leads to more positive feeling rather than negative.

Malou continued: “While we might have expected the older generations to be less informed on the subject, it is startling to note the differences between the responses from men and women. While certain demographics may be less likely to naturally encounter information about smart city technology, they will be equally as affected by the tech as it becomes more widely implemented. It’s clear that more needs to be done to reach these groups and give them the opportunity to take an interest in the exciting ways in which their cities are evolving.”