Smart cities are coming of age, but are we forgetting the needs of rural communities?
A lot’s been said about smart cities: the use of digital technology to make cities more efficient and engaging. Consultancy firm Arup for example, estimates the smart cities market will be worth $400 billion per annum by 2020.
Understandably, the technologies and investment focuses on making cities more efficient and engaging for their citizens. Reaping the gains from digital technology by applying them to key urban sectors, has meant a focus on transport, energy, health and well being, waste and sanitation.
In all of this progress, what’s happening to the needs of rural communities? Ben Barnett, writing for The Yorkshire Post, claims “Too often rural issues seem to be sidelined by politicians of all stripes”. This is a worrying trend. Smart rural and smart cities are motivated by similar challenges and opportunities such as the global recession, climate change, the digital age and an ageing population. The focus of a rural community might differ from an urban one but their needs are equally important.
This isn’t to say that efforts aren’t being made: In Cumbria, predominantly rural county, Telecom provider EE is trialling mesh networking technology to connect over 1,500 communities to 3G and 4G by 2017. As rural communities have traditionally suffered from patchy connectivity, this will be an impressive boost to the uptake of smart technologies. And make no mistake, technology is permeating rural businesses and that influence isn’t limited to mobile phones. From (somewhat controversial) tracking farm animals with RFID chips to personalised weather reporting to smart farms, change is coming.
What’s missing it seems, is meeting the real, everyday needs of the people in rural communities. This is something the Open Data Institute node in Devon is tackling with their event: “Beyond the smart city“. With support from the Met Office, this event will bring people together to take smart initiatives beyond their current city-scope and provide benefits for everyone.
Next time you think “Smart City”, spare a thought for “Smart Rural” and make it part of your dialogue.