Smarter Cities: Town Centres

Smart Cities can be a slippery concept, meaning different things to different people. At the heart of smart cities discussions is the idea that by using new technologies we can improve the way we build our cities and delivery services to residents.

On 7th September, we held the first in a series of workshops designed to explore what Smarter Cities mean for those working in London’s regeneration, housing and planning sectors. Focusing on town centres, expert speakers presented examples of how technology can be used to improve London’s town centres and high streets.

Increased connectivity is at the heart of the boom in new technology, and the availability of reliable internet connections is crucial. Steven Bage, Strategic Infrastructure Advisor at the City of London, outlined some of the difficulties presented by a historic built environment and how they can be overcome.

London’s tech industry is worth £19bn and yet much of the internet infrastructure is substandard, hampered by the difficulties and expense of retrofitting communications infrastructure such as fibre-optic cabling in busy areas with restricted time and space to carry out intrusive works.

The City of London has opted to build a high-speed network by renting space on existing street furniture to telecoms companies to install 5G devices, generating revenue for the authority and providing better internet coverage and capacity than existing wifi hotspots. When complete, the network will be among the world’s most advanced, enhancing the role of the City as an international business hub.

Another of the ways in which technology can help with town centre regeneration is by reducing the administrative burden of managing complex projects. In the commercial world, Kickstarter allows projects to be funded by aggregating a large number of small payments towards a project goal.

Spacehive has adopted this crowdfunding approach to regeneration projects, allowing a way to combine lots of small payments to help fund civic improvements. Niraj Dattani, Head of Partnerships at Spacehive and a councillor at LB Harrow, spoke about how this democratises regeneration by enabling a bottom-up approach to deciding how and where regeneration happens.

Use of new technologies can be daunting to those without digital skills, and Niraj explained that as well as offering an online platform, Spacehive runs offline events to introduce people to the concept of crowdfunding, how the site works and how to run a successful funding campaign.

In a similar vein, Commonplace’s Jane Langley introduced the concept of crowdsourcing: a democratic approach to gathering views and information from the public. The use of online platforms in the planning process can help give a voice to those who might not normally feel comfortable responding to consultations, particularly younger demographics.

Commonplace’s online platform allows users to leave comments, questions and concerns about development proposals in an area. As well as making it easier for people to submit their views, it also provides those running the project with a simple way to receive and organise information through a project dashboard and audit trail.

The Smarter Cities programme is supported by:

The next events in the series will be on Smarter Infrastructure (28 September) and Smarter Housing (12 October). For more information or to register, contact us at

View the presentations from the event here:


Read more about crowdfunding for regeneration in Spotlight on the Mayor’s Crowdfunding Programme from June 2016.