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The UK’s smartest street has made it a summer to remember for Newcastle


September 7, 2018


Jenny Nelson, digital lead for Newcastle City Council explains why smart communities are more about people than technology – and how Mosley Street represents just the start of the city’s smart transformation. 

Jenny Nelson, Newcastle City Council

A smart summer celebration

I can’t be alone in thinking summer 2018 will be one to remember, with much of the UK basking in exceptional heat and sunshine. It was perfect timing too, coinciding with the Great Exhibition of the North (GEOTN), our summer-long celebration of everything that makes the north of England great. And here in Newcastle upon Tyne, for the duration of GEOTN, we’ve looked to the past to inform the future with our smart street demonstrator.

In 1880, Mosley Street became the first street in the world to install electric lighting. So we were delighted to reinstate its smart status by installing sensors that gather data on bin capacity, lighting, traffic, parking and air quality. And working with our partners, including Newcastle University, Connexin, MayflowerQuantela and of course, Cisco, it’s been really exciting to see live data flowing from these sensors.

Starting small, aiming high

There is of course, a serious purpose to creating the UK’s smartest street. For NCC, ‘smart’ is not just about technology deployment. Rather, it’s about creating an inclusive Newcastle that uses technology to encourage growth, attract business to the area and generally make our city an even greater place to live than it is already.

By purposely starting with services that are useful but not frontline, we can use the findings from Mosley Street to inform our broader digital vision, helping us as we plan how to become smart at scale and depth. For example, we’ve found out that even creating a smart street is a complex undertaking that requires permits, licencing, etc. And while placing sensors on bins and lights may seem fairly insignificant, it’s a valuable first step to potentially making all our public services smart.

Responsible use of data

For me, smart means creating a better place; one that is more cost effective and a great place to live, work and visit. But to fulfil our smart ambitions, we’ve had to get this initial stage right and gain people’s trust.

Importantly, the live data feeds are not just a data capture exercise. They have already offered valuable insights into how a small section of our city operates. Making sure that data is used responsibly and in the public interest will help us prove that technology can create better living, working and recreational environments, and can be used to support the delivery of vital services like social care.

Testing the waters

Mosley Street has offered the perfect opportunity to test the waters while also helping us establish how people feel about smart technology. The general response has been very positive to date, so continuing the levels of public engagement GEOTN has helped us achieve throughout the summer will be extremely important as we move forward.

GEOTN has generated a lot of commercial interest too, positioning us at the forefront of digital innovation. We’re keen to support and work with businesses who share these aspirations, and we’re really pleased that Newcastle is starting to be recognised as a city of ideas and digital ambition.

A smart future

As GEOTN draws to a close, the days grow shorter and autumn beckons, we’re reaching the end of this phase in our digital development. Yet while I’ll be looking back on this time with some nostalgia, I’m eager to get started on the next stage, using the results to scope a broader specification that improves customer experience and service delivery, reduces costs and uses digital to instigate growth.

And knowing that the past few months was just the beginning of our smart journey really will make this a summer to remember.

 

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