Donald Anderson: Scotland’s smart cities set to prosper
A 1955 survey of public opinion showed that 13 per cent of Swedes thought there were ‘intolerable conditions’ in society. Despite huge progress in the following half -century with human liberties, reduced poverty, rising incomes and improved health care, that figure has not fallen. Indeed, it’s risen to more than half of Swedes. This comment comes from an excellent book by Johan Norberg called Progress: Ten Reasons to Look Forward to the Future. It’s an excellent read and a timely reminder that things aren’t as bad as they’re often described. We’ve had a reminder that things are getting better in terms of Scotland’s four biggest cities. This year’s Centre for Cities Outlook report was very positive. There are challenges, Aberdeen faces a reduction in oil prices and Dundee is lagging in jobs growth. In both cases time should help resolve those issues.
Oil prices are unlikely to fall further and will hopefully rise, whilst Dundee’s waterfront development is creating a genuinely world class new V&A museum and waterfront quarter for the city. The report also showed that Scotland really does have ‘smart’ cities, with Edinburgh, Glasgow and Aberdeen all in the top ten ‘most qualified’ (smartest) in the UK. Dundee wasn’t far behind at 14th. This is testament to the long term success of Scotland’s higher education sector, but is also enhanced by the attractiveness of our cities for students to stay on after their studies. Glasgow, our largest city economy, bounced back from the downturn with the highest growth spurt of any UK city in 2014. The new £100 million Technology and Innovation Centre at Strathclyde University and the rollout of the city deal is the spur for further ‘inclusive’ growth.
Smart cities are the ones that will succeed in an increasingly competitive and (with Brexit) complicated international business environment. There are still major challenges for all our cities, but collectively they look well placed to continue to grow and prosper.I can’t help but also highlight a recent council survey in Edinburgh which shows that 94 per cent of residents are happy with their life in the city. It’s an extraordinary result which would be the envy of cities worldwide. So, whilst there is understandable angst and anxiety about international upheaval we need to stay positive about our strengths.
A child born in one of our cities today is likely to have greater choices and life chances than any previous generation. In an age at times dominated by negativity and against a backdrop of Brexit and Donald Trump, our ‘smart cities’ are the engines of growth for our economy and they are well placed to succeed and grow. There are undoubtedly political storms ahead. Whilst we must never be complacent, both the public and private sectors must stay positive and focused on jobs growth and investment. As the state of our world-class cities shows, we still have much to be positive about.Donald Anderson is former leader of Edinburgh City Council and a partner at Newgate Communications.