By, Linda Chandler, Hyperlocal Cities
In my work at Hyperlocal Cities, I focus on how the impact of smart cities is felt on a smaller scale.
Often we get caught up in smart cities being for large megacities whereas we probably evaluate the
‘smartness’ of life by our own experience in the few streets where we live, work or commute. The home and the high street are key components of this.
I live in the small city of St Albans, just north of London. It’s an old Roman town steeped in history,
but a city that has survived for centuries will certainly continue to evolve well into future decades.
Our high street continues to thrive (a finalist in the Great British High Street competition last year),
but like everywhere, we are experiencing high street closures as retail continues to be a challenging
sector. Placemaking remedies for high streets, in general, continue to be skewed towards the physical
and I’d like to broaden the thinking across two dimensions: the spectrum of physical-digital and that
Online retail is a great example of the digital-physical conversion. In the few streets where I live, this
regularly gets converted back to digital again where a lot of discussion arises in our local Facebook
group around missing parcels delivered to a neighbour! A small step towards the conversion
happening in the high street is the installation of an Amazon locker in the city centre – a viable
alternative for some, but I’m unsure of the awareness or take-up of the service. The whole
experience, although very convenient, still feels disconnected.
Another manifestation of the digital to physical has been the co-working space. Digital has enabled
many knowledge workers the flexibility of working from home – but those that experience this in
practice know that it’s often not ideal:- small city homes don’t lend themselves to dedicated working
spaces plus the isolation of working alone for extended periods is not good for our mental health.
Organisations such as WorkClub look to create affordable co-working on the high street through
utilising underused spaces in the day.
Taking a look at the global-local dimension, there are also a number of tensions and opportunities
here also. Global relates to both the global/national brands that exist in our high streets and also to
the global tech eco-systems that we live our work and home lives in.
In times past, the outside world would traditionally begin and end at the front door, however, we
have evolved our home connection through eras of the telephone, radio, tv and now the internet
that brings a global community to our doorstep. And with smart home devices, the tech giants are
getting to know more about our habits that even we do. However, when I walk from my home to the
local high street, they are worlds apart. My Alexa shopping list is about the only app that I regularly
use to connect the two – it feels rather underwhelming when we could do so much more.
And to say nothing of the global/national retailer vs a more local approach. St Albans values its
independent retailers and the rhetoric has always been not wanting the big brands to crowd out the
locals. However, a recent view in the local newspaper cited that independent market stalls should
not directly compete with the larger brands for fear of them choosing to leave our high street.
Personally, I think there is room for both and embracing the global-national-local spectrum in a
I believe this framework offers a useful starting point for rich discussion around how a digital high street should embrace all of these dimensions and that they should be both complementary and connected.
OUR GUEST EXPERT:
Linda Chandler is a global smart cities advisor, working on a portfolio of projects focused on the
pillars of real estate, energy and mobility with a strong technology underpinning. She was the Smart
Cities Lead for Microsoft Services at Microsoft both in the UK and latterly in APAC for 10 years. Prior
to Microsoft, she was Chief Information Officer for the London Development Agency.