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City Lights: Liz St Louis, Sunderland City Council

Liz St Louis, Assistant Director for Smart Cities at Sunderland City Council, on the importance of connectivity for all, engaging with kids, and snoring dogs.

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Sunderland was recently voted the UK’s smart city of the year, with judges hailing its success in digitally transforming with a particular focus on how that will benefit citizens. It has used 5G to deliver ultrafast Wi-Fi to the city’s centre.


SmartCitiesWorld: What is the main purpose of your role?

 

Liz St Louis: I am Assistant Director for Smart Cities at Sunderland City Council, which means I oversee and ensure the development, co-ordination and implementation of our Smart City Strategy, as well as the delivery of new digital and data driven solutions and new ways of working to fulfil the ambitions of the council and meet the outcomes within our ambitious City Plan.


Leading the delivery of the Smart City Programme for Sunderland involves nurturing and growing many partnerships that are driving forward city-wide investment in next generation digital infrastructure and developing a whole range of use cases to enable transformational change.

 

SCW: What does the term ’smart city’ mean to you?

 

St Louis: We understand that next-generation digital connectivity is going to be absolutely key to connect people and places. That means ubiquitous connectivity right across the city leaving no one and nowhere behind. For us, being a smart city means having a clear vision of a healthy, happy city in which technology helps to build city-wide improvements for generations to come.

 

A smart city should aim to improve quality of life and frequency of opportunities for the people and businesses within it. Our smart city vision is one of an engaged collective of people, places and opportunities; driven by digital leaders who are shaping a new direction to live, work and thrive.

Next-generation digital connectivity is absolutely key to connect people and places

SCW: What are some of the key milestones/initiatives in your smart city journey so far?

 

St Louis: We have achieved a lot in a short space of time as a result of our ambitious plans and commitment to making things happen. A few examples of this year’s achievements to date include:

  • Upgrades to vital digital infrastructure connecting the city through the continuing rollout of free ultrafast public Wi-Fi with download speeds surpassing those of the first 5G cities
  • At a local school, Hudson Road Primary, speeds increased from 13Mb to over 650Mb, enabling virtual teaching and on-line coding clubs
  • Social housing tower block tenants in the city centre also benefiting from free ultrafast connectivity
  • Transport solution for traffic mapping to inform future traffic flow and allow real-time traffic management
  • Expansion of the National Assistive Technologies test-bed, delivering solutions into 350+ properties to enable vulnerable people to live safely at home, reducing social care intervention
  • Significant investment securing plans for ubiquitous connectivity to all Sunderland premises
  • And, of course, being crowned Smart City of the Year 2020 in the Digital Leaders 100 List!

SCW: What is your number one priority right now?

 

St Louis: As we’re always spinning many plates, there’s not really a single, definitive answer to this. However, one thing that always remains constant is the reason why projects and initiatives are prioritised. The focus we as a smart city team strive to remain focused on is the impact our projects have – for individuals and businesses across the city.

 

Creating opportunities through the implementation of new technologies, investing in healthcare, education and business support to equip organisations and individuals alike with the skills and capabilities to succeed in the future, remains at the core of everything we do.

 

Our partnerships are committed to ‘leaving no one and nowhere behind’, which sums up the core purpose of all of our activities as we continue to embed digital technology to better connect our city and showcase Sunderland as a healthy, dynamic and vibrant place to live, work and play.

 

SCW: What do you see as your biggest achievement since you started the role?

 

St Louis: It’s difficult to pick just one as it’s certainly been a busy year ripe with opportunities and achievements. The rollout of ultrafast public Wi-Fi across Sunderland at the dawn of 2020, plus successful investment and collaborations that have seen education and healthcare project successes across the year, definitely stand out as they continue to make a transformational difference across our city landscape.

Our core purpose is ‘leaving no one and nowhere behind’

The pinnacle of the year so far is our recent success in the Digital Leaders 100 List, which placed Sunderland at number one as Smart City of the Year 2020.

 

The award for Smart City of the Year recognises Sunderland as a place that has prioritised digital transformation for the wider benefit, providing an array of services and creating opportunities for communities and businesses alike. This recognition rings true with our core priorities and is testament to the team’s forward-thinking approach and the prolific partnerships we have forged to enable digital growth across the city.

 

SCW: What is the best part of the job?

 

St Louis: It is working with an array of digitally minded leaders from many different sectors, whose ambitions mirror our own in that they too are passionate about augmenting opportunities across the city but equally it’s about seeing the difference our work can make to local people. Visiting Hudson Road Primary School in Sunderland to see the world of opportunity that had opened up as a result of putting in place next generation connectivity, is also something I won’t forget.

 

SCW: What is your biggest challenge?

 

St Louis: Having enough hours in the day! There’s so much that we would like to achieve, and despite numerous outstanding successes to date, there’s always more that we are aiming to strive for!

 

SCW: If you weren’t doing this job, what would you be doing?

 

St Louis: Perhaps running a small taverna somewhere nice and warm, but I know I’d soon get bored! So really, I’d be doing something very similar, as I am passionate about tech for good and delivering truly transformational change through digital and data driven solutions. And what better way to have an impact than on a city-wide scale.

 

SCW: What keeps you awake at night?

 

St Louis: Apart from my dog snoring(!), its often an overactive mind – thinking about those things you just must do or those people you must connect with and then panicking that you’ll forget them by the time the morning comes.

 

SCW: If you could make one change in your city tomorrow and money was no object, what would you do?

 

St Louis: Provide free ultra-fast digital connectivity for all. Seeing first-hand the struggles many have with the affordability of broadband or data packages shows just what a barrier connectivity still is for many. There is so much fantastic work being delivered by a whole range of organisations and people right across the city to develop digital skills, but without the underlying connectivity, it makes it really hard for people to truly benefit.

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