Building better cities: The future should not just be smart, but inclusive
In a world where driverless vehicles cruise by, street lights monitor CO2 emissions and litter bins broadcast breaking news, it’s easy to lose sight of cities as places for people. Digitally-enabled interventions, powered by smart sensors and big data, can deliver a wealth of benefits for citizens. But if these interventions are not executed in the right way, they can end up alienating the very people they are trying to help.
Some of our most switched-on urban hubs are experiencing an identity crisis as we begin to question what exactly ‘smart’ is. If smart cities are to remain relevant then they must deliver more responsive experiences. When it comes to solving some of our biggest urbanisation challenges – such as accessible healthcare and income equality – a city is more likely to achieve successful outcomes if it directly engages citizens in that decision-making and assessment process.
So how do we connect places, spaces, people and services in more intelligent ways? City planners and authorities traditionally operate a silo mentality when it comes to tackling key issues around service provision. There are different departments for different directorates; health, social care, education, housing, transport, and so on. Smart cities tend to build on this silo approach; the danger here is that any smart interventions lack cross-functionality and remain limited in their scope. This can lead to linear sets of data and analysis.
Breaking down these silos is the first step to smart cities delivering better value. Fostering a culture of open dialogue and collaboration between authorities, departments and key stakeholders will enable a more integrated, city-led approach to service provision. The more diverse this level of leadership is, the better – and that’s where the citizen comes in.
Factoring in a range of more human dimensions into city thinking is key. Imagine a city as a ‘cat’s cradle’ architecture of citizen interactions. Understanding the nature of those interactions, where they intersect and how they interlock with each other, is important. But we also need to work out how to influence those interactions for greater effect so they deliver genuine value.
Asking the right questions of any smart intervention injected into this architecture can help us understand these interactions better. Why does a resident choose to override climate control sensors installed in their home? How can a city be carbon-neutral if lack of affordable housing is forcing commuters to make longer journeys into its centre? At what point does personal data gathering become too invasive that people opt-out? By considering the human perspective, this type of learning can help determine whether the intervention is right (or wrong), while offering a clearer assessment of cost against impact.
Going forward, smart cities will increasingly depend on the participation of citizens in order to function effectively, and this is something we recognise within Peterborough. As one of only four UK Future City demonstrators, we are pioneering a more inclusive approach for our urban environment. We believe we are ahead of the curve in a number of ways.
Our Peterborough DNA Smart City programme is demonstrating the potential of human interaction with open data by making it relevant on a number of levels. One example is the 25 weather stations we have installed at schools across the city which are providing rich data on climate and air quality. The data collected not only helps raise pupils’ awareness of the immediate environment around them, but doubles up as a teaching resource and meteorological aid for statutory agencies. This effectively enables young people to act as intelligence gathering agents, bringing to life the concept of ‘smart citizenry’.
Another example is our Breakthrough Thinking events. These are facilitated workshops where we bring diverse groups together face-to-face to think creatively about how to solve city challenges around themes like zero waste. The focus is very much on ‘real world’ issues that citizens are experiencing, whether it’s reducing household packaging waste, or preventing old IT equipment from being dumped in skips. A Brainwave Challenge Fund offers up to £20,000 to turn these proposed solutions into reality.
Our ambition to be the UK’s first circular city will only deepen this collaborative approach to citizen involvement. How we integrate smart strategies with circular thinking is a huge challenge, but both are mutually reinforcing. Like smart, circular solutions are increasingly enabled and connected by the Internet of Things, but we must ensure these interventions are democratically owned from the bottom-up, rather than imposed from the top-down. And where better to challenge the status quo than with the next generation? We have already asked young people to imagine what a circular Peterborough might look like through our Smart Suppers events.
Harnessing the power of citizens through a variety of interventions (human-to-human, human-to-machine, machine-to-human and machine-to-machine) will enable a city to build a smarter evidence base for decision-making. That’s not likely to be enough however. How smart cities measure and evaluate their performance going forward will be critical, given growing demands around transparency and governance.
Metrics in this field are still emerging, but include: PD 8101 – a set of guidelines for smart city planning; the ISO 37120 indicator reporting standard for city services and quality of life; and the PAS 181 smart city framework, which Peterborough helped lead on. Peterborough has also developed its own self-assessment tool, a maturity matrix, which rates current progress against stated aims. An action plan and roadmap is also being created for Peterborough’s circular city work in conjunction with key stakeholders.
Lastly, remember legacy. Smart cities must look to provide not just scalable solutions, but replicable models that can be rolled out across other urban environments, regardless of their size. Recognising the behaviour of the city as a whole not only involves matching resource outputs (such as waste heat) to resource inputs (local district heating networks), but showing the benefit to ordinary people (affordable warmth). Peterborough is planning to create a series of applicable blueprints that can be reproduced by any city aspiring to be smart, personal and connected.