When I introduce myself in meetings, at conferences and other events I often start by saying that I’ll offer a prize to anyone with a longer job title than mine, as the Council’s Environment, Transport and Future City Manager I’m lucky enough to work in a diverse team full of people with different backgrounds, interests and passions. This is a pretty exciting place to be from my perspective. It means that on a day to day basis we are increasingly able to think beyond our own silos to see how we can do the one thing that drives us all — making the city a better place.
I’m reflecting on this after a meeting a couple of weeks ago with the RNIB (Royal National Institute of Blind People). Back in August 2016 the Department for Transport issued a ‘Cooperative Intelligent Transport Systems’ funding call, seeking to allow councils to capitalise on emerging technologies and deliver better journeys. We put a bid in for something pretty innovative — we wanted to create a virtual reality model of the city centre and use an amazing new app developed by the RNIB to help us understand how blind and partially sighted people navigate our city centre — the idea is that if we understand this we can do two things: 1. we can see how we might plan infrastructure differently if we understood how simple tweaks could improve peoples experience and 2. we could install a network of beacons that would ping signals to Smart phones to help people navigate their journey.
A couple of weeks ago I tried out the RNIB app for myself. It was immediately obvious how much potential this project has for improving accessibility in the city centre. But, it’s also sparked enthusiasm from others. For example, one of the team found an example of one city using beacons to ping messages that allow you to walk along the road and see what it would’ve looked like 500 years ago.… Another individual from a local digital company has offered to get involved building the virtual reality model in their own time.
Working across the Environment, Transport and Future city worlds means that ‘sparks’ like this are happening more and more often. It’s exciting!