Is the future still bright for Smart Cities?
The idea and opportunities surrounding the potential of smart cities continue to be discussed widely and the term itself still divides opinion. Whilst there are many different viewpoints, two common themes typically emerge:
1. Technology vendors who continue to promote the efficiency benefits of data, insight and analytics to city leaders, estate owners’ insurance companies, and pension funds.
In general, this viewpoint has shifted slightly from the past stance that promoted a fully integrated propriety solution that delivers system efficiency and a more efficient service to the key users of their assets (i.e. you have to buy everything from us in order to receive the full benefit of a smart city approach). Today, there is a more collaborative positioning; utilising open industry standards that facilitate the sharing of information across systems from different vendors in order to achieve the same result. This, in turn, allows a more flexible approach to system procurement.
2. Urbanists, such as architects and planners, who remain unconvinced about a focus on efficiency.
This viewpoint highlights the fact that the citizen is often overlooked when we talk about smart cities. They believe that insight from big data should focus on improvement on citizen services and their overall experience of the city and place. This is in addition to outcomes such as broader societal benefits, health and wellbeing and an uplift in improvement of one’s quality of life.
So which one is right?
The fact is that both viewpoints are important within the broader context of considerations in relation to urban environments. This is not a particularly earth shattering conclusion and for those that are familiar with the three pillars of sustainability, you will know that every development intervention and its impact (both positive and negative) should be considered holistically. At BuroHappold, we have been promoting the idea of The Living City for the past six years and, through the successful application of digital strategy and masterplanning on our many global projects, we believe it still holds true today.
Its broad premise identifies that any new development intervention (including digital services and systems), should aim to consider a number of key themes to ensure that its broader benefits and challenges are fully understood. These themes relate to governance and business growth, sense of place and enabling infrastructure, environment and natural resources and society and community. They provide a framework to help us address current and emerging trends that we are observing in the real estate sector:
In addition, the selection of an appropriate intervention has to be underpinned by a relevant business case. The financial case and rate of return are important obviously, but we also believe that other factors contribute to broader sustainability benefits: environmental enhancement, carbon reduction, health and wellbeing, increased productivity and efficiency, increasing economic growth, enhanced lifestyle, lower crime, social inclusion and increased convenience. All are important to consider as part of a whole lifecycle benefits analysis.
In summary, we believe that the ‘smart city’ is of increasing relevance but its success will depend on three key criteria:
1. Ensuring the needs of the end users and those who are delivering services are fundamentally understood and incorporated into the business cases that support technology identification, selection, design, deployment and operation.
2. An awareness that successful delivery of an effective integrated digital service required by any user may cut across technology domains and that this needs to be identified and embraced from the outset. For example an holistic wayfinding app should consider topography, accessibility by the physically and visually impaired, real time air quality and noise data, public transit information, and accurate naming of destinations.
3. Effective service delivery requires a digital infrastructure network that is fit for purpose and allows the successful capture of data by those who need it.
Ultimately, the successful adoption of digital technology services and systems to support a smart city concept will depend on professionals who can create an integrated set of solutions, promote increasing efficiency and effectiveness in public services but also improve the overall service experience and quality of life for its citizens.