Entries with tag futurecities .

Information and choice: nine reasons our future is in the balance

The respected investor Jeremy Grantham claimed recently that economic growth has slowed systemically and permanently in recent years. He states that: “Resource costs have been rising, conservatively, at 7% a year since 2000 … in a world growing at under 4% and [in the] developed world at under 1.5%”
Over the last year I’ve been struck by several similar but more widely applicable sets of data that, taken together, indicate that a similar restructuring is taking place across the world: for example, more information was recorded in the last 2 years than in the entirety of previous human history; and 3D printing and social media are reducing the scale at which it is economically viable to carry out what were previously industrial activities. 
The world has changed; but it is also unequal; Nobel Laureate Joseph Stiglitz wrote recently that the financial machinery of the United States and the UK in particular create considerable inequality in those countries.
Data and technology, appropriately applied, give us an unprecedented ability to achieve our long-term objectives by taking better-informed, more forward-looking decisions every day. They tell us more than we could ever previously have known about the impact of those decisions on our broader society and economy, not just ourselves. 
That's why the "tipping points" I've written about in a recent article on my blog matter to me. They translate my general awareness that I should "do the right thing" into a specific knowledge that at this point in time, my choices in many aspects of daily work and life contribute to powerful forces that will shape the next century that we share on this planet; and that they could help to tip the balance in all of our favour.
The 9 tipping points it identifies are:
  1. The slowing of economic growth
  2. Urbanisation and the industrialisation of food supply 
  3. The frequency and impact of extreme weather conditions
  4. Exponential growth in the world’s most powerful man-made resource, digital information
  5. the disappearing boundary between humans, information and the physical world
  6. The miniaturisation of industry
  7. How we respond to climate change and resource constraints
  8. the end of the average career
  9. Inequality
I hope you enjoy reading it and look forward to your comments,


The sharing economy and the future of movement in smart, human-scale cities

There have been widespread reports recently from Forbes, the Financial Times, the Economist magazine and others on the emergence of a "sharing economy" - businesses that make money by operating online markets that enable peer-to-peer transactions between their customers. 
Examples include Zopa, whose UK customers lend each other over £100 million every year, Air B'n'B who helped 5,000 New Yorkers to collectively earn $632 million in 2012 by renting spare rooms to travellers, and Casserole Club in London who connect people who are willing to cook for a neighbour with people who aren't able to cook for themselves. Some of these schemes have great potential to promote healthy communities and provide employment opportunites.
One of the often over-looked impacts of these business models is the great complexity they create in requirements for transport. Transactions that have previously been mediated by businesses who provide integrated transport services are increasingly carried out between individuals who make their own transport arrangements. 
Many urban designers argue that some transport infrastructures in today's cities, particularly major road and rail networks, impair quality of life and contribute to inequality. The cities of the future will only be better, fairer places to live if we change the way we plan, design and implement the transport services to support the growing sharing economy carefully.
I think the only way to do that is by looking at trends across technology, urban design, public policy, economic development and transport to imagine how we might live, work and socialise in home, in communities and across cities in the future; and to design digital and transport systems together to support us. 
I've written an article describing what I think such cities might look like in my blog; I would be interested to hear your opinions.

A design pattern for a Smarter City: Online Peer-to-Peer and Regional Marketplaces

Over the past year I've been collecting information about Smarter City initiatives that seem to be repeatedly successful in cities and regions around the world, and describing them as "design patterns". The design pattern has a long history of use in both urban design and technology and, while it has its limitations, it seems a useful tool for sharing knowledge between these two domains that come together in Smarter Cities.
I've just posted a description on my blog of new pattern, "Online Peer-to-Peer and Regional Marketplaces". The pattern explores the way communities and businesses have used online marketplaces to share information about the use, availability and impact of goods, services and resources such as water, energy, land, transport and food; and to enable transactions and choices that maximise sustainable, collective value in a locality. Examples include the "Big Barn" business-to-business marketplace for local food; Shutl's marketplace for the delivery of goods bought online; and the recycling network Freecycle.
The design pattern is described here:
The wider collection of design patterns, and the reasons for building it up, are described here:
Patterns work best when they are created collaboratively; I would be delighted to hear from you if you would like to contribute a pattern to my initiative; if you have comments on the patterns that I've described so far; or if there is a similar existing initiative that you think I should be aware of.

Three mistakes we’re still making about Smart Cities

I was asked this week to contribute my view of the present state of the Smart Cities movement to the UK Government’s launch of its Smart Cities Forum. In launching the Forum, David Willetts MP, Minister for Universities and Science, remarked that the Smart Cities movement should judge its success by its ability to improve the quality of life for city residents.
The market for Smart Cities solutions to address that challenge is growing - entrepreneurial businesses are delivering new city services, enabled by technology and backed by venture capital; and city Councils, service providers and transport authorities are investing in Smart infrastructures. 
But I think that we are still making three mistakes that limit the scale at which truly innovative Smart City projects are being deployed: we don't use the right mix of skills to define Smart City initiatives; we ask academic researchers to answer the wrong challenges; and we don't listen to the quiet voices that matter.
I've written an article on my blog addressing those challenges, based on my remarks on the panel discussion at the Smart Cities Forum launch. I'd appreciate hearing your views on them:

A design pattern for a Smarter City: Local Currencies and Alternative Trading Systems

Over the past year I've been collecting information about Smarter City initiatives that seem to be repeatedly successful in cities and regions around the world, and describing them as "design patterns". The design pattern has a long history of use in both urban design and technology and, while it has its limitations, it seems a useful tool for sharing knowledge between these two domains that come together in Smarter Cities.
I've just posted a description on my blog of new pattern, "Local Currencies and Alternative Trading Systems". The pattern explores several systems of trading and exchange that have emerged amongst online communities and in local ecosystems that are exploring new ways to create sustainable regional economic and social improvement. Examples include the Bristol and Brixton pounds; the Droplet SmartPhone payment service; and Switzerland's complementary currency, the Wir.
The design pattern is described here:
The wider collection of design patterns, and the reasons for building it up, are described here:
Patterns work best when they are created collaboratively; I would be delighted to hear from you if you would like to contribute a pattern to my initiative; if you have comments on the patterns that I've described so far; or if there is a similar existing initiative that you think I should be aware of.

Can Smarter Cities improve our quality of life?

Whether or not information and technology can improve our quality of life in cities seems a pretty fundamental question for the Smarter Cities movement to address - there's little point in us expending time and money on the application of technology to city systems unless we can answer it positively. 
A group of scientists, technologists and urban designers discussed that question at the Urban Systems Collaborative meeting in London two weeks ago. As well as identifying examples where information and technology have improved quality of life - for example by alerting volunteer first-aiders to the occurrence of a heart attack and locating the nearest publicly-accessible defibrillator using an open data feed - we also discussed the limitations of information and technology. 
Information is inherently uncertain; and whilst there are circumstances in which we trust our lives to automated systems to respond to it - such as antilock braking systems in cars - there are many situations in which it is more appropriate to make information available to human decision-makers. In those situations it is vital not only to make information available but to ensure that it's limitations are known and understood.
I've written a report of the Urban Systems Collaborative discussion on this topic on my blog. I think it's a crucial subject for "Smarter Cities" to address in order that we use technology to our genuine advantage as our world evolves. I'd welcome your comments on it.

Seven steps to a Smarter City: and the imperative for taking them

A year ago I wrote the article "Five steps to a Smarter City: and the philosophical imperative for taking them” to capture what at the time seemed to be emerging practises with promising potential for creating successful "Smarter City" strategies and programmes. I've updated it twice since then to reflect what I've learned about the main challenges cities face in that process: establishing a cross-city consensus to act; securing funding; and finding the common ground between the institutional and organic natures of city ecosystems.
There are enough examples of cities pursuing the "Smart" agenda now that I'm confident those practises should no-longer be called "emerging": they can be observed in almost every case where progress is being made. 
I've just written a major update to the original article, now covering the following seven steps, and containing links to the material and resources I've found most useful in carrying them out:
  1. Define what a “Smarter City” means to you
  2. Convene a stakeholder group to co-create a specific Smarter City vision; and establish governance and a credible decision-making process
  3. Structure your approach to a Smart City by drawing on the available resources of expertise
  4. Establish the policy framework
  5. Populate a roadmap that can deliver the vision
  6. Put the financing in place
  7. Enable communities and engage with informality: how to make “Smarter” a self-sustaining process
You can read the article on my blog at the link below - I hope you find it interesting; and would love to hear your views on the approach I've suggested:

Gain and responsibility: five business models for sustainable cities

The proposition that technology offers to the sustainability debate is to enable business models that create better social and environmental outcomes. In some cases, those outcomes are the objectives of a business; but more often they are the side effects of business operations whose objectives are to create financial returns. 
The CEOs of  Unilever and Tesco have recently stated intents to evolve their businesses to adopt more sustainable practises, and to be more successful as a result of doing so. Our world as a whole, and the cities in which life is concentrated, will not become socially and environmentally equitable and sustainable unless private businesses adopt such sustainable strategies. 
We need to think creatively about how to balance social and environmental outcomes with the financial imperatives of our existing economic systems. I wrote an article on my blog this week about five approaches that can already be seen that show how that balance can be found in different ways, from big business to social enterprise to technology entrepreneurs.

Smarter City myths and misconceptions

Part of my job is to communicate the ideas behind Smarter Cities, and to support those ideas with examples of the value they create when applied in cities such as Sunderland, Dublin, Birmingham and Rio.
In doing so, I often find myself countering a few common challenges to the concept of a Smarter City that I believe are based on a misconception of how Smarter Cities initiatives are carried in practise out by those involved in them.
Cities are incredibly complicated. Understanding how to apply any intervention to achieve a specific change or outcome in them is extremely difficult. To do so, Smarter Cities initiatives use the skills not just of technologists and businesspeople but social scientists, urban designers, economists, community workers - and, depending on the context, any number of other specialisms. 
However, we are still going through the process of creating a shared understanding of Smarter Cities between all of those disciplines; and of communicating that understanding to the world at large. In the conversations taking place today as we try to do that, it's easy for misconceptions to arise. I've written an article on my blog about five of the most common myths and misconceptions that I encounter, including the one I'm most guilty of myself: assuming that "everybody knows that we need Smarter Cities":
  • Myth / Misconception 1: Everybody knows we need Smarter Cities
  • Myth / Misconception 2: The idea of applying technology in cities is new
  • Myth / Misconception 3: Smarter Cities are inhuman technologies that risk being as damaging in their effects on cities as road traffic
  • Myth / Misconception 4: Masdar and Songdo are the Smartest cities on the planet; OR: Masdar and Songdo are inhuman follies of technology
  • Myth / Misconception 5: Business as usual will deliver the result
I hope you find it interesting,

How to build a Smarter City: 23 design principles for digital urbanism

While cities everywhere are seeking funds for Smarter City initiatives, and often relying on central government or research grants to do so, billions of Pounds, Euros, and Dollars are being spent on relatively conventional development and infrastructure projects that aren’t particularly “smart”.
Why is that?
One reason is that we have yet to turn our experience to date into prescriptive, re-usable guidance. Many examples of “Smarter City” projects have demonstrated that in principle technologies such as social media, information marketplaces and the “internet of things” can support city-level objectives such as wellbeing, social mobility, economic growth and infrastructure resilience. But these individual results do not yet constitute a normalised evidence base to indicate which approaches apply in which situations, and to predict in quantitative terms what the outcomes will be.
As a result, todays planning and procurement practises do not explicitly recognise the value of the Smart City vision, and therefore are not shaping the financial instruments to deliver it. This is not because those practises are at fault; it is because technologists, urbanists, architects, procurement officers, policy-makers and planners need to work together to evolve those practises to take account of the new possibilities available to cities through technology.
I recently put together a set of intentionally provocative candidate “design principles” for a city that is considering how their next planning strategy could reflect the impact of the technology agenda. They will not be universally accepted, and it is not possible yet to provide a mature body of evidence to support them. But by presenting active principles rather than passive observations, my hope is to stimulate a useful debate. I've posted them here:
I hope that you find them interesting and useful and would appreciate your comments and suggestions for improving them,


An address to the United Nations: science, technology and innovation for sustainable cities and peri-urban communities

I was honoured this week to be asked to address the 16th session of the United Nations’ Commission on Science and Technology for Development in Geneva on the topic of “Science, technology and innovation for sustainable cities and peri-urban communities“.
The Commission's interest was not just in the ability of technology to create new forms of efficient city services, but in the business and governance models that make them viable; and in the contexts from which such innovations emerge successfully.
In attending the Commission I had the opportunity to listen to some amazing speakers from around the world; and I'll be writing an article soon about the themes that emerged from those discussions. But in the meantime I've posted the following transcript of my own remarks to my blog. I hope they're of interest to you.

Death, place and life in great digital cities


There are many examples in the Smarter City domain of projects that have exploited technology in order to address issues such as social inequality and economic growth - as Glasgow are now doing through the Future Cities Demonstrator project. But it is not always straightforward to understand how a project that has worked in one place can be adapted to another.
While these initiatives are enabled by technology, many of them are also dependent on changes in the behaviour of individuals and communities. Designing systems that result in changes in behaviour in the context of cities requires deep understanding of people, communities and places.
A corollary is for us to be aware of the unintended impact that new technologies can have - there is a view among some architects and town planners that many of the developments in towns and cities over the last century to cope with growing demand for the great technology of the last century - the motor car - have caused great damage to the human environment. By analogy, how do we understand how the implications of issues such as digital privacy will affect cities as the role of digital technology in them grows?
I'm in the middle of a series of workshops exploring these challenges between technologists, town-planners, place-makers and social scientists; I've just written the first of what I expect to be several articles on my blog based on what I'm learning from them. I'd be interested in any feedback or similar experiences from this community.


Privacy in digital cities: Google Glass, the right to choose, and the enduring legacy of Jane Jacobs


50 years ago in "The Death and Life of Great American Cities", the renowned urbanist Jane Jacobs argued that the defining characteristic of cities is that the great size of their populations means that most people in them are strangers to each other; and that creating safety and security in that context is fundamentally dependent on a clear separation between public and private activity.
Digital technologies such as smartphones and "Google Glass", a “wearable computer” mounted on false spectacles that overlays displays of information on what we see and can make video and audio recordings of the world we are experiencing, challenge our understanding of what is public and what is private. 
If we use a relatively inconspicuous Bluetooth headset to make a call through a mobile phone hidden in a pocket; and if we gesture with our arms emphatically whilst speaking on that call; how should the people around us, who might be completely unaware that the call is taking place, interpret our actions? And what happens if they perceive those gestures to be rude or threatening?
Privacy is already high on the technology agenda; but as technology spreads further and deeper into city systems, and into our interactions in city environments, it is useful to bear in mind the enduring legacy of Jane Jacob’s work, and be reminded that security is at the heart of cities, not just technology.
As a result, two of the most frequent questions I am asked in the panel debates and media interviews I participate in are: who owns all this data? And are big corporations using it and controlling it for their own purposes?
I've tried to answer those questions in the article linked below; I'd be delighted to hear your views on the subject.


Can digital technology help us build better cities? A workshop at the Academy of Urbanism Annual Congress, Bradford, Thursday 16th May


Over the course of the last two decades, digital technologies have transformed the way we communicate, work and live. They have changed the way that we behave in cities; and they lead to new demands on the urban environment from residents, visitors, businesses and communities: for mobile and broadband connectivity; open data portals; and transient working environments.
Should these technologies change the way we design and build cities, and if so, how? Do technologies offer solutions to difficult problems such as offering more flexible, coordinated transport services? Or are they a distraction on focussing on what really matters – the physical, social and economic needs of people and their communities? And how do they compare to long-standing debates within the more traditional domains of urbanism about how good cities are created, regardless of technology?
The Academy of Urbanism, a body of several hundred professionals, researchers and policy-makers involved in the design and operation of cities from perspectives as diverse as town planning, social science and technology is holding a workshop at it’s Annual Congress in Bradford this year to explore these issues.
The workshop will feature opening contributions from speakers from a variety of backgrounds, and with differing opinions on the value and relevance of digital technology to good urbanism. Our intention is to stimulate an informed and frank debate to follow;  from which we hope that useful, practical insights will emerge on whether and how the technology agenda is relevant to cities.
More details of the workshop, and a link to the Congress programme and registration, can be found at the link below; I hope that some of you can join us for the workshop.


A design pattern for Future Cities: City Centre Enterprise Incubation


I've just posted a description on my blog of a design pattern for Future Cities: City-Centre Enterprise Incubation.
The pattern describes the provision of  facilities to incubate technology, creative and social enterprises in an urban environment to stimulate innovative growth through cross-sectoral interaction and innovation; and to facilitate co-operative investment in technology. Examples of this approach in the UK include Sunderland Software City, Hub Westminster and Birmingham Science Park Aston.
The design pattern is described here: 
... and it's part of a collection of patterns that I'm slowly building up; the collection, and the reasons for building it, are described here:
I'd be grateful for any comments from this community on the new pattern; on the usefulness of this approach; or on specific patterns that you think should be included - I'm hoping to launch a more concentrated collaborative initiative on this theme later in the year.


Refactoring, nucleation and incubation: three tools for digital urban adaptability


When I am at my most productive as a computer programmer, I don’t write code; I sculpt virtual objects from it.
Any computer system exists to fulfill a purpose in the real world. To do so it recreates in code those aspects of the world that are relevant to its purpose. What transformed the creation of that model from the laborious, procedural task of writing instructions into the seamless creative flow that I liken to sculpting was Martin Fowler‘s conception of “refactoring”.
We need similar tools to support the evolution of adaptable, resilient cities in the 21st Century. 
Those cities will exist in a world that is ever more changeable, and ever less certain. The techniques to provide the flexibility in the physical environment required to accommodate that variability are already emerging - Kelvin Campbell's "Smart Urbanism", and technologies such as 3D printing and 3D cutting. We now need to evolve similar techniques for providing flexible information infrastructures for Smarter Cities.
I explore how those techniques might emerge from concepts such as refactoring, nucleation and incubation from domains as diverse as software engineering, the physical sciences and economics in this article on my blog:


The need for sympathetic digital urbanism


Technology is changing how we understand cities, and how we will understand ourselves in the context of urban environments. We're only at the beginning of this complex revolution.
Scientists from Berkeley have used a Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) scanner to reconstruct images perceived by a test subject’s brain activity while the subject watched a video. A less sensitive mind-reading technology is already available as a headset from Emotiv, which my colleagues have used to help a paralysed person communicate by sending directional instructions from his thoughts to a computer.
Other developments in biotechnology, nanotechnology, and advanced manufacturing show similarly remarkable interactions between information systems and the physical and biological world - solar panels that can mend themselves; and living biological tissues that can be printed, one cell at a time.
These technologies, combined with our ability to process and draw insight from digital information, could offer real possibilities to engineer more efficient and sustainable city systems, such as transportation, energy, water, and food. But using them to address the demographic, financial, and environmental challenges of cities will raise questions about our relationship with the natural world, what it means to live in an ethical society, and what defines us as human.
I wrote an article about how we might answer those questions for UBM's Future Cities community recently, it can also be found on my blog:


Little/big; producer/consumer; and the story of the Smarter City


Two years ago, I noticed that my then 2-year-old son was trying to move things he saw on the screen of my laptop by touching them. Of course he was: he'd seen my wife and I use touchscreens on our smartphones; why wouldn't all screens behave that way?
I think there's something profound in his instinctual use of touchscreen technology to manipulate information. And as other technologies that blur the boundary between information technology and physical systems - such as bio-energy and 3D printing - become more capable and affordable, the way we interact with many of the systems that support our lives - from food and energy supply to the way that we create our environment and the objects within it - will change out of all recognition.
As the price of food and fuel rises as the world's population grows and urbanises; and as droughts caused by global warming make the supply of the grain which is used to produce food and bio-ethanol fuel less certain; we will need to use these new technologies to create more efficient ways to feed us and keep us warm.
I think distinct trends are emerging from technology, urbanism and the research of resilient systems to show how we can do that in a way that could also create a fairer, more sustainable world; and I was honoured to be invited to speak on that subject this weekend at the TEDxWarwick conference. I've posted a script that I wrote whilst preparing for my TEDxWarwick presentation on my blog; I hope that you find it interesting.


A design pattern for digital urbanism: the City Information Partnership


In an article on my blog titled “Do we need a Pattern Language for Smarter Cities” I suggested that “design patterns“, a tool for capturing re-usable experience invented by the town-planner Christopher Alexander, might offer a useful way to organise our knowledge of successful approaches to “Smarter Cities”. The article had a positive response from a number of technologists, architects and academics, and so I'm now writing a set of design patterns to describe ideas that I've seen work more than once. 
The collection is described and indexed in "A Pattern Language for Digital Urbanism" which can be found here:
And the first design pattern, the "City Information Partnership", is described here:
I'd be grateful for any comments from this community on the usefulness of this approach; or on specific patterns that you think should be included.

Do we need a Pattern Language for Smarter Cities?


I participated recently in a robust debate concerning the availability of “delivery guidance” for cities embarking on Smarter Cities initiatives. Whilst there are many visions for smart and future cities; and many examples of projects that have been carried out; there is little prescriptive guidance to assist cities in defining and delivering their own strategy.
It is tempting to approach this challenge by applying the formal, process-driven techniques often applied by companies and institutions undergoing "organisational change" initiatives; but transforming a city is not the same thing as changing an organisation. A city is a complex system of systems, and we have comparatively little knowledge about how to drive change in such an environment. Arguably,we should not even think about “driving change” in city ecosystems, but rather consider how to influence the speed and direction of the changes that will emerge from them anyway.
More organic approaches to stimulating change in cities have emerged from thinking in policy, economics, planning and architecture such as the Collective Research Initiatives Trust‘s study of Mumbai, and the “Massive / Small” concept and associated “Urban Operating System” developed by Kelvin Campbell and Urban Initiatives. They involve the provision of a “toolkit” of ideas for individuals and organisations to apply in their local context.
These toolkits bear similarities to a tool that emerged from town planning in the 1970s and that was then adopted across the information technology industry in the 1980s and 1990s: the “Design Pattern”.
To my knowledge, no-one is yet curating a similar set of Smarter Cities patterns; I believe that there would be great value in doing so. I've written an article on my blog exploring that idea, and providing some examples of ideas and initiatives with the Smarter Cities domain that could form the basis of re-usable patterns:
There are many, many more "patterns" that could be described in this way; I would very much appreciate your thoughts on whether it would be valuable to do so.


Showing 1 - 20 of 38 results.
Items per Page 20
of 2