If there was one city that should be able to deliver on such a bold goal then it would be London – the city with more financial muscle than most.
The good news is that this goal is one that is shared. It is one of ten bold goals that are shared with Lisbon, Milan (as lead cities) supported by Bordeaux, Burgas and Warsaw, in a new three-year programme that gets underway now. The programme is one of a growing portfolio of EU-funded ‘lighthouse’ smart city demonstrators.
The journey – at least for London – starts in the Royal Borough of Greenwich, where we will be making some very real improvements at the sort of scale that can make a difference, and provide the confidence to scale up further.
‘Digital first’ is the term we’ve adopted for the approach; looking at the city infrastructure and services as a very interdependent set of systems, with city-data providing the fuel that helps them operate in a smarter manner – hopefully one where we find city-data enabled solutions that involve people more and spending money less!
So what will Sharing Cities actually deliver on the ground?
The focus is on doing things that will deliver on Europe’s Horizon 2020 goals, particularly relating to more prudent use of (renewable and recovered) energy – so very much addressing the two big culprits: buildings and transport. And as a result reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions – in other words helping to address the air quality issues that continue to plague the city.
The ‘smart’ comes in several flavours: electric vehicles and bikes, retrofitting residential buildings with energy efficiency measures, putting smart lampposts in place that can do a lot more than just provide light, sensors deployed within the new infrastructures – improvements to place; all pulled together by two vitally important enablers. First and foremost, people: by figuring out how we can understand and engage residents, visitors and businesses in a better way and provide tools that help them engage digitally. Also by putting in place a platform that can join up the technology and data so that we get far greater insight, better decision making, and greater levels of automation.
Within the life of the programme, the idea is to offer a really different experience for people living and visiting the Borough, so that they can make more informed choices about their travel patterns, and how they can spend less on energy individually and within their community.
Importantly, none of this work starts with a mind-set that we are doing things just for Greenwich. All the cities have committed to maximise commonality of design. That won’t mean solutions will look the same! What it will deliver however is something that is based on a similar open design, which can be tailored to suit the local context. I would argue that the more digital the solution, the greater the opportunity we have to deliver a more genuinely common solution (there’s little point for instance in designing from fresh an app for the same purpose different ways in each city).
It is this commonality, underpinned by a clear commitment to collaborate, which is so important. It will result in many local benefits. Better quality solutions (getting the best brains to work together) that bring greater confidence in decision makers and users to do more. Greater interest from industry, as the potential market is larger. So more innovation, more affordable solutions and more opportunity for local businesses!
Common designs enable us to take common solutions that can be exploited by far more than just the
principal cities. From Greenwich, we must look to apply this philosophy in other parts of London (“dog-fooding” is the delightful term I heard recently). That will certainly test London governance, however it’s probably time to step up to that challenge!
Beyond the six cities we are looking at a far wider pool of cities: like the other 50 that are also involved in similar H2020 programmes (the European Commission are paying, so they’ll be delighted when we collaborate); the 80 that we wrote to during the bidding process – of which a significant number responded very positively; via Eurocities and the European Innovation Partnership for Smart Cities to the rest of Europe – particularly the smaller cities that often lack capacity; and via our Industry partners and international trade bodies to other geographies. People talk about repeating solutions, and that’s good. However what we really want to do is aggregate demand; in other words getting several cities together to agree right up front to a more common approach. That’ll excite the market more, and help speed adoption of smart solutions, that in turn will deliver cheaper, faster, and better outcomes.
Wrap around this some notable reference cities that are on the journey with us, like New York, Chicago and Melbourne, together with a global advisory board with some illustrious names, including our very own local guru: “Mr 100 Cities” Greg Clark CBE – the city mentor variety, rather than the UK Minister variety (though the support of the latter will never go amiss!), and we are set for a very interesting ride.
So, back to the €500 million
This takes us back to the beginning: the €500 million. If we can genuinely collaborate; if we can genuinely design common solutions; if we can genuinely implement them together; if we can genuinely aggregate demand; and if we can use our €25 million seed-funds wisely – then we can excite the biggest missing ingredient in the smart cities market: the financiers!
€500 million might sound a lot, however in the context of London’s infrastructure forecast that rises from the current £100 billion p.a. to close to £200 billion p.a. in 20 years, or the eye-watering public sector annual services spend (alas I figure I do not have) it is not so vexing a number (and that’s just from the London context – we have all the other cities to lend a hand!).
Starting a movement
This is a really exciting and bold programme; vital to get right, as it helps address a crescendo of complex chronic connected challenges that cities face. It will take much more than just the programme team on its tod to deliver this. Probably more than the existing public bodies in the cities.
It might just benefit from your support too?
So let’s get the conversation underway! Let’s hear your views. We’ll be bringing you more updates on the Sharing Cities programme over coming months and years. And other developments in and around London (working with other European and worldwide cities) that relate to the programme. Day 1, and for one: I’m committed to make this a reality.
Graham Colclough is a Partner at UrbanDNA