Future Cities – Is it time to dream big?
I found a business quote the other day from Victoria Beckham, yes the former Spice Girl that has created a £30m+ clothing business, where she said that 'if you can get your head around your dream, then your dream isn't big enough'.
I hadn't given the quote much thought until discussing my 'the whole is more than the sum of its parts' blog with a client and the size of the challenge facing cities as they try and move to a future city. In the discussion the client asked; 'why not just get the departments to be more coordinated such as joined up transport or joined up health’. I feel that if cities are really going to address many of the challenges now facing them, then they needed to dream big and if they just think thinking within their silos, the dream just is not big enough.
So let's look at Transport and why only focussing on Transport won't address the bigger issues. techUK recently published a paper outlining the opportunities associated with IoT in transport. At a high level, the key features included:-
Intelligent traffic management and therefore less congestion
The infrastructure to make Electric Vehicles (EVs) a reality
Connected and autonomous vehicles (CAVs) will increase safety
CAVs will also improve productivity
A return to hassle-free air travel:
Better, more ‘joined-up’ public transport.
These are all good observations when looked at from a transport perspective, which I appreciate is what the report is doing, but this is what many cities also do, rather than look at it from an 'interconnected city perspective'.
So, why is it important for a city (or region / metro area) to 'dream big' and set their strategy along with their investment and technology choices in that context, rather than by individual departments or silos? If we look at the main themes within a city that need to be addressed, they are all interlinked: Mobility, Economic Growth, Education, Energy Consumption and Health and therefore if we want to address those issues, we cannot do so in isolation.
At a city level, decisions and investments are currently made within those themes, or to be more correct, within departments within those themes and therefore the benefits analysis for investments will be calculated on the benefits gained within that department or theme. However, benefits may be seen in the other themes. For example, investing in cycle ways by the transport department may provide benefits to air pollution and congestion, but the biggest benefits may be found in the health service through reductions in respiratory and obesity related illnesses. By taking a more holistic city wide approach, these linkages can be made.
So, let’s look at some of the other benefits that can be gained across a city, but related to transport:-
Transport: Lower carbon emissions, lower cost of running transport services and improved productivity
Health: better air quality resulting in healthier population, easier access to care, possibly more physical exercise by population and quicker emergency response times leading to improved patient outcomes
Economic Growth: expertise will relocate due to improved lifestyle of the population, more efficiently run transport dependent businesses, better retention of graduates and 'new generation' skills
Energy: more efficient public transport moving to Electronic Vehicles etc., less energy used to travel 'last mile'
Transport routes to smart building hub, where people can work in shared and 'smart' office space around the region rather than commute longer distances to dedicate buildings.
Not only do benefits flow to other departments and parts of the city, but investment can be pooled from those areas as well. Where one department may not be able to invest because the ROI isn’t big enough and therefore a project does not go ahead, the business case may stack up when investment and benefits are looked at in a broader context. So, how can this be achieved?
For me, the starting point is with strategy and procurement. There is clearly a need for a shared vision and a single strategy at a city level that all departments buy into. This strategy needs to be able to survive national and local elections so that it can drive a consistent approach for the next twenty years and from which, better thought through and possibly single procurement activities can take place. To achieve this shared vision, first cities must agree on a common methodology. The journey for future cities requires a solid roadmap.
Other approaches could be for cities and regions to co-ordinate their activities such as procurement and services around a common approach for things like IoT and Data platforms, digitisation and even the buying and use of energy. Maybe even going one step further to actually move strategy and procurement into a single new entity for the city, but at the same time allowing for some autonomy at the operational level will require the correct governance models as well as the common vision for all,
If acted upon, this coordinated approach has the potential to deliver results that exceed those generated by individual projects alone. It won't be easy, but without it we will never achieve a future / smart city, but remain with a series of interesting but stand along technology projects.
Is it time to dream big?