Archive for September, 2012


Smaller, smarter cities

September 17, 2012

Cities are complex organisms that have evolved over many centuries, sometimes millennia. This evolution is rarely planned and so the people who live, work, engage with and maintain the city are continually negotiating, interacting and trying to understand it.

IoT gives the opportunity to load-balance scarce resource and maintain dynamic equilibrium within city systems. But to think of this as just a way to control and maintain city infrastructure misses out on the true potential of the IoT. The city is its citizens and IoT technologies can enable people not only to utilise the city more easily, such as discovering where the best places to park are for a given price, or enabling the most intelligent ways to commute, but it also offers the opportunity for deeper understanding of the workings of the city and the ability for citizens to interact with, create data and co-produce products and services for the city.

Along with the evolution of the cities has been the evolution of the governance structures that seek to maintain and steer their direction. These structures evolve and adapt more quickly than the physical city, although the pace of change especially in comparison to that of cultural and technological change can often seem glacial. The IoT offers many opportunities to the city but these come with challenges. It requires new ways of working that cross-cut traditional service delivery boundaries. It calls for new business models and the acceptance that services delivered within the city are often interlinked. Devices and the data created/used by them are network optimised and for cities to take advantage of IoT they also have to be networked optimised. This essentially highlights the need for there to be a culture of openness and discoverability within the cities themselves.

As cities grow, the systems within often don’t scale. Most large cities are amalgamations of smaller boroughs or communities. In the case of the UK these often have their own democratically elected councils and multiple service delivery mechanisms. The opportunity for smaller cities lies within their size. They are generally more connected and adaptable to their populations and businesses needs and understand and have control/influence over the whole physical footprint of the city.

Digital connectivity is ‘infrastructure’ and as cities in the past created their own roads, water systems, electricity and gas supplies, cities need to either create digital infrastructure or be proactively influential in its implementation. With the creation of a city based lo/no cost data infrastructure (where the cost is distributed), we create an environment where a diverse, vibrant and potentially more accessible IoT can emerge. This can enable citizen hackers to create IoT based applications and devices relevant to their communities needs, products can be trailed, and ideas generated and tested

There has been implementations of pervasive data networks in the Smart Santander FP7 project, LodaNET in Manchester and San Francisco has created a data network for the delivery of its SF Park parking project although not open.

This piece was originally written for Guimares 2012 – City of Culture as part of a Watershed Media project on Smaller, Smarter Cities