Is London Any Smarter?
George Adams, UK Director of Energy and Engineering at SPIE (and a past CIBSE President), casts a critical eye over the Mayor of London’s smart city roadmap on the anniversary of its launch.
It’s been a year since the launch of the Mayor of London’s smart city roadmap which was introduced to transform the capital into the smartest city in the world. But twelve months later, is the city any smarter?
There has been some progress. Mayor, Sadiq Khan, appointed his first Chief Digital Officer and also created a number of joint ventures with other major European cities with the aim to collaborate on developing new applications and data sharing initiatives to spur new knowledge and technical advancements that will make life easier for their respective citizens. But the pace of change has been limited.
And whilst there's little doubt the smart city plan has the potential to radically improve how London operates for people and organisations, there are several major social, environmental and energy challenges ahead with the potential to derail the initiative. Therefore, it is time the Mayor’s Office look more deeply beyond the data initiatives and collaborate with engineering expertise to tackle physical smart city challenges.
Contrary to popular belief, the biggest challenge in creating London as a smart city actually isn’t the Smart technology for data and communication systems. Rather, it is the extensive work that will be needed to improve or retrofit the Capital’s existing buildings, nearly three quarters of which will still be in use when we reach the middle of the century and new energy infrastructures to radically reduce emissions and the increasing city heat island effect.
But, there is the opportunity here to apply new engineering thinking, intelligent systems, new ergonomic materials and integrated data into a solution that creates a vastly improved city scale asset with greater efficiency, deep energy savings and resilient engineering systems for the long term. Developing a city that can cope with urbanisation and continued population growths requires ambitious planning and innovative collaborative policies and legislation. Urban issues such as waste management and air pollution are not technology problems, these are a problem of integrating engineering solutions with whole life economic assessments incorporating risks to London's business and its society.
By employing the capability of those who understand the marriage of technology, engineering and business resilience with community wellbeing, the city can be in a better position to mobilise public assets and finances into initiatives that will benefit citizens and empower businesses to create environmental and financial harmony.
The city could be defined as ‘smart’ if there were coordinated investments in clean air, social spaces, transport, infrastructure and energy to achieve sustainable economic development. But this is easier said than done. Take the rollout of 4G internet on the underground as an example. It’s not a solution to all the social issues that plague the city, but combined with economics, technology and social benefits, it will help improve the global competitiveness and social wellbeing of London, as well as develop new sustainability culture for the long-term future. After all, cities are at the front line of the climate change, pollution and natural resource issues.