Open-data cities and a road to a digital Brighton


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In the coming years, every city will be - to a lesser or greater degree - a digital city. How will Brighton and Hove get there first? And how will it stand out from the rest? The road map to a smarter, more prosperous, sustainable and openly-democratic community.

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  • There will soon be seven billion people on our planet. This was the starting point of my talk at TEDxBrighton last week; it was, I argued, in tune with the conference’s theme of “Reasons to be Cheerful”. For those of you who missed it at TedXBrighton, here’s how it continued.
  • Some experts expect the seven-billionth person to be born late in 2012 – on November 29, shortly after 16:26, to be precise. (Data was a recurring theme of what I had to say in this essay.)
  • Before looking forward, though, I thought it helpful to look back. To ancient Greece and the Temple of Apollo at Delphi – on whose marble, inscribed in gold letters, were the words “Know Yourself”. This was not an invocation to some new-age egocentrism, some inward-looking, navel-contemplating, self-centred, self-awareness. It was more a call – possibly by Thales, the 7 th -century founding father of Greek philosophy – for us all to be aware of our position in the cosmos, of our place in the wider society of human kind.
  • Still in ancient Greece, Aristotle, one of the greatest thinkers in the history of the world, wrote: “Man is by nature a political animal.” What distinguishes human beings from all other species is their habit, propensity, ability, and desire to live in a “polis” – loosely translated as a city-state – such as ancient Athens, with a population of 250,000 (very similar to that of Brighton and Hove today), a cohesive community where every citizen had a connection with every other citizen. And where every citizen had a direct say in a direct democracy. Where Athens, interestingly, was referred to always as “The Athenians”.
  • Fast forward to Margaret Thatcher, the Conservative prime minister, who said in a 1987 interview with Woman’s Own : “There is no such thing as society.” Three years after the destruction of the coal industry – and mining towns such as Barnsley, where I grew up – there was much controversy, and more than a little outrage, about Mrs Thatcher’s comments. To be fair, fewer would disagree with the full quotation, its proper context: “There is no such thing as society. There are individual men and women, and there are families. ” Indeed, if she had said there are individual men and women, and there are relationships , how many would have argued at all?
  • For surely we are all agreed that human beings are social animals, with responsibilities to themselves and the social units in which they live. Which in turn have responsibilities to themselves and others in the wider community. Three points are critical: • Individuals live in an increasingly-connected world (albeit one where social alienation and exclusion are endemic); • Cities, including “world cites” and “megacities”, are characteristics of the 21 st century; • Emerging technologies can improve every aspect of the lives of individual citizens in “digital cities”. In looking to the future, we need to avoid conjuring a geeky, technocratic, elitist, utopian – or dystopian – vision of a future that, thankfully, never arrives. Certainly not in the way predicted. The future is predictable only with hindsight. It’s said that the past is a different country; they do things differently there. But tomorrow is usually pretty much the same as today. The future arrives every second, but we measure it retrospectively – by the year, the lustrum, and the decade.
  • As so often, the starting point is globalisation, one of the defining characteristics of our era: economic globalisation, political globalisation, and cultural globalisation. As a former journalist who left Fleet Street – Fleet Street! Such a last-millennium place-located phenomenon! – for the internet in the mid-1990s, I used TEDxBrighton to offer a few observations in the context of globalised technologies, specifically those digital technologies associated with the internet, the worldwide web (as we used to call it), and the plethora of mobile – or, more accurately, portable – devices, such as the iPhone and the iPad. In a world of Google and Google Earth, in a world of Facebook and a 500-million-member online social network, and Twitter with 65 million tweets a day, it is easy to ignore – or take for granted – the importance and the potency of the local, the locality: the geographically-specific and persistent locality that surrounds the mundane – in the non-pejorative sense of commonplace, practical, ordinary – persistent, and shared, locality that surrounds the core of our everyday lives.
  • Here is where we make a home, a place to live. Here is where we have our place of work, where there are school places for our children, places, to shop – where institutions, organisations, and businesses exist to serve us, to protect us, to help us. Here is where I am. Where I am me . Here is where we are. Where we are us. Where you and I are us – together .
  • I have a passion for postcodes. Those are six words you don’t often see in the same sentence! There are more than 20 postcodes that have been core to my development. [Notably, Brighton and Hove was one of the first 10 towns and cities to be identified by postal districts in the 1930s.] I am interested in the intersection of the global and the local: the particular intersections of longitude and latitude that comprise my backyard, my real backyard, and my digital backyard.
  • 2011 is the centenary of the birth of Marshall McLuhan, the Canadian academic and media theorist who, in 1964, coined the phrase of the “global village” – interestingly, in relation to the impact of radio and television in the early 20 th century. In one sense, the “village” is a metaphor for a small place where people can communicate quickly and know every event that takes place. The metaphor also speaks to the sense of community, a community embodied in the traditional – even clichéd – concept of a village. Albeit an old-fashioned, out-of-date, idealised embodiment: a “Lark Rise To Cardboard-Cutout-Candleford” fantasy.
  • Another academic in the 1960s – like McLuhan, regarded as a prophet of the internet age – was Stanley Milgram, the American social psychologist who conducted a series of experiments to identify what we know today as the “small-world phenomenon”. He confirmed there were approximately five or six links connecting any two people. Subsequently, a great deal of serious academic study has been undertaken, informing our understanding of how viruses spread, how viral marketing works, and so on.
  • To some extent, inevitably perhaps, the phenomenon has been been simplified: we’re all just six handshakes away from the President.
  • It has even been trivialised: there are are six degrees of separation between any Hollywood actor and Kevin Bacon.
  • Much as I believe McLuhan and Milgram are – like successors such as Duncan J Watts and Steven Strogatz – hugely insigh tful, inspired and inspiring, I have concerns about the metaphors associated with their ground-breaking work. I wish to make four points: • Human beings are social beings whose humanity is realised in social relationships; • The world is not small and has not got smaller; • Networks have got bigger; • The world increasingly comprises a network of networked cities. A global city – rather than global village – would, with all the complexities it implies, have been a better metaphor. Backward-looking metaphors can be misleading (although I have to admit I sometimes liken Twitter to the new town-crier to the world).
  • Homo Sapiens has been on the planet for 160,000 years. The skulls of two adults and one child in Ethiopia are the oldest known fossils of human beings. Cities have been on the planet for 6,000 years. Tell Hamoukar, in a remote part of Syria between the Tigris and Euphrates, was home to 25,000 people across 750 acres. Yet it is less than 50 years since the internet was created; less than 25 years since the worldwide web (as we used to call it).
  • Today, more than 640 million people live in the world’s 300 largest cities; 483 cities have populations of more than one million; by 2050, 70 per cent of the world’s population will live in cities.
  • In such a context, an increasing number of cities – particularly in North America – are transforming themselves into “open-data cities”. Such cities make data available in structured, non-proprietary formats, while making a public commitment to transparency and accountability in a collaborative process of co-production. To quote one city, it aspires to be a city that “thinks like the web”.
  • Leading “open-data cities” include: San Francisco, New York, New Orleans, Boston, Washington, Vancouver, Toronto, Edmonton, Ottawa, and London. More parochially, progress is being made in Lichfield, Manchester, and Birmingham.
  • So what could such a transformation mean for the citizens of Brighton and Hove? What sort of new dawn could it be for our city, where I have lived since I got my break in Fleet Street in 1986? Before the internet; before even before mobile phones.
  • “ When the sun rises,” the Cuban proverb states, “ it rises for everybody.” “ But the shadow is just for a few,” the wisdom of the Portuguese adds. An open-data Brighton and Hove must benefit all citizens – especially those currently kept in the shadows of an unequal, analogue society.
  • In a city of, say, 250,000+ people, each one of us is less than six handshakes away from any other inhabitant of Brighton and Hove.
  • Our city has clearly moved on since 1938, when Graham Greene wrote Brighton Rock, with its unforgettable first line: “Hale knew, before he had been in Brighton three hours, that they meant to murder him.”
  • How long will it be before a novel could begin: “Hale knew, before he had been in Brighton three hours, that he was in a digital city.” And what would it mean?
  • For anyone arriving – like Hale – at Brighton railway station, technology has changed the experience: ticket-reading gates; credit-card ticket purchasing; electronic noticeboards; taxi queues; and car-number recognition parking. But it hasn’t really changed that much
  • Some things don’t change at all. Think of the people queueing outside Brighton’s sorting office to pick up undelivered Christmas presents, in late January. The Royal Mail answer-machine doesn’t take messages; the email address does not elicit a response, nor does it trigger an action; and people queue in silence, with their iPods and smartphones. They are connected, but not with each other. You can’t help wondering how Amazon would organise the re-delivery of Christmas presents. What would Google do?
  • “ The future is already here; it’s just not evenly distributed,” said William Gibson. We know that Google, Facebook and Twitter will inevitably shape our future. So will YouTube, flickr, and foursquare. The new kids on the block are Groupon, and Quora, and Vouchercloud. The devices are already here: the iPad and the tablet, the iPhone and the Blackberry.
  • But how will Brighton and Hove help shape its own distinctive future, using the global technologies to make it a world-class city in which to live, work, leisure, and do business? “ The best way to predict the future is to invent it,” said Alan Kay.
  • Sir Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the web, envisages a new web of linked data, a semantic web, a mesh of data to supplement the web of documents we currently have. I am certain this will open up opportunities that can barely be imagined by most of us. And linked open data will fuel the change.
  • The freeing of data is already driving innovation – including, for example, a visualisation of trains leaving and arriving at Brighton railway station. [Notably, Brighton and Hove owe their existence to the creation of the rail link with London in 1841; once connected to London and the rest of the rail network, Brighton became a hub in its own right.] There’s the real-time visualisation of buses in Helsinki, underground trains in London, and Isle of Wight ferries that tweet their position every five minutes. In Chicago, you can see where the nearest taxis are – and hail them by speaking into your iPhone. In London, there is the remarkable Tweetalondoncab service.
  • And they are all driven by data. Some of which we haven’t been allowed to access until very recently.
  • For example, we weren’t allowed to know until late 2010 where all the bus and coach stops are in Brighton and Hove – all 1,270 of them. Only now – as a result of the initiative – has the data been released by the National Public Transport Data Repository .
  • The release of data has enabled the possibility of new visualisations of data, metadata, data-driven city landscapes , real-time data, archived data, aggregated data, data from a multiplicity of sources. It has fuelled a new art form, a new visual language, a multi-dimensional, multi-platform means of surfacing data that citizens can use, that we can engage with, that we can act on.
  • Google is, of course, making strides forward – with the latest iteration of Google Maps and its “place pages”, such as this one for where TEDxBrighton was held .
  • But how do we build an open-data city, a city that “thinks likes the web”? How can it be done in a city such as Brighton and Hove: one of 55 unitary authorities; a defined community bounded by the sea and the South Downs; only three parliamentary constituencies; closely linked with London (and, through London, with the rest of the world); home to Wired Sussex and a unique concentration of companies and individuals with remarkable records of achievement in the digital and creative technologies.
  • Clearly, Brighton and Hove City Council is central to any attempt to build an open-data city. But it can do only so much.
  • Others have a part to play: • Brighton and Hove Buses, Southern Railway, NCP, Brighton and Hove Streamline Taxis; • Sussex Police, Surrey and Sussex Probation Trust, Brighton and Sussex University Hospitals; • The University of Brighton, The University of Sussex; • The businesses of Churchill Square, Brighton Business, Brighton and Hove Chamber of Commerce, Brighton and Hove Albion; • The Argus, the BBC, ITV.... There are many more, including the network of community and voluntary organisations in Brighton and Hove.
  • Whatever the benefits of being an open-data city may be, one thing is certain: the results will be bigger and better if we work together to build a shared vision. In Brighton and Hove, there are quarter of million reasons to be cheerful and to look forward optimistically.
  • And there’s one more born every second . If you would like to help shape the digital future, join the new Open-data Brighton and Hove group and follow @OpendataCities on Twitter. Email:
  • Open-data cities and a road to a digital Brighton

    1. 1. Google Earth [email_address] @GregHadfield
    2. 2. 16:26:56 November 29 2012 Google Earth
    3. 3. Know thyself. - Thales γνῶθι σεαυτόν
    4. 4. Man is by nature a political animal. - Aristotle ὁ ἄνθρωπος φύσει πολιτικὸν ζῷον
    5. 5. There is no such thing as society. There are individual men and women, and there are families. - Margaret Thatcher
    6. 6. – Individuals live in an increasingly-connected world ( where social alienation and exclusion are endemic); – The growth of cities, including “world cities” and “megacities”; – Emerging technologies can improve the lives of individual citizens in “digital cities”.
    7. 7. Google Earth
    8. 8. Google Earth
    9. 9.
    10. 10. Ours is a brand-new world of all-at-onceness . ‘ Time’ has ceased, ‘space’ has vanished. We now live in a global village ... a simultaneous happening. - Marshall McLuhan, The Medium is the Message (1967)
    11. 11. The small-world phenomenon
    12. 12. madotcom Six handshakes away from the President
    13. 13. Six degrees of separation
    14. 14. – Human beings are social beings whose humanity is realised in social relationships; – The world has not got smaller ; – Networks have got bigger; – Global network of networked cities .
    15. 15. Homo Sapiens – 160,000 years Internet – 50 years Cities – 6,000 years
    16. 16. – More than 640 million people live in the world’s 300 largest cities ; – 483 cities have populations of more than one million; – By 2050, 70 per cent of the world’s populations will live in cities.
    17. 17. OPEN-DATA CITIES – Data is made available (in a structured, non-proprietary format); – Commitment to transparency and accountability; – A city that thinks like the web. – Collaborative co-production;
    18. 18. – San Francisco – New York – New Orleans – Boston – Washington – Vancouver – Toronto – Edmonton – Ottawa – London – Lichfield, Manchester, Birmingham... OPEN-DATA CITIES
    19. 19. A new dawn for Brighton and Hove?
    20. 20. When the sun rises, it rises for everybody. - Cuban proverb But the shadow is just for a few. - Portuguese rider
    21. 21.
    22. 22.
    23. 23. 512 64 8 1 4,096 32,768 262,144
    24. 24. - Brighton Rock, Graham Greene (1938)
    25. 25. - Brighton, 2015?
    26. 29. The future is already here; it’s just not evenly distributed. - William Gibson
    27. 30. The best way to predict the future is to invent it. - Alan Kay
    28. 31. Richard Cyganiak and Anja Jentzsch: /
    29. 32.
    30. 33.
    31. 34.
    32. 35.
    33. 36.
    34. 37.
    35. 38. Google Earth
    36. 39. Invisible Cities – Christian Marc Schmidt
    37. 40. Google Maps
    39. 42.
    40. 45. BRIGHTON AND HOVE OPEN-DATA CITY GROUP [email_address] @GregHadfield
    41. 46. Thank You!