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Smart Cities - Why they're not working for us yet.


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My presentation to the April 2016 Eurocities Knowledge Sharing Forum in Rennes. My focus was on describing Smart Cities as an economic and political challenge; and exploring the policy mechanisms that could be used to incentivise private sector investments in business and technology to support local social, economic and environmental outcomes. Further description and supporting evidence for these ideas can be found at

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Smart Cities - Why they're not working for us yet.

  1. 1. Cover with focus picture 1 Cover with focus picture 2 Cover with focus picture 3 Smart Cities ... A ... why they’re not working for us yet Dr Rick Robinson FBCS CITP FRSA AoU IT Director, Smart Data and Technology Founder and Chair, Birmingham Smart City Alliance @dr_rick Smart Data & Technology
  2. 2. Smart cities, communities, services and infrastructure command attention because we face fundamental challenges from inequality, global population growth and economic competition, and climate change. “Lives on the Line” shows a difference of 21 years in life expectancy at birth today between the poorest and richest areas of London. This inequality is repeated in all of the UK’s major cities, and is a measure of our failure so far to deliver public services and infrastructure that give everyone an equal opportunity for a happy, healthy, successful life. This challenge is likely to get harder to address in future as ageing populations in Western economies threaten the funding of public services; as global development creates stronger competition for jobs and economic activity; and as population growth and climate change create increased competition for resources.
  3. 3. The proliferation of data from a multitude of sources offers the opportunity for detailed insights into our needs and behaviour that were previously unimaginable. (See video at
  4. 4. That data can be used to manage cities more effectively and efficiently …
  5. 5. … but “smart” should be about people, behaviour and outcomes; infrastructure, technology and management are enablers, not objectives.
  6. 6. “Smart” ideas command attention because we see the potential for technology to enable fundamentally new ways to deliver services more effectively at lower cost; and for communities to create services for themselves. Traditional hotel chain • Founded in 1919 • Over 680,000 rooms in 91 countries (2015) • Over 310,000 employees and franchise employees (2015) • Market capitalisation $29.6B (2015) 1997 2003 2006 2006 2007 Online peer-to-peer market for temporary accommodation • Founded in 2008 • Over 800,000 rooms in 192 countries (2015) • 600 employees (2013) • Estimated value $13B (2014)
  7. 7. As a consequence we have created visions for a sustainable, vibrant future enabled by technology … … but most of these visions are aspirations: they have not been turned into policies, or into budgeted projects and programmes …
  8. 8. … and the vast majority of investments in smart technology are made in order to create private sector profits; other than the need to meet consumer demands, they are largely indifferent to wider public sector and community objectives. “Never mind the “Sharing Economy”: here’s “Platform Capitalism””, Sebastian Olma, Institute of Network Cultures, October 2014
  9. 9. In the 20th Century, cities failed if they failed to develop their economies to take account of developments in technology. The evidence is worrying that we are failing again now … “The Second Machine Age”, by Andrew McAfee and Erik Brynjolfsson, summarised in 06-04/new-world-order Throughout the 20th Century UK cities that did not adapt their economies to new technology lost jobs, employers, residents and investment. “Cities Outook 1901”, Centre for Cities: Since the 1980s as computers spread into homes and businesses, growth in GDP has not created growth in US household wealth. New wealth is primarily being captured by the owners of “platform businesses” such as Amazon, Apple, Uber and Airbnb.
  10. 10. “Private investment shapes cities, but social ideas (and laws) shape private investment. First comes the image of what we want, then the machinery is adapted to turn out that image. The financial machinery has been adjusted to create anti-city images because, and only because, we as a society thought this would be good for us. If and when we think that lively, diversified city, capable of continual, close- grained improvement and change, is desirable, then we will adjust the financial machinery to get that.” Jane Jacobs, the Death and Life of Great American Cities, 1961 We need to shape the machinery of our economy to create the future cities and communities we want to live in.
  11. 11. 8101-smart-cities-planning-guidelines/ birmingham-smart-city-alliance-2013-2015/ Demand outcomes, innovation and local investment from service providers Create local collaborations to help social enterprise to scale-up Focus local support for enterprise and entrepreneurship on local priorities, challenges and opportunities Demand outcomes, innovation and local investment from developers Four approaches to local action: Procurement, planning, social enterprise and investment
  12. 12. Images and concept from Kelvin Campbell’s “Smart Urbanism” movement: Massive / Small: the emerging ideas of “Smart Urbanism” provide policies, principles and toolkits to encourage and support “massive” amounts of “small-scale” innovation? Creating the conditions for success: What are the characteristics of cities that give rise to Massive/Small innovation? -to-build-a-smarter-city-23-design-principles-for- digital-urbanism/
  13. 13.  Promote the re-use, re-cycling, up-cycling and sharing of assets?  Improve the equality of access to assets and resources?  Reward labour for the value of the human experience that it creates?  Promote local transactions that can be carried out using human-powered transport – walking and cycling; and that create sustainable social capital?  Are consistent with dense, walkable urban environments?  Emphasise the relationship between long- term organisational profitability and viability and long-term community stability and vitality?  Encapsulate protocols and behaviours that are co-designed and governed by all participants?  Can prove that their algorithms are not based on explicitly or implicitly biased data? Einor Ostrom, winner of the 2009 Nobel Prize in Economics “for her analysis of economic governance, especially the commons“. sciences/laureates/2009/ostrom-lecture.html The continuation of Ostrom’s work by David Sloan Williams groups/ On the presence of bias in big data: 9aa544d739de#.gr3gza36w Creating the conditions for success: What are the characteristics of a “platform business” that is consistent with the objectives of cities and communities?
  14. 14. Smart Data & Technology • The goal of Smart Cities is to invest in technology in order to create economic, social and environmental improvements. That is an imperative economic and political challenge, not a technology trend. • The vast majority of Smart City initiatives to date are pilot projects funded by research and innovation grants. There are very, very few sustainable, repeatable solutions yet. • The “bottom up” innovation that individuals, communities and businesses carry out with technology every day is a vital component of Smart Cities, but it is not enough on its own: creating change on an urban scale requires top-down leadership, policies and investment. • Private sector investment will not deliver social, economic or environmental outcomes unless it is incentivised to do so. • Tools are available for local governments to build Smart Cities: procurement policies, planning and development frameworks, social and entrepreneurial investment funds and support services. The idea of a “Smart City” (or town, or region, or community) is 20 years old; but it has so far achieved very little.
  15. 15. Success factors and successful styles for carrying out Smart Cities programmes • Use the tools and investments that are available now • Focus on investment and delivery by using policy tools to demand that existing spending and investment streams deliver the vision • Adopt and adapt the ideas of Smart Urbanism and the economics of the commons • Demonstrate Four “C”s: Commitment, Collaboration, Consistency, Community • Commitment and engagement of the most senior local government leaders • A collaborative, empowered regional stakeholder forum • A clear, consistent, specific local vision • Community engagement • Adopt the behaviour of “Translational Leaders” • Defined by Robert Zolli in “Resilience: Why Things Bounce Back” • Leaders who create innovative growth and resilient communities by combining the resources of formal large-scale institutions with the resourcefulness and informality of local people, communities and businesses
  16. 16. Cover with focus picture 1 Cover with focus picture 2 Cover with focus picture 3 @dr_rick Smart Data & Technology Thankyou A Dr Rick Robinson FBCS CITP FRSA AoU IT Director, Smart Data and Technology Founder and Chair, Birmingham Smart City Alliance