Smart Cities : The 2nd Electrification : Definitions and Standards

Just how smart are our cities now and how fast are they becoming smarter? A short discussion led by The Economist suggests there are parallels with the way in which cities took advantage of electrification to change their scale, their topography and their form.

It’s a very worthwhile sub-6 minute discussion that promotes a view that smart cities need to have both ‘top down’ approaches to build the data platforms and a thriving ‘bottom up’ community to exploit those rich data veins that are full of opportunity.

Academics like Ricky Burdett of the London School of Economics (LSE) see integrated systems for collecting, processing and acting on data as offering a “second electrification” to the world’s metropolises. The power cables that penetrated cities in the late 19th century transformed their shape (there are no tall buildings without lifts), their transit systems, their nightlife, their sewerage (cities need a lot of pumps). Ubiquitous data services might have impacts as wide-ranging: they could make cities more liveable, more efficient, more sustainable, perhaps more democratic. In an era of mass urbanisation—the United Nations expects the number of city dwellers to reach 6.3 billion by 2050, as many people as there were on the planet ten years ago—that could matter a lot.

The use of data in cities pits top-down against bottom-up in a similar way. One side stresses the need for citywide planning and control, the other advocates just providing access to data that lets citizens make their own decisions. “The technology giants building smart cities are mostly paying attention to technology, not people…ignoring the creative process of harnessing technology at the grass roots,” writes Anthony Townsend of New York University in his forthcoming book, “Smart Cities: Big data, civic hackers, and the quest for a new Utopia”. But the two sides need not necessarily be opposed.

But, irrespective of how you get there – what ratio is delivered by state-driven, public sector centric and how much is from communities of data miners and entrepreneurs – doesn’t change the outcome we’re looking for.  We all want our cities to become better functioning, more efficient, with integration between related and key systems such as modes of transport or energy, healthcare, education. The Future Cities Catapult video is a decent stab at explaining what it could be.

As the concept, narrative and description around Future Cities and Smart Cities develops, it’s worth noting that there is a BSI Consultation on Smart City Framework live now. The PAS 181, Smart city framework – Guidance for decision-makers in smart cities and communities is a sponsored, fast-track, consensus-building informal standard that is produced by the UK national standards body, BSI Standards Limited. The development of PAS 181 has been sponsored by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills.

To download, review and comment on the draft, please go to http://drafts.bsigroup.com/Home/Details/51672 and register for free online (new users) and log in.

The closing date for consultation is 20 September 2013.

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