Urban development planners are in a race against time to ensure they have adopted a truly smart approach before population growth stretches their infrastructure to breaking point over the next three decades, according to GeoSpock CEO Richard Baker.
Over the next 30 years, the percentage of the world’s population that lives in urban environments is projected to rise from just over 50% today to 70%, with 5.5 billion people living in cities by the middle of this century.
Such an increase has brought a series of crucial issues sharply into focus, says Richard, reflecting on a recent panel discussion in which he participated at the Connected World Summit; a smart cities and climates conference at the Printworks in London.
CEO, of GeoSpock
“We are all becoming a much tighter ecosystem, because populations are moving and growing, and in terms of providing the sufficient smart infrastructure, cities need to speed up and get on with it over the coming years,” he says.
“Power generation, decarbonizing the cities and other issues will become vital, because populations are moving. Many cities will require a lot of infrastructure changes over the next 25 years.”
Juggling public budgets for infrastructure upgrades, expanding administrative boundaries and a shift away from a siloed approach to smart operating systems for connected urban development ecosystems are among the challenges on the table.
“We need to look at how the citizen experience can be put at the heart of digital innovation in smart city architectures and how the behavior of people can be influenced, based on data insights, to create efficient and effective services,” Richard says.
“Smart cities require operating systems that can sit on top of the whole ecosystem and the time has come to stop building siloed infrastructure. Over the last 20 years infrastructure has been built for one service at a time, but the world can’t work like that anymore.”
Many local authorities face ongoing budgetary concerns when it comes to adopting a smart approach, but the panel agreed that if smart infrastructure is implemented correctly and carefully, it can “lead to innovation, job creation and societal improvements”, Richard says.
“There was a consensus that a hybrid of different funding models is possible,” he adds.
With a data-first strategy to smart city outcomes, the need for regions to collaborate was also raised during the discussion.
Smaller towns and villages might not have the infrastructure and resources required to be equipped to manage and extract value from their data.
“Towns and villages should be treated as micro-cities,” Richard adds. “Metro cities have a responsibility for these micro locations and it should start with information being shared digitally.
“Broadband is fundamental as a starting point, but all of the information could be made more readily available. After all, the mobility of people who live within a one-hour commute is important for any city.”
However, despite some positive developments, Richard insists that a way forward has to be found for cities to work together more effectively.
“Cities have expanded through mayoral roles to have a bigger catchment area and we are beginning to see those catchments liaising with each other,” he says.
“However, we’re not there yet. While some cities are focusing on air pollution, others are looking at congestion, while others are interested in commuter times, for example.
“It is a phenomenally inefficient way of doing things at the moment. Every city will have slightly different priorities, but many of these project areas are linked.
“Perhaps the top 10 smart cities should collaborate on projects, and from there, the intelligence and information could be passed on to benefit smaller cities, towns and villages.”
In an effort to drive change, it was also highlighted during the session that companies involved in the sector must work towards developing a talent pool that can support future smart city objectives.
“Companies like GeoSpock have a responsibility to think about the vocational training needed and the academic path towards new jobs and roles at the heart of smart cities in the future,” Richard concludes.
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