Beyond patchwork planning: Why smart cities are co-operative cities

Pollution: one of the costs of not being smart. Image: Getty.

Londoners wishing to lead an active lifestyle in Western Europe’s biggest city are all too aware of the day-to-day obstacles that make regular exercise a non-starter.   

Chronic air pollution has made it more and more difficult to exercise in the great outdoors without taking in lungfuls of vehicle fumes. Public Health England revealed in August that more than four-in-ten middle-aged adults do less than 10 minutes of moderate exercise per month. With World Health Organisation (WHO) air pollution limits regularly breached in the Capital, it’s easy to see why many are reluctant to don their running kit for a post-work blast around the block.

London has traditionally had a troubled relationship with the environment, but there are signs that recent air pollution policies are starting to have a positive impact. City Hall is investing millions to tackle London’s poor air quality, but the environmental challenges we face can fox even the Capital’s best thinkers.

The capital’s evolution from a modest Anglo-Saxon settlement to today’s thriving metropolis has been far from smooth. Be it housing or transport, London has rarely taken a step back and fashioned a long-term coherent future for itself.

As London established itself as a global industrial hub in the early 19th century, the Thames quickly became polluted with thousands of gallons of industrial effluent. The problem came to a head during the ‘Great Stink’ of 1858 when the pungent aroma of the Thames became so bad that Parliament toyed with the idea of moving the business of government as far afield as Oxford or St Albans. The long summer recess that has so many MPs plotting to this day was enacted because the smell during August was too much to bear for Parliamentarians that could escape to their country seats.

When factories were springing up either side of the Thames in the 1800s, makeshift slums were haphazardly constructed in a bid to house the growing workforce. Predictably, these slums failed to provide a sustainable post-war housing solution and so planning departments scrabbled around to sign-off huge inner-city tower blocks. These quickly became undesirable places to live and so workers moved to commuter towns on the edge of the city. In need of a way of getting to work, they soon acquired cars which chuck out tonnes of pollutant particulates into the atmosphere.

As it was a muddle of patchwork planning and projects that got us to this point, it’s clear that coming together in a more collaborative and coordinated way to resolve the pollution problem is the way forward. Cities working together on innovative and proven solutions will help us all in the long run, accelerating ideas that work and learning from those ideas that don’t.

Headquartered at City Hall in London, Sharing Cities is a pan-European programme working with municipalities across the continent in a bid to help ordinary people feel the benefits of new smart technologies. We are looking to tomorrow in a holistic way to help European cities like London, Lisbon and Milan realise a greener, healthier, wealthier future for generations to come.


Currently being tested across Greenwich, Lisbon and Milan, electric bikes (eBikes) are a tantalising prospect for Londoners fed up of wasting hours in traffic jams and tired of feeling the effects of incessant exposure to traffic fumes. Fuelled by both pedal power and electricity, eBikes are a great way of encouraging Londoners who may have given up conventional cycling years ago to get back in the saddle.

We are also testing smart lampposts that can perform a host of functions, from providing data on traffic levels, to sending information to drivers telling them where spaces are available, to improving lighting which reduces street crime. By providing a safer environment for exercise, smart lampposts will help alleviate the fears of joggers reluctant to take to the streets.

Sharing Cities is also currently installing charging points in a bid to build the infrastructure required to support electric vehicle use in cities which will cut air pollution. It’s clear that better air quality will make outdoor exercise a more appealing proposition.

Smart technologies will help to reduce air pollution, congestion and crime across London. By taking a holistic approach to urban planning, we can make the dream of an active and healthy lifestyle a more realistic prospect for millions of Londoners.

Nathan Pierce is programme director of Sharing Cities. To learn more visit sharingcities.eu

 
 
 
 

Five lessons for cities from a decade of Centre for Cities research

The view of Vancouver from Locarno Beach Park. Image: Getty.

With the government potentially facing years of “trench warfare” in Parliament, and Brexit set to dominate the national political agenda for the foreseeable future, local leaders have the chance to play a critical role in driving the UK’s economy in the coming years. However, it’s also clear that UK cities will face big challenges in the new economic circumstances outside the EU, and in responding to other issues such as globalisation and automation.

To meet these challenges and opportunities, local leaders will need to make the most of their existing resources and powers – and one of the best ways to do so is to learn from the experiences and ideas of other places.

That’s why the Centre for Cities recently launched a new, easy-to-navigate case study library featuring over 150 examples of good practice from cities in the UK and across the world. Drawn from more than 10 years of Centre for Cities research, the library offers examples of innovative and effective urban policy making in areas such as housing and transport, skills and employment, business and enterprise, and leadership.

In the process of compiling the case study library, five key lessons for cities stood out in particular:

1) Pooling resources with other local authorities can help places achieve more than they can do on their own.

Take Cambridge, for example. Its ability to deliver housing changed in the mid-2000s thanks to the establishment of the Cambridge sub-regional housing board.

By working in partnership with neighbouring authorities (as well as with development companies and a strategic planning unit), Cambridge has been able to reach a consensus on the importance of increasing density and introducing transport-oriented urban extensions.

2) Cities should also make the most of the support and initiatives that non-public sector partners can offer.

For example, Manchester City Council worked in partnership with NESTA and other agencies to launch an innovative ‘Creative Credit’ voucher scheme in 2010. Through this initiative, small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) in the city region were given vouchers worth £4,000 to spend on buying services from creative companies provided they spent at least £1,000 themselves. The pilot was oversubscribed and its evaluation showed a positive impact on sales and the innovation capacity of participants.

3) Having a clear understanding of the needs of people targeted by a specific programme or project will be vital in its success.

This is demonstrated by the success of Blade Runners, an employment programme set up by the City of Vancouver to support 15-30 year olds facing multiple barriers from getting into training and/or employment (such as substance misuse, homelessness, transportation costs and legal issues).

Three quarters of the participants in the programme completed training and moved into jobs, a success rate made possible by the continuous, targeted support provided by Blade Runners coordinators. This included referring participants to appropriate resources, and providing them with breakfast and lunch, living allowances, travel tickets, tools, equipment and work gear for training.


4) Even when cities do not have formal powers to make a difference, they can still use their leadership role to influence and inspire positive changes.

For example, in 2010 the then Mayor of London Boris Johnson launched the London Apprenticeship Campaign which aimed to increase awareness of the scheme. Letters signed by the London Mayor were sent to CEOs of large businesses outlining the value of apprenticeships, and the potential benefits of recruiting apprentices. The campaign had a positive impact on raising awareness among employers and helped to boost the profile of apprenticeships in London.

5) Monitoring and evaluating projects from their early stages is crucial for their long-term success.

San Francisco offers a clear example of how long term policy making coupled with close monitoring can drive change and create jobs. In 2002, the city set itself the goal of a 75 per cent reduction in landfill waste by 2010 and zero waste by 2020. Thanks to close evaluation of the projects, the city realised its efforts were not enough to reach the target, and so introduced a further 20 laws to address these issues. The city is now ahead of its schedule in meeting objectives.

You can access the case study library and to read about these examples in more detail here. We are always keen to hear about new case studies, so please do get in contact if you’d like to share good practice from your city.

Elena Magrini is a researcher at the Centre for Cities, on whose website this article originally appeared.

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