To build the cities of tomorrow we must listen to citizens

The Piazza Duomo, Milan. Image: Getty.

When you walk into Duomo di Milano (Milan Cathedral), you cannot help but look up. You realise Milan is a city that has never been afraid to think big.

Duomo di Milano is the biggest church in Italy – the larger St Peter’s Basilica is in the State of Vatican City – and the third largest in the world. It took nearly six centuries to complete: We are a city that plans well into the future.

Sharing Cities is a European programme which is also not afraid to plan for the future and think big. Working with cities across the continent we are helping to realise the transformative potential of new smart technologies. We are looking at how innovators, investors and citizens can be brought together to design the cities of the future. Cities that we can all enjoy: that make better use of public spaces, that have cleaner air and shorter commuting times from homes to offices. Cities that are designed around the way we want to live rather than forcing us to live around them.

In 1386, when Archbishop Antonio da Saluzzo began construction of Duomo di Milano, thinking big meant building big: creating a monument that future generations would be in awe of. He achieved his aim.

Today, in the Sharing Cities ‘lighthouse’ cities of London, Lisbon and here in Milan we do not have a blank canvas to project our grand vision onto. But we don’t want that anyway. We are proud of our cities and history built up over centuries. The days of the Roman and British Empire are behind us. It is no longer enough for distant elites to make decisions and then foist them onto a grateful citizenship. For change to work it has to come with agreement: it is about engaging citizens, listening to their ideas and working with them.

Today, thinking big is about thinking small. It is about creating small changes at a local level and then scaling up. It is about testing and replicating what works and rejecting what does not. It is about listening as much as talking. It is about enabling solutions rather than offering them.  

In Milan over the last year we have engaged with thousands of people from 250 local organisations Through engagement, people have taken a keener interest in how their city works. Where once local government was seen as something only retired people got involved with today I see young people wanting to know how they can transform Milan. Where once they were passive now they are engaged. They care if there is rubbish on the street. They want to know we can reduce pollution levels. They feel important when they are listened to and they take better care of the city because they feel their views are being heard.

The feedback we have got from these meetings has guided us in how the citizens of Milan want their food delivered, how transport needs will be met and waste collected in the future.

But it is also about sharing. By meeting citizens, we were able to talk about the risks and rewards of retrofitting old buildings to make them warmer in winter and cooler in summer. In some cases energy bills are reduced by 60 per cent as a result – in extreme cases it can be as high as 80 per cent. These buildings are like Swiss cheese. People are literally paying to heat the outside. But we were only offering 20 per cent of the cost of this retrofit, so residents had to work together to decide if the higher short-term cost to them would be worth the larger long-term gain.

The fact that we had residential blocks competing for this money tells us that we have been communicating what we are doing right. So far in in the time frame of Sharing Cities we will retrofit 25,000m2of homes, improving the lives of 7,000 to 8,000 residents. 

Through efficiencies of scale we can get this to 140,000 – 10 per cent of the population of Milan. Across Europe, cities from London to Lisbon and Bordeaux are asking us how we did it. We are sharing with them and they are sharing with us.

The changes we are making may seem subtler than the Duomo di Milano – but they will touch the lives of no fewer people. And for that, we must celebrate Milan’s historic willingness to plan for the future.

Piero Pelizzaro is Sharing Cities’ lead for Milan.


12 things we learned by reading every single National Rail timetable

Some departure boards, yesterday. Image: CC-BY-SA

A couple of weeks ago, someone on Twitter asked CityMetric’s editor about the longest possible UK train journey where the stations are all in progressive alphabetical order. Various people made suggestions, but I was intrigued as to what that definitive answer was. Helpfully, National Rail provides a 3,717 page document containing every single timetable in the country, so I got reading!

(Well, actually I let my computer read the raw data in a file provided by ATOC, the Association of Train Operating Companies. Apparently this ‘requires a good level of computer skills’, so I guess I can put that on my CV now.)

Here’s what I learned:

1) The record for stops in progressive alphabetical order within a single journey is: 10

The winner is the weekday 7.42am Arriva Trains Wales service from Bridgend to Aberdare, which stops at the following stations in sequence:

  • Barry, Barry Docks, Cadoxton, Cardiff Central, Cardiff Queen Street, Cathays, Llandaf, Radyr, Taffs Well, Trefforest

The second longest sequence possible – 8 – overlaps with this. It’s the 22:46pm from Cardiff Central to Treherbert, although at present it’s only scheduled to run from 9-12 April, so you’d better book now to avoid the rush. 

  • Cardiff Central, Cardiff Queen Street, Cathays, Llandaf, Radyr, Taffs Well, Trefforest, Trehafod

Not quite sure what you’ll actually be able to do when you get to Trehafod at half eleven. Maybe the Welsh Mining Experience at Rhondda Heritage Park could arrange a special late night event to celebrate.

Just one of the things that you probably won't be able to see in Trehafod. Image: Wikimedia/FruitMonkey.

There are 15 possible runs of 7 stations. They include:

  • Berwick Upon Tweed, Dunbar, Edinburgh, Haymarket, Inverkeithing, Kirkcaldy, Leuchars
  • Bidston, Birkenhead North, Birkenhead Park, Conway Park, Hamilton Square, James Street, Moorfields
  • Bedford, Flitwick, Harlington, Leagrave, Luton, St Albans City, St Pancras International

There is a chance for a bit of CONTROVERSY with the last one, as you could argue that the final station is actually called London St Pancras. But St Pancras International the ATOC data calls it, so if you disagree you should ring them up and shout very loudly about it, I bet they love it when stuff like that happens.

Alphabetical train journeys not exciting enough for you?

2) The longest sequence of stations with alliterative names: 5

There are two ways to do this:

  • Ladywell, Lewisham, London Bridge, London Waterloo (East), London Charing Cross – a sequence which is the end/beginning of a couple of routes in South East London.
  • Mills Hill, Moston, Manchester Victoria, Manchester Oxford Road, Manchester Piccadilly – from the middle of the Leeds-Manchester Airport route.

There are 20 ways to get a sequence of 4, and 117 for a sequence of 3, but there are no train stations in the UK beginning with Z so shut up you at the back there.

3) The longest sequence of stations with names of increasing length: 7

Two of these:

  • York, Leeds, Batley, Dewsbury, Huddersfield, Manchester Victoria, Manchester Oxford Road
  • Lewes, Glynde, Berwick, Polegate, Eastbourne, Hampden Park, Pevensey & Westham

4) The greatest number of stations you can stop at without changing trains: 50

On a veeeeery slow service that calls at every stop between Crewe and Cardiff Central over the course of 6hr20. Faster, albeit less comprehensive, trains are available.

But if you’re looking for a really long journey, that’s got nothing on:

5) The longest journey you can take on a single National Rail service: 13 hours and 58 minutes.

A sleeper service that leaves Inverness at 7.17pm, and arrives at London Euston at 9.15am the next morning. Curiously, the ATOC data appears to claim that it stops at Wembley European Freight Operations Centre, though sadly the National Rail website makes no mention of this once in a lifetime opportunity.

6) The shortest journey you can take on a National Rail service without getting off en route: 2 minutes.

Starting at Wrexham Central, and taking you all the way to Wrexham General, this service is in place for a few days in the last week of March.

7) The shortest complete journey as the crow flies: 0 miles

Because the origin station is the same as the terminating station, i.e. the journey is on a loop.

8) The longest unbroken journey as the crow flies: 505 miles

Taking you all the way from Aberdeen to Penzance – although opportunities to make it have become rarer. The only direct service in the current timetable departs at 8.20am on Saturday 24 March. It stops at 46 stations and takes 13 hours 20 minutes. Thankfully, a trolley service is available.

9) The shortest station names on the network have just 3 letters

Ash, Ayr, Ely, Lee, Lye, Ore, Par, Rye, Wem, and Wye.

There’s also I.B.M., serving an industrial site formerly owned by the tech firm, but the ATOC data includes those full stops so it's not quite as short. Compute that, Deep Blue, you chess twat.

10) The longest station name has 33 letters excluding spaces

Okay, I cheated on this and Googled it – the ATOC data only has space for 26 characters. But for completeness’ sake: it’s Rhoose Cardiff International Airport, with 33 letters.

No, I’m not counting that other, more infamous Welsh one, because it’s listed in the database as Llanfairpwll, which is what it is actually called.


This sign is a lie. Image: Cyberinsekt.

11) The highest platform number on the National Rail network is 22

Well, the highest platform number at which anything is currently scheduled to stop at, at least.

12) if yoU gAze lOng into an abYss the abySs alSo gazEs into yOu

Image: author's own.

“For I have seen God face to face, and my life is preserved”, said Thomas.

Ed Jefferson works for the internet and tweets as @edjeff.

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