In 1900, only 13 percent of the world's population lived in cities. By 2050, that number will have risen to 70 percent. We are adding the equivalent of seven New Yorks to the planet every year. If there was ever a time to focus on the smart growth of our urban areas, that time is now.
Every city is effectively a complex ‘system of systems’, encompassing infrastructure, transport, housing, public utilities, education, health, government, civic services, private individuals, and much more besides. Some 80 percent of the UK population lives in urban areas and this proportion is continuing to rise, putting pressure on local and national governments to ensure that cities can grow in a sustainable way. Cities need to tackle issues such as energy, waste, unemployment, crime, traffic congestion and access to healthcare, but the large number and variety of stakeholders can make positive change a difficult and slow process.
Thankfully, help is at hand. Intelligence is now being infused across the UK, transforming the way our cities work.
Progress in Action
Changing complex cities for the better is a slow and difficult process. In particular, change requires all stakeholders to fully understand each challenge and agree on joint solutions. In 2010 Peterborough City Council joined forces with IBM, Royal Haskoning and Green Ventures for the city visualisation project. Together they built an innovative and interactive solution based on Google Earth for visualising city sustainability, including energy, water transport, waste, social and ecosystem data. Integrated views of Peterborough’s environmental performance enable government agencies, local businesses, public utilities and citizens to collaborate to better understand the challenge at the city scale and explore innovative solutions to improve performance.
Visualisation makes it easier to understand the challenge of Peterborough’s sustainability, helping to reveal the meaning of complex data sets and compare data from different sectors. The solution helps both professionals and the public to engage in Peterborough’s sustainability and helps make it easier for different stakeholders to find common ground and see how things need to change in the future. “There is recognition that if you only try to drive efficiencies in your own sector you get diminishing returns,” says Steve Magenis. “The only realistic way of getting more for less is to start combining things and working together – which is precisely what our solution supports.”
Using the visualisation tool, Peterborough is gaining new insight to tackle major challenges for the future, such as how the city can add 30,000 new homes without increasing its carbon footprint. As the city’s stakeholders increasingly work together and share data, the Peterborough model is likely to become even richer and more useful. Peterborough is now actively promoting its environmental visualisation model to other cities, which could also use the same modelling and visualisation techniques to shed light on other city issues such as transport usage, healthcare facilities, educational attainment, and so on.
Coventry launches first UK city’s mass online brainstorm: CovJam
With a population of just over 300,000 people, Coventry is the 9th largest city in England. Its City Council is responsible for providing statutory local government services to the population, covering such areas as education, housing, public safety, refuse management and social care services. During the past few years the city has faced tough economic times, Coventry City Council was facing significant cuts in public funding, and needed to make difficult decisions as it looked to work more efficiently. At the same time, the Council was looking to the future, aiming to map out a strategy to guide the development of Coventry over the next 30 years. Coventry City Council wanted to engage in deeper, more dynamic conversations with all stakeholders about future directions for the city of Coventry.
To meet these challenges and help plan for its future, the city ran a three-day IBM Jam, enabling more than 800 different stakeholders to engage in debate in an interactive online forum. It was the first-ever use of the IBM Jam approach in a UK city which delivered unprecedented insight into the opinions of local stakeholders. By connecting diverse groups of people and giving them a forum to collaborate and share information, the Jam generated a mass of innovative ideas. “We didn’t want to contain the discussions too much; we wanted a free flow,” says Martin Reeves, CEO, Coventry City Council. “We knew that by giving a limited number of themes, we could give some kind of focus and framework for the discussions. In practice, people were able to dip into subjects that interested them, and we found that people had issues, concerns, comments and observations across all of those themes. There was a wealth of conversations between the themes as well as within them, and the Jam technology made it very easy to navigate around.”
After the event, IBM used its own advanced COBRA text-analysis approach to organise the unstructured information, identify patterns and trends, and helped the Council to prioritise the key topics and viewpoints. “CovJam gave us detailed analysis of what was the consensus view and where there were disagreements between stakeholders,” says Martin Reeves. “We got an idea of what’s really bothering people, what really fires them up – that’s the real benefit of the IBM Jam. It has started to put citizens in the driving seat. The Jam is all about saying, ‘We want to hear from you, we want you to shape your own services, this is your city not ours.’