Review: Smart Communities Connect, World Town Planning Day 2012, 8th November

Over 100 built environment professionals gathered for London’s annual World Town Planning Day debate to learn how  smart technologies can be used to improve our cities: making them more energy efficient, resilient and liveable places. With London 2012 having showcased how technology can assist with regeneration and of the Royal Borough of Greenwich acting as a test-bed for new technologies at Greenwich Peninsula, the event helped identify the first tentative steps towards what could soon become a reality.

This event was organised jointly by the RTPI London, PIA UK Branch and NZPI UK Branch and was chaired by Zoe Green, International Representative for the RTPI London. Zoe began by highlighting how around 75% of the world’s population would be living in cities by 2050, increasing the need for them to become more efficient and reliable in terms of both infrastructure and services, with an need for increased focus on the use of new technologies. This set the scene for the evenings four keynote speakers:

Elspeth Finch

Elspeth leads the Futures team for Atkins, analysing long term environmental and social changes and their likely impact on cities and infrastructure.  She explained how smart technology was fundamental to business and underpinned the Oxford Street Diagonal Crossing Improvement Project. The purpose was to unlock the potential of Oxford Street, Regent Street and Bond Street where over £5.5billion is spent each year – more than Birmingham and Manchester combined. Good quality data facilitated the creation of 3D animations to show how the X-shaped junction could operate and show how crowds, which peak at around 40,000 people an hour, can cross far more efficiently. This resulted in an efficiency improvement of 2/3rds and demonstrated how technological solutions “can unlock this dominant car-based approach within cities and come up with a combination of high quality public realm design and efficient and accessible movement systems.”

Dr Martin Zaltz Austwick

Martin is a Lecturer at the Centre for Advanced Spatial Analysis, UCL. His research relates to how urban systems can be better understood through visualisation, programmatic and mathematical analysis, and modelling. Martin revealed how data can be visualised and how ‘big data’, such as that collected by Oyster Cards, can be used to reveal patterns about use of the network. Martin also discussed the increasing use of real time smart sensing data in cities and ways in which this can be an effective tool to highlight-city wide problems such as pollution, crime and public transport.  His conclusion? The Internet of Things is central to making places and spaces smart.

James Sealey

James is a product manager for IDOX a firm which develops and supplies software solutions and services to local government for core functions relating to land, people and property. James discussed how local planning authorities can, and are, using communications to engage with communities. He noted that ”planning needs to engage with virtual communities supporting ‘real’ communities”.  James also took the opportunity to give some practical demonstrations and show how planning applications / neighbourhood plans could be linked to social media (Facebook & Twitter e.g. voting through the number of ‘likes’ or weekly planning lists on twitter feeds) as well as a technical demonstration of an Augmented Reality platform for planning applications (and, other after work uses such as finding pubs)

Trevor Dorling

Trevor is Assistant Director for Employment and Skills with the Royal Borough of Greenwich. As the event’s final speaker, Trevor set out how Digital Enterprise Greenwich, an enterprise centre for digital businesses and innovators, is leading the way in delivering smart technologies at the Greenwich Digital Peninsula. He discussed how the area is using technology to create a better place (place being key) and seeking to improving economic & social development whilst recognising the need to reduce natural resource demands.

After Thoughts

As always, the event’s question and answer session produced a lively debate and a noticeable degree of agreement on many issues. Refreshingly on-topic, questions covered issues such as whether London is behind or ahead the rest of the world in terms of smart technology & connecting communities.

The event was followed by refreshments, networking and an opportunity to continue the discussions.

With over 100 private and public sector built environment professionals the event was able to achieve a record success, which would not have been possible without the assistance of its sponsors; IDOX and Space Syntax. Special thanks also to UCL, who hosted the event.

Presentations will be available on the RTPI London

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