#SmartCities: The Opportunities for Norwich

A review of our talkie on 10 September
by co-organiser Matt Dolan

Your Hot Source team hosted our third talkie on 10 September at Norwich University of the Arts. This time we looked at the idea of Smart Cities and were delighted to welcome three leading thinkers and practitioners on the subject as our guest speakers. The subtext for many of us was ‘how should Norwich prepare for the future?’

A key issue when discussing Smart Cities is to have a sensible, meaningful definition of the term. However, the jury is still out on precisely what it means to be a smart city and this became clear in the presentations.

What makes a city Smart?

Our first presenter was James Cornford, Senior Lecturer at the University of East Anglia (UEA). For many people, the term smart city conjures up images of large corporations filling buildings and streets with monitors and sensors. This might be good for efficiency but, as James asked, how do we as individuals benefit?

James examined the different types of intelligence we should look for when assessing a city’s smartness or intelligence. Cities have always been about information sharing and, like the human brain, are massively interconnected. However, the human brain serves as more than a repository for on-demand fact generation. The brain also guides our emotions, producing chemicals to induce pleasure, remorse, ambition, and generally stimulating the senses.

In the same way, a smart city should not over-focus on efficiency or calculation. Instead, (or rather in parallel) its designers should be mindful of the human condition. That means recognising and encouraging the emotional intelligence of a city: the verbal-linguistic intelligence and the moral intelligence. This will help guide cities towards a balance of efficient technical infrastructure and emotional well-being for its citizens.

“There should be a dialogical debate – how can we make Norwich smart and fine?” said James. The answer is that we need to bring together local authorities, local groups, local residents and local business, to discuss how the city should develop and progress.

 Technology is the main driver

Out next speaker was Mikele Brack. With a long career in sustainability, the built environment and in nurturing innovation, Mikele has been involved in smart cities since before the term was coined. Currently the founder and CEO of the City Impact Challenge, which devised Cognicity,  Mikele was unequivocal in informing us that, for her, smart cities means technology: “Specifically the informed and intuitive use of digital data for the efficient and sustainable delivery of services and amenities.” Its ultimate objective however was to “make people happy.”

Mikele started by asking us to look at the unfamiliar. It is important that we address those things that are not immediately obvious in order to drive momentum towards the future. How we use the enormous amounts of data that are being collected already and what decisions we take now will affect the kinds of cities we continue to build.

It is crucial that we have input from a variety of angles into this scenario. Mikele explained how the City Impact Challenge has unearthed many small businesses with big ideas. Like James, she emphasised the need for authorities, business and communities to unite to shape our future.

Standards accelerate knowledge sharing and development

Michael Mulquin, our final speaker for the evening, is the co-chair of the British Standards Institute’s smart cities advisory group. His opened by saying he wanted us to “get excited about standards” because they are the building blocks of the smart city. I was not expecting to meet Michael’s objective - and yet…

We’ve already discussed in this review how nebulous the idea of smart cities can seem. Michael started by showing us a picture of the common British plug and pointing out how important it was to have an agreed standard for such a ubiquitous item. With this standard in place, we can buy any electrical appliance with such a plug confident in the knowledge we can use it in any British home.

In the same way, we need to set standards for smart cities so we can more easily agree on how to set goals and objectives, measure progress and share results. Cities are unique but face common challenges such as waste collection, health provision, food shortages and so on. How can Rio de Janeiro’s progress in monitoring traffic be judged against Mexico City’s pollution agenda?

Only by developing and adopting standards can we be judicious and realistic in our goals, and accurate when measuring them. Michael described how ISO 37120 has 17 themes including water, sanitation, fire and emergency response and transportation. When a city faces difficult challenges, it can contact other cities that appear to be making progress and learn from their experiences. In this, we can all face the future with confidence.

Learn from each other and learn from the best

In summary: our speakers considered the different intelligences a city can develop and should measure. Together, they explored how technology is shaping the modern world and what Norwich might learn from the best global examples. We learned how large organisations are nurturing small businesses to support the building of our smart cities. We also looked at sensible monitoring processes that can benefit all cities regardless of their individuality.

As ever, we had great support from the Hot Source community – thank you to all who joined us. Thank you also to our sponsors: Foolproof for insurance, Norwich City Council Economic Development team for wine and Virgin Media Business for delicious canapés, supplied by The Feed. Finally, thank you to our excellent speakers: Mikele, James and Michael.

In our next event on December 10th, we’ll explore this theme further by investigating real world examples of the internet of things (IoT). Please let us know who you’d like to hear speak.

Norwich Innovation Forum


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