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Will We Recognise Our Cities of the Future?

Will We Recognise Our Cities of the Future?

It’s always fun if not entirely profitable to indulge in some crystal-ball gazing. What might future cities look like? While we consider cities and large urban conglomerates, scaled down versions will apply to most urban and suburban areas of the UK in due course, according to some predictions.

EcoReport is an independent study from Lyonsdown, distributed with the Sunday Telegraph in March 2013, and they asked a selection of the great and the good to speculate on this topic.

Some Predictable Predictions

Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills, Vince Cable, started things off by stating that future cities are already ‘becoming a reality’ with the Government Catapult Scheme.

This answer gave him a chance to talk about the future cities centre which will be in London with a demonstrator in Glasgow ‘supplying advanced technology to urban systems.’

Wow, hold on, is that the most innovative future he could dream up?

More Sci-fi Than Science?

Mark Elborne, CEO of GE UK thought that the increasing integration of the digital world and machines with a deeper meshing would fundamentally change our daily lives. He picked up on where we live and where we work that would be affected by ‘greater speed and efficiency’.

Everything from construction, transport, power generation, lighting healthcare make up the industrial internet’. With smarter,better integrated machines and by harnessing ‘the power of physics-based analytics’, people will be better connected in cities.

Remote tasks like filling fridges, switching on devices and watering a small garden will be the new urban hallmarks.

The London Mayoral Adviser Matthew Pencharz felt that London’s relentless rise in population (700,000 more by 2020) and 1-4% rise in power demand every year, make London ‘the perfect laboratory for ‘smart’ innovation.

Particularly on energy, he explained how smaller generators can sell electricity at a good rate and how the mix of new developments and older infrastructure will be retro-fitted with smart power.

The City Environment

Steve Raynor, co-director of the Oxford Programme for the Future of Cities, assumed the next step in envisioning future cities will improve the environment while simultaneously ‘enriching the lives of inhabitants’.

He looked at how ‘cutting edge architects and engineers’ are rediscovering traditional technologies and realising them ‘using latest computer aided design technologies and modern high-tech materials’.

That is perhaps the most relevant of all. Using the past but through contemporary designs, technology and materials. Sustainable, affordable and beneficial.

Transport was the concern of Mike Cavenett of the London Cycling Campaign who imagined an ideal separation of cyclists and vehicles with more calming and reducing measures against four wheels with priority given to two.

That is not much of a futuristic prognostication, as most cities have that state of affairs right now. He wants a future city offering a more equitable balance between cars and sustainable transports.

The Young View

They chose a 12 year old boy, George Kervin Evans to express his view on the future. He wanted cities with more open spaces, near the coasts so tidal barrages could harness power and more wind turbines. He felt cities should be small, with plenty of cycles and bus routes and no houses to be ‘too big’.

No major shopping centres either would feature in George’s idealistic place, just smaller shops where people ‘get to know each other better.’ Children should also live nearer their schools so they had to walk there and back.

But perhaps the most realistic stab at the actual future rather than a perfect near-present, came from Laurence Carpanini, who is director of smart metering at IBM UK. He said the key focus when building cities is ‘data’.

Smart meters are pervasive and relatively low cost within a smart grid. They will ‘measure, sense and understand the condition of virtually anything.’ The resulting data in combination with ever more powerful processing power ‘provides the core for analytics that can derive insight and intelligence’ to optimise city services.

So in that case, we have seen the future. It is not orange nor fully green. It is a smart metered, big data-driven algorithm, combined with re-invented old traditions wrapped in new materials made by 3D printers.

Can you wait?

Other runes to read about the future:

Lyonsdown, EcoReport

Wanted: More British Inventors, Engineers and Designers As Everyone Can’t Be Web Entrepreneurs, 12 February 2013

Forward to the Past as Polaroids Make a Comeback, 25 March 2013

Big Data Is Big News, Big Opportunities and a Big Problem, 30 January 2013

Some Up-coming Things to Watch Out For, 4 April 2012

Will Web Bots Predict the End of the World in 2012? 10 January 2012
Image: Maldive