How do we deliver smarter districts for London?

Thursday 30 October 2014

Over the last six months, NLA have worked with research partners at UCL – the Centre for Advanced Spatial Analysis (CASA) – to explore how smarter strategies can improve the way we design, plan for and manage London.

A special NLA Think Tank held on 22 October and sponsored by Arup, Parsons Brinckerhoff and the Crown Estate, brought together key built environment stakeholders to focus specifically on how we deliver smarter districts for London. How can the built environment industry work with smarter technology providers to deliver smart city projects? How can the industry keep up with innovation and speed of change? How can we ensure the timelines of construction projects keep up with the speed of technological change? How do we integrate different levels of smart technology in regeneration projects in London?

The backdrop to the discussion was a YouTube video encapsulating some of the massive information technology agents for change affecting our city and those across the world -

This is self-evidently a complex and far-reaching subject, requiring fewer silos and more joined-up thinking and collaboration across the industry. But the group agreed that on every level – sociological, political, technological and environmental – we need to question where we are and our role within the new, Smarter London. How successful it will be will depend on London’s ability to capitalise on the serious recognition which now pervades the city that we must invest in both its ageing and new infrastructure if the advantages of a smarter city are to be grasped.

The Think Tank, conducted under Chatham House Rules, explored three main topics, as they applied to buildings, infrastructure and engagement. 

The main findings were:  
•            We are living in ‘exponential times’, where the pace of IT is affecting every sector of society
•            Smart organisations are tapping into a younger generation and pool of creative talent whose members are experimenting with new technology
•            Smart employers are increasingly understanding what attracts and retains these ‘smart’ employees
•            In planning, building use classifications appear archaic and need questioning in the era of blurred boundaries between work and play, for example
•            Data centres and other tech infrastructure are to today what the pumping centres were to the Victorians, but should be similarly celebrated and better integrated into the urban fabric
•            Buildings should have flexibility in mind in order to adapt and cope with technological influences and use changes over their lifetimes 
•            Parametric design will herald a sea-change in creating buildings with a balance between value, flexibility, cost, and other variables
•            Building forms do not necessarily have to become more complex, however – and along with high tech companies inhabiting older buildings, there is a simultaneous drive towards more ‘authentic experiences’ such as provenance-driven food, wild swimming, real coffee etc.
•            We should move away from looking at single buildings through BIM etc and plan at a wider scale, which requires data sharing
•            On infrastructure, we have to stop asking ‘what will it cost?’ and instead ask: ‘what will happen if we don’t do it?’
•            Wikihouse – the open source construction kit – begins to suggest a new way of creating homes that is within the grasp of everybody
•            Smarter cities should think in terms of ‘wouldn’t it be great if’ rather than aiming to solve problems it cannot, like issues over health or crime
•            Construction has a lot to learn from control systems in other sectors which rely on data and sensors – monitoring and maintenance systems 

By David Taylor, Editor, NLQ

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