Smart Cities, Smart People …and Bandwidth
In the past week or so I’ve attended two excellent, thought provoking events. One of these events was also very inspiring. On Thursday 13 March I attended the Dame Kelly Holmes Legacy Trust Kent Celebration, which was very well attended by a wide range of people including young people who have graduated from the trust, athlete mentors, supporters and local authority dignitaries. The second event was Smart Cities – Lessons from a Global Village on Tuesday this week was hosted by Charles Russell, a City law firm. Towards the end of the Smart Cities event something one of the presenters said made me realise there was a link between these two events. Smart cities need smart people, in particular, smart young people and that is exactly what I saw last Thursday evening.
“…Smart City technology is at its best when it is driven by a problem”
Charles Russell engaged some excellent speakers for their Smart Cities event, discussing a wide range of issues that affect our cities and discussing examples of how technology can help to resolve, or reduce the impact of those issues and improve life for citizens. In 1950, 79% of the population of Britain lived in cities, by 2030 that will have increased to 92.2%. On a global scale the shift is much greater, for example China’s percentage will rise from 13% to 60.3%. One of the speakers’ referred to smart city technology as a ‘coping mechanism’, and suggested that Smart City technology is at its best when it is driven by a problem. For example, major problems affecting cities include the need to reduce carbon emissions and pollution, monitor and control power, monitor and control traffic, monitoring and controlling water and waste.
“…the first killed 14,137 Londoners and the second killed 10,738”
Cities have always had their problems. It is inevitable when so many people are living in close quarters. Our Victorian engineers were experts at problem driven engineering. A classic example close to home in the UK can be found in the middle of the 19th Century when a decision made by the Metropolitan Commission of Sewers ordering all house drainage to flow into the Thames resulted in two cholera epidemics. The first killed 14,137 Londoners and the second killed 10,738. This and other events led to Joseph Bazelgette’s revolutionary enclosed sewer system being installed. Bazelgette’s sewage system made London liveable and that is where Smart City technology comes in, it helps to achieve liveable cities.
Other issues discussed specifically related to London included the potential issues with ‘just in time’ food delivery. If food delivery to the shops in London is disrupted we are only a few days away from civil unrest due to rapidly depleted stock resulting from normal consumption and panic buying. A very sobering thought.
“…communications and in particular, bandwidth, is also a critical factor. Bandwidth is a subject very close to my heart”
The two most critical factors highlighted by the presenters were energy (electricity) and communications. Radical changes to way we deliver energy to our cities may be required to ensure energy is delivered efficiently. For example, the current electrical power delivery model with large power facilities delivering electricity over long transmission lines may no longer be appropriate. There is significant energy lost through the transmission system due to inherent inefficiencies in the line plant. In the future, wider use of smaller, local power facilities may be required to reduce energy losses, and therefore, carbon footprint.
Communications and in particular, bandwidth, is also a critical factor. Bandwidth is a subject very close to my heart. There are still many locations in the UK where bandwidth is at a premium, including some inner city areas. In rural locations the lack of bandwidth may be the result of lack of line plant or distance from the exchange or point of presence. A lack of bandwidth to inner city areas would typically be due to a lack of duct space and in some locations a lack of physical space to place additional ducts. Replacing ducts in any city area has the potential to cause major traffic congestion so getting permission to dig may be a lengthy process.
Another critical factor for Smart Cities is the citizens. Some commentators are concerned that there is a large part of our population that is not engaged with high tech or any of the associated benefits. There is a very interesting article by Gary Graham of The Guardian relating to this – click here to see Mr Graham’s article. One of the speakers raised the point that smart people are an essential ingredient of smart cities. However, during the question and answer session, another speaker raised a concern regarding a huge disengagement of 17 to 25 year olds and if this is not addressed it may present some serious problems in the future. I believe this disengagement starts earlier, I believe the disengagement of 14 to 25 year olds may be more accurate. This really struck a chord with me and I could see a direct connection between the disengagement of young people in general and the achievements that Dame Kelly Holmes Legacy Trust has made in re-engaging young people.
“…Dame Kelly Holmes Legacy Trust provides heroes and mentors to help young people get back on track”
We received an invitation to Dame Kelly’s Kent Celebration as a result of some of the work we have been doing with her team to enable Dame Kelly to present remotely via a video link using StarLeaf cloud managed video conferencing equipment. There were a number of presentations during the Kent Celebration event including some videos of Dame Kelly winning her two gold medals in Beijing in 2004. Dame Kelly mentioned that she had a mentor at school – her PE teacher – and her mentor had a big impact on her life. I had a similar experience during my early teenage years when I had the really good fortune to meet and become friends with one of heroes from one of the top UK pop bands of the 1960s. Without that connection and the lessons I learned from someone that didn’t even know he was my mentor, I am convinced my life would have been significantly different. When we met I was in a downward spiral as many young people are when they are trying to make sense of life and struggle to face the day let alone the future. Having a mentor enabled me to see sense and start to turn my life around.
Rather than leave things to chance Dame Kelly Holmes Legacy Trust provides heroes and mentors to help young people get back on track. The trust provides benefits for everyone involved, the young people, the athlete mentors and the business supporters. The athlete mentors may have had a successful career but when they reach the end of their career they are faced with the loss of their social network, their friends and potentially their motivation. The trust provides a natural progression from their former career by enabling them to use their skills and expertise to mentor young people, to give something back to make a positive impact on many young people’s lives. In addition to this, business supporters provide valuable work experience placements to enable the young people to develop their work skills to give them better access to employment. We all benefit from this as these young people develop the confidence and skills to provide a valuable contribution to society.
“…to the point where they were in employment or education and in some cases in the process of starting their own business ventures”
Some of the graduates were up on stage talking openly about their life experiences and some had really hit rock bottom. They spoke of how the Trust had helped them get their lives back on track to the point where they were in employment or education and in some cases in the process of starting their own business ventures. I was most impressed by the graduates who got up on stage to speak in front of so many people. I can think of many experienced business people that would have been frozen to the spot with stage fright.
Some of the graduates had very moving stories to tell, including a young woman of 23 who had been out of work for five years caring for her partner through a terminal illness and was left at a loss after he died. The trust helped her to turn her life around and now she is in full time employment. This was one of several stories taken from many of the young people the Trust has helped.
The graduates were engaged, smart young people. Young people who were disadvantaged and had got back on track with the help of the Trust. Smart Cities need smart people, smart young people especially. The DKH Legacy Trust event has inspired us to get involved in the future to play an active role in helping disadvantaged young people get back on track. I will also be promoting the trust wherever and whenever possible to see if I can encourage more businesses to get involved.
The Dame Kelly Holmes Legacy Trust Kent Celebration click here
Charles Russell click here
Wikipedia – Smart City
Wikipedia – Joseph Bazelgette
The Guardian – Too-smart cities? Why these visions of utopia need an urgent reality check.