Inaugural smart cities event highlights how smart technology can transform places

Environmental leaders, innovators and experts across various sectors including water, air pollution and energy management gathered at an inaugural event aimed at understanding how places around the world can do ‘more for less’ and meet environmental obligations in a cost effective way.

The Smartly Sustainable: Using Smart Technology to do 'more for less event which was held yesterday (18 April) in Westminster, was co-organised by the Environmental Industries Commission (EIC) and the Association of Directors of Environment, Economy Planning and Transport (ADEPT). 

A packed room of guests got to hear from a range of decision makers from the public and private sectors on how their respective organisations and firms have tackled environmental issues and adopted new technologies to ensure they are meeting challenges head on.

After a brief opening by EIC’s executive director Matthew Farrow, the half-day event was opened by Eleri Jones, associate at Space Syntax, who discussed her work at the UK government foresight project which aimed to make evidence-based decisions and projections about the future of UK cities. Jones talked about how evidence can underpin and support a negotiated process of discussion, engagement, debate and consensus for how cities of the future can be built.

“Putting cities through the futures lens” was an idea proposed by Jones with Milton Keynes an example of how planning can develop change. It’s 2050 Futures Commission with the help of the Foresights Project has led to plans for a new university and complete city centre revamp.

A panel discussion followed shortly after in which Gavin Slater, group manger of the Ruggedised project for Glasgow City Council, spoke about the ways the city had become a smart city leader. Following £24m funding from Innovate UK in 2013, Glasgow has not looked back and developed digital infrastructure to make it a more interconnected place for residents. A report last year revealed the smart city programme delivered a return on investment of £144m.

Slater discussed the Ruggedised project which involves six European cities joining forces to accelerate the path towards a sustainable future by creating model urban areas. Collaboration was identified as key to more sustainability success with each city “having similar problems and issues but different nuances”. The project has helped the Scottish city progress with a range of developments including electric car charging with Glasgow able to speak to their Dutch counterparts in Rotterdam who are much further down the line in implementing charging facilities. 

A selection of smaller speeches followed later in the afternoon with experts in waste, energy management, water and air pollution all talking about developments in their field.

Chris Fry, director of infrastructure and regeneration at Ramboll, started the series of speeches with his take on practical experiences of smart sustainability. Using the phrase of “Rome will not be rewired in a day”, he discussed the difference revolution and evolution when it came to smart cities and how both would lead to progress. Gains through artificial intelligence and digitalised design would need to be considered with complexities like who, where and when would they be made.

Reflecting on the event, Fry said: “There is no shortage of technological innovation that could help our cities, towns and villages to grow cleaner and more productive. I enjoyed contributing to this important ADEPT/EIC event which aims to shed light on the practicalities of harnessing smart sustainability.”

The room also got to hear from Sam Hunt, a senior consultant for SMS PLC, who spoke about smart energy management and how firms could adopt building management systems and smart devices to reduce operating costs. Jim Mills, chief executive of Air Monitors Ltd, opened up discussion on air pollution with the topic said to often not to get as much attention as it should. Mills said the introduction of new sensors that are far less bulky and cheaper could improve the way air is monitored but many more were needed for them to be successful with just 93 sensors currently operating in the capital where pollution is at its worst in the UK.

Commenting on the event, Paula Hewitt, chair of the ADEPT environment board and director of Somerset County Council, said: “ADEPT welcomed the opportunity to jointly host this exciting event, which was a great opportunity for local government and industry to explore the benefits for both the environment and communities of smart technology.”

For more information on the work EIC does in connection to smart cities, click here.

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