Tuesday, 25 March 2014

Geo: The Big 5 - Future Cities Story

As promised here is the Future Cities side of the Geo Big 5 write up. The content was kindly provided by our events group manager Rollo Home, I have done some reordering so any comprehension issues are probably my fault.

Glasgow Future Cities Team
The event was opened with a short but well aimed introduction from Councillor Gordon Matheson (leader, Glasgow City Council) who congratulated the AGI on reaching 25yrs "and looking good on it". He stressed the council’s commitment to opening up their data to public access through the portal where 85 data sets are currently published (including planning applications) including data from Ordnance Survey and the MET office. The focus is very much on putting the data into the hands of the citizen, as seen in the example of the customised city dash-board. The Councillor was keen to stress that while technology is great it is simply an enabler and it is the approach and political will that is the key. Glasgow have a clear desire to be a global reference point for future cities.

Andrew Collinge (Assistant Director, Greater London Authority) gave the first key note for the day, and started by outlining how “City Thinking” was now en vogue and thus he’d stress that it wasn’t the case of London vs. UK as currently being portrayed in the media, but “a Tale of, well, lots of cities” each emerging. However London is large, with a population that will exceed New York’s by 2016. Like Glasgow, London has embraced open data, and the portal drives 20% of traffic to the Council site. He then went on to give an example of some of the challenges London faces: 400K new jobs are needed, 40K new homes will required and 4,000 extra classrooms. One practical solution that the Future Cities approach has provided has been the School Atlas that allows authorities across London to see classroom provision and demand and plan accordingly, in the spirit of open data this is a public facing site.

Institute of Future Cities
An interesting point made was that these problems have not just be realised – the concept of Future Cities was identified by 50 urban scientists meeting in 1960's US and outlining the issues of 'regeneration of cities needed to keep pace of demand’.

The plenary led into the Future Cities Steam which was chaired by Graham Colclough. A surprising thing about these sessions was the strength of continuity of the message between speakers. There was limited disagreement about the scope and scale of the problems being addressed by the Future Cities concept nor, the fact that location based data had an important role to play in tackling these problems. What was perhaps more surprising was that the focus of the discussions was entirely on the value of using geospatial thus we did not hear about how an application was developed and deployed, but about the reasons that they were developed, the success of the uptake, and the outcomes.

Steven Revill (Future Cities Glasgow) started the Future Cities session with a fuller review of the work already referenced by Councillor Matheson. The Open data market to “empower Glasgow” was a prominent thread of the discussion. This was achieved through the web portals and out outlets such as the My Glasgow Apps. In regard to adoption of the services, Steven reflected on how useful the branding had been to engage to younger audience, as was the premise of presenting data stories. The platform itself is developed quickly with releases often made in an attempt to maintain momentum to the project. The search for new data is on-going with GCC energy consumption of all public sector and education buildings being the latest. This has enable people to scrutinise energy use putting buildings that use excessive energy in the public eye and driving change

A question from the floor raised the issue of data quality. Apparently operational data from GCC is good, but there is discrepancy and an issue with completeness. However publishing the data is helping address and potentially resolving this problem. Making it public is driving a change in behaviours.

Dr Diarmad Campbell (British Geological Survey) had a very different focus, and that is the sub-surface. BGS have an Urban Strategy for the simple reason that 80% of the population live in such areas, and therefore the activity that requires geological analysis (structures) is concentrated in these areas. While internationally other cities such as Oslo and Amsterdam have huge investment in understanding the underground, in the UK there has not been such a history of investment. BGS are now working with GCC to produce a complete and detailed model of the sub-surface. Many urban areas, not least Glasgow have a complex sub surface environment from legacy industry as well as industrial processes and BGS are driving towards multi channel data availability to allow for better provision and better decision making.

George Kirk from Scottish Power Energy Networks discussed integrated energy planning, that is dealing with power from station to the plug. He explained how low carbon is a key part of Glasgow City development but has so far no being tackled fully. Previously there has been no shortage of data, but a limited understanding of how we use that data to make decision. Now there is an opportunity to inform the profession and public alike through visualisation and data availability

The afternoon session moved the focus of the discussion from Glasgow and the UK to the global context, and this was kicked off by Richard Bellingham (Institute for Future Cities, Strathclyde University) by presenting the issues of the changing world and in particular a growing and aging urban population. These are challenges that cities have no control over but cities are required to respond to them.

The scale of the problem is immense, billions of people moving to cities in the coming decades – which are creating patterns of mega-cities across the world. However we have to consider that this migration is a voluntary process. Cities are desirable places to live. They also act as engines for economic development and offer a solution to our energy crisis in that they are also more efficient per head on almost every measure.
Teresa and the Future Cities Catapult

Finally Teresa Rico Gonzales (Future Cities Catapult) rounded the session off with the work that the TSB is funding through the Catapult in order to mitigate the vast challenge of rural to urban migration. However she was keen to stress that the FCC is not reinventing the wheel but looking to utilise the expertise that is out there and enable collaborative creation of the solutions, a common them across the afternoon’s speakers.

The motivations of the FCC are focused on particular outcomes; the primary is a duty of care (as a remit of the TSB funding), but other more tangible (and commercial) targets are related to generating exportable urban innovations, growing UK market share of the global Future Cities potential and to build a world-class urban cluster.

The session was rounded up with a panel discussion led by Graham Colclough with:

The Panel
Richard, Teresa, Diarmad, Steven and Rollo Home on the stand. Graham encapsulated the discussion as revolving around two basic principles of information/data and collaboration which was re-iterated by the panel speakers, but each presented their own perspective on the problem with the Ordnance Survey and BGS looking at this from the position of having data to offer but needing to work with cities to understand the nature of the requirement, and with cities working with academia to understand the actors driving change and their requirements for data to monitor and support those agents. 

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