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Anna Greathead

Smart Cities

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We are deep within an old debate on the Economist about Smart Cities and whether they are empty hype. 

Confusingly the proposer and opposition seem to be arguing something not entirely opposed! One is concerned that any development is principally developed from the bottom up in an organic kind of way, the other sees the value in that but also argues that the best results will come when there's an abundance of data which is something larger corporations and government agencies can more easily collect!

I think that Smart Cities are inevitable. They may not look like the utopian visions of urban perfection depicted in some sci-fi films but as our individual lives become more and more dependent on data driven technology then it seems inevitable that our collective lives will as well. 

Here are some examples of 'smart' innovations which make my life (as a city dweller) easier:

  1. Apple Maps. I use this even on regular and well known journeys as it is live and helps me avoid the worst of the traffic.
  2. Uber. No more must I phone a taxi company and find they have no cars near me so I must phone another. Now I tap the app and a car arrives within ten minutes to take me where I need to go. And I don't need cash. It's already connected to my debit card.
  3. Just Eat. I can experiment with a variety of local takeaways without them needing to push a glossy leaflet through my door
  4. Birmingham City Council - I have a login which allows me to report missed refuse collections, get up to date information on things like school closures, even report a dead animal which need to be removed. 

I realise this is all 'small fry' compared to the vision being debated but I can easily envision a future where other innovations begin to make other areas of my life easier. I'd love, for example, an app which directed me to the nearest coffee shop with a few spare tables on a Saturday afternoon! It would require me to be tracked and live data from the cafes but it might share out the business more fairly and ensure that customers get a better experience as none of them have to queue for too long or sit in a too crowded environment. It would also help staff who could manage a steady stream of customers rather than long queues where people are getting grouchy. 

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