Smarter Cities: Infrastructure

As London grows, its infrastructure is coming under increasing strain. New infrastructure is needed to help deliver homes, move people around and improve the environment, and in a context of rapid change, up-to-date information is vital for making informed decisions about large-scale investment.

Speakers at FoL’s 28 Sept Smarter Cities workshop shared ideas on how technology can help local authorities make better decisions about how and where to invest in infrastructure.

The GLA’s Infrastructure Mapping Application for London (IMA LDN for short) allows local authorities and developers to better understand infrastructure requirements at development sites and in scheduled utilities works. Developed by Arup from a GLA prototype, the map provides a tool for closer collaboration between development partners and an authoritative source for information on upcoming works.

GLA/Arup Infrastructure Mapping Application

IMA LDN pools development and infrastructure information alongside planning and environmental data. The map is updated weekly with GLA development data, and data on infrastructure is shared by utility companies as part of negotiated agreements. Molly Strauss, Policy & Projects Officer at the GLA, emphasised that information-sharing of this sort can take time as all parties need to trust that data will be used safely.

The GLA is working to expand the map to include other types of infrastructure and taking feedback for what to include in the next version; other potential improvements include greater interactivity and information on below-ground infrastructure assets.

Taking a different perspective, Alastair McMahon, Analytics Director at O2/Telefonica UK, discussed the use of big data to provide insights into people’s behaviour around infrastructure. Using anonymised data from mobile phones, O2 can help analyse travel patterns – for example, how people combine different modes or what routes people take when services are disrupted. Some of this data is made available to companies through the Transport Systems Catapult’s Intelligent Mobility Data Hub.

Additional insights can be gained by combining data from different sources, such as using location data alongside what websites are viewed, to build up a picture of how different demographic groups use a space, and how this can change over the course of a day or week. For instance, more people than usual accessing TfL’s journey planner might flag up travel difficulties in that area; people using Instagram on evenings and weekends might suggest an area is used by younger people at those times; and higher use of shopping websites might suggest a demographic with disposable income.

Smarter Cities Infrastructure Speakers

Similarly, the London Legacy Development Corporation uses wifi networks to understand how people move around the former Olympic Park – part of its aim to create a “smart, sustainable district”. Jennifer Daothong, Head of Strategy & Sustainability, explained that the LLDC is exploring how to use new technologies to address long-term issues such as air quality, placemaking, mobility and the needs of an ageing population.

The solutions to some of these problems seem simple – for example, using electric vehicles for deliveries to cut down on air pollution – but are already having an impact. Others are more futuristic: for instance, driverless vehicles will be tested in 2019.

LLDC is also supporting the adoption of open-source technologies, which Daothong said helps leverage expertise from outside the organisation – for example, from research students – and makes updating software models easier.

The presentations were followed by a workshop, where attendees discussed issues around implementing Smart City approaches. Key points raised included:

  • Data security should be part of the earliest design stage of a project, rather than an add-on
  • Solutions should begin with an understanding of the problem, rather than with the technologies that are available
  • We need to better understand the impact of existing projects (such as the economic benefits of providing free wifi)
  • Organisations must be clear with the public about how they use data; this will become even more important after the General Data Protection Regulation comes into force in 2018
  • Pan-London leadership should guide embedding smart cities fundamentals into policy, encourage collaboration, and build awareness of issues and opportunities
  • A base level of smart-tech-enabling infrastructure should be provided, to enable provision at a later date (e.g. cabling ducts); authorities should consider how to join this up across small or fragmented sites

Speaking at this event were:

  • Molly Strauss, Policy & Projects Officer, GLA
  • Alastair McMahon, Analytics Director, O2/Telefonica
  • Jennifer Daothong, Head of Strategy & Sustainability, LLDC

The Smarter Cities programme is supported by:

Useful links:

  • The next event in the series will be on Smarter Delivery, on Thursday, 2 November, 3-5pm.
  • Read a summary of the Smarter Town Centres workshop
  • Lewis Silkin will host an event on autonomous vehicles on 8 November; see their website for more information.

Presentations from the event are below:

Or view directly on Slideshare