London wants to become a Smart City. But what is a Smart City?

The City of London is currently in the hunt for a Smart City office manager. We asked the man in Halifax who’s currently doing a similar job, what it’s all about?

One expert says it’s harnessing information to improve the quality of life

Smart cities are urban areas that use different types of electronic data collection sensors to supply information which is used to manage assets and resources efficiently. (GaudiLab/Shutterstock)

The City of London is currently in the hunt for a Smart City office manager. The city's director of planning, John Fleming, says the position will bring innovation technology to city planning.

Fleming says it's about using technology to improve lives.

"It's not just using technology for the sake of using technology," he said. "It's how can it help us?...That's really what the Smart Cities Strategy is all about."

To find out more, CBC Radio's London Morning contacted Karl Allen-Muncey, the director of the Halifax Civic Innovation Outpost. He was previously the director of the Innovation Lab in Kitchener.

Let's start with the basics. How do you define a Smart City?

It's not really defined. A lot of people think smart cities have technology at their core, but they really don't. It's kind of a mix between arts and culture. Technology is a component of it, but it's design, it's communication, collaboration, it's social programs. It's everything we think of as an intelligent city.

What would be an example of a change a city could make to become more smart?

Ultimately, it's trying to base your decisions off of better information … leveraging some of the infrastructure and resources that are currently available within the community and collaborating with organizations that might not necessarily (have interacted) with each other previously.

Can you give me a picture of what the collaboration between the private and public sectors might look like for a Smart City?

It can really be sometimes just municipalities or cities working with start-ups or new technologies that might not be fleshed out enough to work with the city in its traditional framework. So, it's kind of getting information from different parts of the city, using different relationships.

What does it actually look like on the ground to make a shift toward being a Smart City when it comes to a common issue like parking, for example? What does smart parking look like?

Parking is a hot topic. When you talk about civic innovation, there's a lot of hot topics: there's procurement, there's parking, there's a whole bunch that people are trying to attack. With something like parking, what you're trying to do is make use of either spaces that aren't being fully utilized, or trying to ease the flow and movement of traffic around other potential parking. You can do things like smart parking initiatives, where you can put pucks in the ground or radar-type cameras that will count the available parking spaces and transmit some of that information live to either the citizen or somebody that's in charge of managing those spaces. You can efficiently use space far more effectively using data than the traditional means of counting (vehicles).

Karl Allen-Muncey, the director of the Halifax Civic Innovation Outpost, says Smart Cities aren't just about technology. He says they also embrace, arts, culture, communication and collaboration (Twitter)

What are some other examples?

It's things like wireless meter readings of utilities. There's a whole bunch of these IOT-based (Internet of Things) opportunities that cities are trying to leverage, and sensors that we can get information from. So that might be things such as creating intelligent garbage routes. So managing industrial garbage where you're only going to empty garbage bins that are maybe 75 per cent full, rather than 20 per cent full, and create efficiencies on a small level but that will save time or effort ongoing. So, essentially that saves money.

What are some of the challenges that come with creating or designing a Smart City?

We're heading into a time where user experience is actually one of the most prolific things that we talk about. What we're trying to do is create a better citizen experience in general. We're used to living in an age now where we can log onto our computers, get our phone bill, and essentially change and manage many degrees of what it is that we're working on in day-to-day life.

And cities aren't necessarily geared to, or historically told to be able to, move in an agile way that lines up with the user experience that we're seeing in our consumer life. So, one of the biggest hurdles that we're going to see with municipal innovation is keeping up with that user experience, and what we're used to seeing in the consumer framework.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.









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