Time to stop thinking, and start doing - how to be really smart

Written by Paula Hirst on 22 March 2013

Last week the mayor of London Boris Johnson announced his new Smart London Board, a collection of 15 men, and one solitary woman. The board members have been brought together to develop a "smart London vision that puts technological innovation at the heart of making the capital an even better place to live, work and invest". Apparently, it will be supported by some form of delivery arm bringing the organisations delivering infrastructure together with entrepreneurs. 

SMART London

Having just written about what needs to happen to make our cities smarter, I can't help feeling how very unsmart this board composition is. 

For starters, for London to become smarter, we need infrastructure providers to talk to one another as a basic first step, but there aren't actually any on the board. 

Secondly, we need those who can make it happen to be represented. Given as how most infrastructure decisions require some involvement with planning, the absence of planning responsibility on the Board is a bit puzzling. Local authorities are the ones who will play a key role in making it happen, and are conspicuous only by their absence. 

Thirdly, the mayor of London already has a strategic plan for London, it's called the London Plan. Surely any board should be figuring out how technology can assist in making that vision a reality, and how technology can assist, rather than creating a separate vision on the side to no doubt float somewhere in the ether or cloud. 

And finally, how on earth the mayor was not able to find at least six or seven smart women, rather than just one, is beyond amazement. I'm quite sure that 50% of our population might have some ideas on how to make the capital a better place to live, work and invest.

Now I'm sure each and every one of these individuals is indeed an expert in their field and will do doubt make a valid contribution. But the question is whether they are contributing to the right thing, or are the right people to be doing it. The involvement of the CEO of Tech City and various entrepreneurs is to be welcomed, but we do need to get the right people in the room to actually make something happen. London is rapidly at risk of being behind the times on this, as Amsterdam, Barcelona and other UK cities, including Manchester and Birmingham, move forward at a pace. So who do we need to actually make it happen 

• Local authority leaders and mayors, who have a vision for their area, planning responsibility, often landownership and a clear idea of development plans and population changes in their areas.

• Utility companies, which need to become far smarter in how they deliver (and increasingly need to receive) power, water, waste, and ICT.

• Developers, who own land and can decide to include or not include smarter technology within new development as they wish.

• Existing asset owners of both private real estate and social housing, who will need to upgrade their properties over time to become fit for the future.

• Investors, so they can understand what the future looks like, and how they may need to change their investment criteria and develop products to serve this market.

• Those with the ideas, passion, energy, and innovation to help make all of the above think differently.

Then such a board might actually have some productive discussions which may lead to some action. With London's population rapidly increasing, its infrastructure creaking, and its need to reduce carbon emissions, and to become more economically competitive, the need for London to start showing more leadership by taking forward actions to deliver a city which is a better place to live, work, and invest has never been more important. Technology can play a key role in this. But let's stop talking, be smart, and start acting.

Categories: Technology, Governance