By Tom Hostler, Co-Founder, POKE • @hostler
We're told the world's population is set to double in the next 30 years, which poses all sorts of problems and challenges for the planet. Not least, the obvious question of where will we all live and work?
Many are expected to embrace some form of urban living and working. Cities are the hubs of the global economy, and are the focal points for a domestic transformation, the like of which we've never seen before. Experts predict that by the middle of this century, it is anticipated that some 6.5 billion people will call a city home - a staggering rise of over 60% compared to today.
We can't build entirely new cities to meet this demand, though there are plenty of genuinely new cities popping up in Asia & the Middle East, which will absorb some of this growth. It's clear that in tandem with genuine new development, we've got to rebuild and evolve our current cities to help meet this demand. Only when combined, can these two tactics will help us better utilize the one commodity we can't manufacture any more of - land.
This societal challenge has long been predicted, which led to the rise of "Smart City" thinking over the last couple of decades - a broad concept that has two central areas of focus.
The first is one of how architecture and the built environment can leverage technological advances to improve design and construction techniques in building, boost the performance and utilization of dwellings, and better manage consumption of precious energy resources over their lifespan.
The second is how a population communicates constantly with the city infrastructure via networks of active and passive sensors, informing each other on their intent and progress towards goals. It's man & machine working in perfect harmony, leading to optimization of the environment they share.
Investment into Smart City solutions has never been higher, with much of it coming from the worlds construction giants. Experts predict a global market for smart city technologies and services to grow to over a staggering $1 Trillion by 2020.
But given all this energy, enthusiasm and investment to date, where are the successful pilot schemes? Where are the promising new models of urban living that demonstrate a direction of travel towards meeting these challenges, and justifying these staggering investment levels? Why are there so few tangible examples of genuine improvements TODAY? Is it all just hype?
In many ways yes, it has been, because we've focused on the wrong things. We've been too fixated by the technology aspects of the equation, and not cared enough about the people who will inhabit these Smarter Cities. We've not designed around their needs or social habits.
The Smart City journey began around the same time as the birth of the commercial Internet and embraced many of the same technological advances along the way that the Internet brought - resilient networks, low-cost computing nodes, distributed intelligence etc - but it has largely overlooked the human centric and powerful social changes the Internet has unlocked and created.
Concepts like freemium business models, the sharing economy, crowdsourcing data, OpenSource and crowdfunding have all had profound transformative effects on the development of Internet brands and services by either putting people and their needs at the heart of their offer, or by tapping into and amplifying human behavioural traits.
Now, a new generation of genuinely transformative Smart City concepts are coming to market, powered by a powerful blend of technology, behavioural insight and disruptive business models as pioneered by Internet start-up brands.
PLACEMETER is crowdsourcing a network of existing video feeds to build a platform of urban intelligence. By offering up your video feed, you will receive actionable insight on vehicular and pedestrian traffic relevant to your business, but the combined picture multiple feeds generate is where the urban intelligence can help shape a smarter environment for all.
The PiMi Airbox is a Chinese air quality sensor network which crowdsources data from polluted urban environments by providing residents with Asthma free high-quality monitoring boxes. Residents get better air quality readings than off-the-shelf monitors, and the city gets a map of INDOOR air pollution which was previously unattainable.
WHEELMAP is a German crowdsourced platform to map building accessibility for Wheelchair users, and filling in the knowledge gaps that Google Maps and others, have yet to solve.
Finally, WIKIHOUSE is developing an OpenSource building system to make it simple for everyone to design, print and assemble beautiful, low-energy homes, customized to their needs. A software platform of mass-customizable template components can be user-configured to meet personal needs, before brokering introductions to local manufacturers and fabricators.
Just four examples of next-generation, user-centric companies, who are advancing the Smart City agenda, all of who are delivering tangible, measurable and impactful municipal improvements now that we can measure & learn from - but crucially putting the citizen at the heart of their offer, rather than the technology.
I think with this user-centric approach we'll see much more traction and adoption, just as we did in the explosion of web services a decade ago.